Kindergarten kids on first day of school

Kindergarten Kids Explain Their First Day of School.

Four million children will start kindergarten this year. Compared to new kindergarteners 10 years ago, these children are more racially and ethnically diverse, more than twice as likely to qualify for a subsidized lunch and more likely to live in neighborhoods their parents describe as safe, according to Child Trends.

A summer bridge to kindergarten

California 5-year-olds with no preschool experience can prep for kindergarten over the summer, reports EdSource Today.  Free “summer bridge” programs are aimed at teaching kids to “wait their turn, raise a hand to answer a question or ask for help, play cooperatively with classmates and deal with time away from family.”

Most summer bridge programs run for half a day for two to six weeks.

A study of 828 summer preschool participants in Kern County last summer found that the program did have a clear effect. Children at all five elementary schools that hosted the program showed significant improvement in math, reading and social skills according to pre- and post-program tests.

Although programs usually pay a kindergarten teacher to teach a group of eight children, a summer bridge is far cheaper than nine months of preschool.

‘How badly can we mess up kindergarten?’

Ryan was ready to read, but the public school didn’t teach reading in kindergarten. So Paula Bolyard and her husband decided to homeschool for a year, thinking, “How badly can we mess up kindergarten?”  Bolyard recalls her 14 years of homeschooling in PJ Media Lifestyle.

Though I had no training in teaching or pedagogy (I had never even heard the word pedagogy), I taught Ryan to read using a boxed reading program with phonics songs on cassette tapes (a-a apple, b-b-ball, c-c-cat, and d-d-doll…).

Ryan was reading by Christmas. The Bolyards decided they couldn’t do much harm in first grade. They kept going, adding Ryan’s brother when he was old enough.

We came to believe that this was the best possible educational choice for our children. They were not only growing academically, but socially and spiritually we saw signs of the budding maturity we desired in them.

There were no “matching, hand-sewn outfits and freshly baked bread every day,” she writes. “We worked through learning disabilities and speech therapy” and what the family now calls “Algebra with Anger.”

But then I have a picture in my mind of my precious boys snuggled up with me on the couch as I’m reading Johnny Tremain to them. . . . The American Revolution is jumping off the pages and coming to life for them as Johnny helps Paul Revere warn that the British are coming! We have already read a couple chapters from the Bible that day, a chapter from a missionary biography, and have worked on memorizing Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem “If.”

Later in the afternoon the boys are scheduled to do some independent reading, work on a science lab (growing radishes), and complete their math lessons. But for now, they beg me to keep reading Johnny Tremain  — and because we are homeschoolers, we have the freedom to keep reading all afternoon if we want to. And we do, because I want to know what happens to Johnny and Paul Revere.

“Parents, who love and understand their children better than anyone else in the world, are well-qualified to educate their children at home and should seriously consider taking on the challenge,” concludes Bolyard.

Sending your children to traditional schools can be challenging too, she adds, linking to Jen Hatmaker’s Worst End of School Year Mom Ever.

Homeschoolers are coming to crave brick-and-mortar buildings, writes Linda. The Tampa Bay HEAT, which provides athletics, enrichment and classes for homeschoolers, hopes to buy a building, she writes. She’s inspired by the Homeschool Building in Wyoming, Michigan, which is used for “tutoring classes, soccer practices, volleyball games marching band, orchestras and, of course, basketball games and practices.”

Kindergarten, play and standards

Teachers are blaming new standards for taking the joy out of kindergarten, writes Deborah Kenny, a charter school founder in New York City, in the Washington PostKindergartners should learn by playing, she writes. But she thinks the standards are getting a bum rap.

Last year, as Harlem Village Academies prepared to open new elementary schools , our principals visited dozens of kindergarten classrooms. The upper-income schools focused mostly on active play, interesting discussions and crafts, including papier-mache projects that delighted children for hours. In the lower-income schools we saw regimented academics, reward-and-punishment behavior systems and top-down instruction. In one South Bronx classroom, the only time children spoke during the course of three hours was to repeat drills of the sounds of letters over and over.

Why the disparity? Many educators are placing the blame squarely on the Common Core — national learning standards recently adopted by 45 states and the District and supported by the Obama administration — and asserting that they lead to poor-quality teaching and take all the joy out of kindergarten.

The standards’ goals —  ”teach students to think independently, grapple with difficult texts, solve problems and explain their thinking in a clear and compelling way” — are noble, Kenny writes. That can be done well or badly.

