Monday, February 17, 2014

This Is Child Abuse

Not long ago, I compared the testing and public shaming of kindergarteners to child abuse. A few readers chided me for this, accusing me of hyperbole. I based my opinion on the experiences of children I know: happy, bright, motivated preschoolers last year who were brought to tears by the MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) tests introduced this year in Seattle Public Schools. I based my opinion on the experiences of their parents who were told their kids weren't measuring up and that they needed more drilling at home, after school, when they should be playing. This brought more than one parent to tears as well. I based my opinion the experiences of kindergarten teachers I know who have also cried over the cruelty they are being forced to inflict upon their students.

But, if you're not yet convinced that the implementation of Common Core education standards and high stakes standardized testing in kindergarten is a particularly cruel thing to do to 5-year-olds, please take some time to click through a few of these links. 

The photo at the top of this will break your heart. The second story about one parent's standardized experience will boil your blood.

Valerie Strauss and her Washington Post The Answer Sheet education blog has been doing yeoman's work for years attempting to cast light on the dangers and failures of test-driven "reform."

One of the biggest disasters of these tests is that they clearly were not tested first on actual children. A common thread running throughout all these links is the cruelty inflicted by the rush to impose Common Core and high stakes testing without actually taking the time to determine if they are developmentally appropriate. Part of the child abuse is that these charlatans are using our children as guinea pigs to test their out-of-touch hypotheses. If they would take even a moment to consult actual educators or to read the research, they would know that what they are doing to young children is cruel.

This one comes from Education Secretary Arne Duncan's own backyard, the Chicago school district he ran into the ground as superintendent before being tapped for his current job by his basketball buddy Barack Obama.

If you don't come back here convinced that our public officials (and in particular Arne Duncan), the corporate education "reform" movement (lead by dilettante Bill Gates and huckster Michelle Rhee), and the billion dollar industry that pushes these tests on schools (like Pearson Education, a company that earns its profits off the labor of children), are guilty of colluding to abuse young children, then I pity you. Perhaps the greatest crime is that they are succeeding in making children hate school, and by extension learning, at an even earlier age than ever. Until this year, I've never had former students return to tell me they hate kindergarten. For the first time, when parents ask for my opinion, I'm reluctant to recommend our local public school. 

It's gotten so bad, so fast that parents at the Woodland Park Cooperative Preschools are currently working on a plan to start our own kindergarten for the 2015-16 school year.

President Obama, most recently in his State of the Union address, has made it clear that preschools are next. He seems to have bi-partisan support. I've said it before and I'll say it again, if we care about children it's now up to us to push back. We must do it for our kids and for the future of our democracy. 

This is child abuse and I'm a mandatory reporter.

UPDATE: Many readers have asked me what they/we can do about this. I really don't know, but here is a link to a follow-up post in which I do my best to address the question.

UPDATE #2: After some thought and discussion, here is a link to another follow-up post in which I argue for both opting out . . . and opting in.

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Marianne White Dunlap said...

This is why Montessori schools all over the world fight to keep their kindergarten-aged children. Learning at their own pace, in a carefully prepared environment, allows children to progress to levels that the common core is after in a forced way, artificial way. The answers, as we all know, are informed, involved parents and preschools that design programs based on natural human development, not what the marketplace is demanding.

Mindy said...

If you're interested in seeing a co-op kindergarten in action to get ideas for a kindergarten, please check out our program in Indianapolis. I'm proud of what we do.

allison lee said...

As a home-school parent of two young boys, I wholeheartedly agree with your words. My heart sinks, though, as I read what you've written and the links that you provided. I'm afraid that I may lose my right to teach my children at home, at their pace, learning spelling words while they sit in my lap if we feel like it. This is scary and sad and I wish I could do more about it.

Arual said...

This is one of but certainly not the only reason that I decided to home-school long before I even had children.

I appreciate that there are educators pushing for a better system but in the meantime, my kids will not have their curiosity and desire for knowledge crushed by a factory-school system.

Debi-Joe said...

You are right on. I encourage everyone to share Tom's blog with your senators and representatives, parents, educators and anyone who needs to know.
Also, parents can opt out of these tests. If all parents would opt out, there would be no testing.
For more on opting out and getting involved go to :
Debra Reuter, MA
Early Childhood Educator

Floor Pie said...

I’m certainly not going to defend standardized testing. But if you’re going to liken it to child abuse, and maybe in the process scare parents away from the wonderful public elementary school where I work, then I feel the need to at least clarify some of this.

First of all, your local followers should know that they absolutely have the right to opt out of standardized testing, and plenty of families do just that. They should also know what we mean when we say “standardized testing.”

In Seattle Public Schools, there is one standardized test given to kindergarteners. That is the district-wide MAP test (Measure of Academic Progress). It is given on a computer and, although there are plenty of things to dislike about it, I will say that at least it has a friendly interface with gentle graphics, recorded instructions, and a little animation. The MAP is given twice a year. Kindergarteners, I believe, are tested in the Winter and Spring quarters.

The MSP (Measure of Student Progress) is the state-wide standardized test in Washington that starts in 3rd grade, and that’s the one that gives our entire building a solid beating every year. But since we’re talking about kindergarteners and testing, that’s not what I’m going to focus on here.

I have helped proctor the MAP at our school. It’s fascinating to actually see it in progress. I wouldn’t call it abuse, but it’s definitely weird. Unlike the MSP, there is no test prep with the MAP test beyond maybe getting a little practice sitting in the computer lab and working with a mouse. This year, the principal left personalized, hand-written, loving notes of encouragement on each child’s keyboard before the test began. I had our classroom owl puppet on hand to comfort and encourage them. There’s a lot of sitting around and waiting for the technology to cooperate, which was harder for all of us than the actual test.

Some of your links here encourage readers to assume that public school is All Testing, All the Time, but that is simply not the case. That MAP test might ruin an afternoon or two for the students, but it’s not ruining all of kindergarten. They still have story time, choice time, field trips, recess, art, PE, etc. And, like I always say, our best work is happening in the cracks.

I’m glad Woodland Park is expanding to kindergarten, and I wish you only the best. But I hope that in promoting your kindergarten, you don’t exploit parents’ fear of public school kindergarten. It’s far from perfect, but it’s not abusive. It’s just not. Even with rigid standards and Common Core and all that, the overall school experience is mostly about the human beings in the room. Common Core and testing can squeeze that pretty hard sometimes, but they can’t kill it. Most of the teachers I know still love teaching. And most of the students I know, well, some of them claim to “hate” school, but every single one of them loves their teacher.

Rach said...

They're doing the same here in the UK. it is oth heartbreaking and blood boiling as you say. I'm privileges enough to send my daughter to a progressive, private school, though I really wish I didn't feel I had to. How can we push back, as ordinary parents. I feel so powerless and most of my friends seem to have no idea any of this is happening.

Star Larvae said...

If you're not already familiar, familiarize yourself with John Taylor Gatto, three-time NYC teacher of the year and once named New York State teacher of the year. He quit teaching. His exposes of public schooling are must-read for all teachers. Public schooling was set up from the outset to manufacture docile, submissive, obedient rule-followers. Workers, not thinkers. Replaceable "human resources," not creative, self-reliant problem solvers.

Deborah said...

Hi Floor Pie,
I found what you had to say so interesting. It is interesting that your principle sees the need to leave encouraging notes and that the teachers provide the children with puppets to help them remain calm and secure. Doesn't it seem kind of ironic that your staff would need to go through all that trouble if the testing process is in anyway appropriate for the age of the children?