Take vocabulary, for example. The Common Core standards state that kindergarten students should be able to “distinguish shades of meaning among verbs that describe some general action (e.g., walk, march, strut, prance) by acting out the meanings.” Imagine a classroom full of 5-year-olds marching, strutting, walking and prancing for 10 minutes to different kinds of music while laughing and learning vocabulary. . . . So while some schools might choose to teach vocabulary in a rote, boring way, clearly the standards are not to blame.

Teaching to the new standards demands more of teachers, Kenny writes. Principals need to hire good teachers and then let them learn from each other, try different strategies, learn from mistakes and improve. Principals also need the power to fire teachers who aren’t up to the job.

Via Eduwonk.

This anti-CCSS math blog critiques the standards’ call for kindergartners to “decompose” numbers.

From ‘cat’ to ‘platypus’

Students who start kindergarten with small vocabularies don’t learn many words in school,  according to new studies. Students from low-income families were the least likely to be taught challenging words.

Few kindergarten teachers provide formal, structured lessons on vocabulary, researchers found. Some teachers discussed only two words a day and others as many as 20.  Most words were chosen from stories teachers read aloud, which means ”

they had little connection to other words being taught at the same time.”

“Essentially, what we found was a very haphazard approach to vocabulary instruction,” (University of Michigan Professor Susan) Neuman said.”The ‘challenging’ vocabulary choices were not based on frequency, not based on the supporting academic words children need to know like ‘during’ and ‘after,’ not content-rich words, like ‘predict.’ Why would you choose to emphasize the word ‘platypus’? It makes no sense.”

Reading materials developed in the early 1990s focused on phonics, so kids read about fat cats who sat on mats. Now the stress is on teaching more hard words, says Timothy Shanahan, director of the Center for Literacy at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“If the next story has a platypus in it, that’s a hard word; we might as well teach it. … We’ve managed to get publishers off ‘cat,’ but they’ve swung over to ‘platypus.’ “

Will ‘drill and grill’ replace kindergarten play?

Rigorous new Common Core standards endanger young children by requiring “long hours of direct instruction in literacy and math” and more standardized testing, argue Edward Miller, a teacher, and Nancy Carlsson-Paige, a retired early childhood education professor, on Answer Sheet.

. . .  “drill and grill” teaching has already pushed active, play-based learning out of many kindergartens.

. . .  Didactic instruction and testing will crowd out other crucial areas of young children’s learning: active, hands-on exploration, and developing social, emotional, problem-solving, and self-regulation skills—all of which are difficult to standardize or measure but are the essential building blocks for academic and social accomplishment and responsible citizenship.

There’s little evidence academic instruction in the early grades leads to later success, they write.

Miller is the co-author of Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in School.  Carlsson-Paige is the author of Taking Back Childhood.

Children should play — but not with straw men, counters E. D. Hirsch, a stanch defender of Common Core State Standards. The new standards don’t dictate how teachers should teach, writes Hirsch.

Children have a lot to learn about the world, past and present. They need to learn some things as efficiently as possible—through direct instruction. But they also need opportunities to explore—through well-constructed spaces and activities that invite creative problem solving and role playing.

Some educators are misreading the new standards, writes Hirsch, citing the New York Post story on kindergarteners expected to write “informative/explanatory reports” and demonstrate “algebraic thinking.”

But the status quo isn’t good enough, he concludes.

Kindergarten demands ‘algebraic thinking’

Kindergarten is too tough for little kids these days, New York City teachers complain to the Post.

Way beyond the ABCs, crayons and building blocks, the city Department of Education now wants 4- and 5-year-olds to write “informative/explanatory reports” and demonstrate “algebraic thinking.”

Children who barely know how to write the alphabet or add 2 and 2 are expected to write topic sentences and use diagrams to illustrate math equations.

Under newly adopted Common Core State Standards, kindergarten teachers read aloud “informational texts,” such as “Garden Helpers,” a National Geographic tale about useful pests.

After three weeks, kids have to “write a book about what they’ve learned,” with a drawing and sentences explaining the topic.

In math, kindergarteners learn about the “commutative property.”  (I recall learning that in middle school.)

 The big test: “Miguel has two shelves. Miguel has six books . . . How many different ways can Miguel put books on the two shelves? Show and tell how you know.”

Teachers rate students’ performance as “novice,” “apprentice,” “practitioner” or “expert.”

An “expert” would draw a diagram with a key, show all five combinations, write number sentences for each equation, and explain his or her conclusions using math terms, the DOE says.

Cathleen Vecchione, a kindergarten teacher at PS 257 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, has taught her students to count by 10s, but hasn’t started teaching addition.

Her students are expected to write simple sentences, such as “I have a pet.”

I tutor first graders in reading and I once volunteered in my daughter’s kindergarten class. Writing is very challenging for little kids. Some can’t form letters. Most can’t spell. It’s especially tough for boys. And I haven’t met many five- or six-year-olds who are ready to write equations.

In fact, I’m 60 and I’m a little puzzled by Miguel’s book options. The Post suggests there are five combinations. I get 14 ways if it’s just about how many books go on each shelf. (Zero books on Shelf A and six on Shelf B and so on, then zero books on Shelf B and six on Shelf A and so on.) But what if Miguel is putting some books on their side, and other backwards and . . . Is he organizing by subject matter? Perhaps he’s got his physics books on Shelf A and his philosophy books on Shelf B.

In Developing the Habits of Mind for Algebraic Thinking, Barry Garelick implies that fifth graders aren’t ready to write algebraic equations. “Giving students problems to solve for which they have little or no prior knowledge or mastery of algebraic skills is not likely to develop the habit of mind of algebraic thinking,” he writes.

Plastic women vs. cardboard men

Men are scarce on college campuses, writes Richard Whitmire in a USA Today commentary. College-educated women are dominating more career fields — “just about everything but plumbing,” he writes. Women are “plastic,” quick to adapt, some argue, while men are “cardboard.” Whitmire doesn’t think vast economic forces have caused what Hanna Rosin calls The End of Men:And the Rise of Women. He blames kindergarten reading.

Twenty years ago, education reformers pushed literacy skills into earlier grades, assuming an early start  would prepare more students for college, he writes.

So how’s that turning out? At the eighth-grade level, 37% of girls scored proficient or above in writing on a just-released federal test, compared with 18% of boys.

What happened? Educators somehow overlooked the fact that boys pick up literacy skills later than girls. When boys get slammed with early academic demands they can’t handle, they tune out. They assume school is for girls, and they move on to more interesting activities, such as video games.

“If educators adjusted their early-grades literacy practices, a lot more boys would arrive in 12th grade ready to compete in the new economy,” he writes. “What educators have done can be un-done.”

As a reading tutor, I’ve seen dramatically higher expectations for first graders in the 25 years since my daughter started first grade. (Yes, she’s that old.) Kindergarten is the new first grade and some kids — mostly boys — aren’t ready.

Teacher earns $1 million for lesson plans

Deanna Jump, a 43-year-old kindergarten teacher, earned more than $1 million last year selling lesson plans to other teachers, reports Businessweek.

Jump, who blogs at Mrs. Jump’s Class and teaches in Warner Robins, Georgia,, is the most successful of 15,000 teachers marketing their original classroom materials through the online marketplace, TeachersPayTeachers (TPT). While teaching full-time, she’s created 93  teaching units and sold 161,000 copies for $8 each.

“My units usually cover about two weeks’ worth of material,” she says. “So if you want to teach about dinosaurs, you’d buy my dinosaur unit, and it has everything you need from language arts, math, science experiments, and a list of books you can use as resources. So once you print out the unit, you just have to add a few books to read aloud to your class, and everything else is there, ready to go for you.”

Two other teachers have earned $300,000, and 23 others have earned over $100,000, according to site founder Paul Edelman, a former middle school teacher.

Kindergarten demographics

Of 3.5 million kindergartners in 2010-11, 25 percent came from families living below the poverty level, according to a demographic snapshot from a U.S. Education Department study.

Fifty-three percent were white, 24 percent were Hispanic, 13 percent were African-American, 4 percent were Asian, 4 percent were two or more races, 1 percent were American Indian or Alaska Native, and less than 0.5 percent were Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander.

. . . Eighty-four percent lived in homes where English is the primary language.

Economic, racial and ethnic achievement gaps are evident even at the start of kindergarten, researchers say. They’ll track a cohort of children through 2016, when they should be finishing fifth grade.

In a few years, kindergartners could be taking ACT’s “next generation” career and college readiness tests, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education. The tests are supposed to help teachers identify students’ learning needs, not identify future doctors, lawyers, butchers and bakers.