I am with Tom on this one. No matter how warm and fuzzy you try to make the experience sound, it is still an experience that is clearly causing unneeded stress on young children. If we want to evaluate young children, then observe them through interaction, conversation, play, and as they engage in real life meaningful experiences. It is through this approach that you will find real and meaningful data and there is no need to sit through a stressful session at any time through out the year.

Unknown said...

I substitute teach in Tacoma and I have stopped subbing in kindergarten because it is so heartbreaking. Tacoma also has public Montessori schools and my experiences have been even worse in these schools, working with assistance who berate young children for the way that they play.

claire said...

Brave, inspirational, and sadly of increasing relevance to Truss/Gove Britain. Forewarned is forearmed - I'm sharing this post everywhere I can. Thankyou so much.

Rowan said...

What can we do to organize parents and to make sure they know about and understand the opt-out? Parents who may not usually look for information on education reform, who work odd hours, who don't speak English? If we're really committed to reforming public education, we need to rally with parents who might not normally read articles like that, blogs like this. What can we do to reach out, as parents and educators? My partner, after reading this, said that the secret to a good school is a strong and involved base of parents, and the secret to that is people willing to reach across cultural, social, and economic lines to decide what is really best for our children.

Diane Streicher @ Diane Again said...

I agree with your diagnosis and wonder what might be your prescription for a cure. What can the average person do to push back against this infectious obsession with testing?

Unknown said...

It's so frustrating yo be an advocate for responsive early care and be shackled to the self - serving interests of large research institutions and private lobbyists who push these reforms for the sake of dollars without consideration of impact and consequences on children. I applaud you for being our voice!!!

Lindsey said...

I don't yet have kids in school, but several of my friends do and I have been hearing a lot of stories of discouraged and "failing" kids that really break my heart. I appreciate your words here and your blog!

MadSci said...

We also to need to be aware of the private Montessori/Waldorf schools popping up in response because of different reasons. They mostly are permitted to do whatever they want. We had my son in a Waldorf because he is not one to sit. I watched as my son went from loving school to hating it. I discovered that the learning environment to condone bullying by other kids and labeling by teachers. After weeks of trying to get my son to tell me what was wrong, he told us, while shaking and breaking out in hives from stress, that his teachers made him feel like he was bad because he liked computers/games/TV. He already gets very limited exposure to these as we as parents monitor and balance how much media versus how much unstructured and structured play he has. His teachers blamed all his problems in class on media and said they didn't recognize what my son mentioned, but other kids would say it was from media. I asked how kids with no access to media would know response. My wife asked how they responded to my son about this...they said well its not like we directly told him he was bad but if your son is to be successful he needs serious help from professions (counseling/therapy). He was cleared about 2 weeks before with no ADHD or spectrum disorders in the same range. He is a normal active 4 yr old ( mind you he went through a 4.5 hr battery of tests from two behavioral drs to get a pass at the many adults do you know can pay attention for 4.5 hrs straight doing physio-behavioral-cognitive testing?). We removed my son from the school on account of labeling, bullying, and forcing controversial "beliefs" onto our son after we specifically told them we disagree on that belief but thought he enjoyed the teaching methods they used....would you like it if a private school started telling your child he was horrible and never going to succeed because your family was Christian (can put anything in right here)?

A Magical Childhood said...

Thank you for saying this and for speaking out on behalf of children. Our kids deserve so much better and this is so heartbreaking. Please keep speaking out and share ways that we can all help make schools the type of environment that nurtures children and their love of learning.

Sarah Richerson said...

Hi Tom! My name is Sarah Richerson and I'm a graduate student at the University of South Alabama in Mobile, Alabama. I'm studying to become a secondary Math teacher. In my EDM 510 class we are learning about the power of blogs, and I was assigned to comment on your blog.
I was not aware that children as young as kindergarten are being tested with standardized tests. This seems very young to me and I find it hard to believe that standardized tests are the best way to measure a kindergartener's progress. Also, I didn't know that parents can have their children opt out of the testing. I'm glad to hear this as I have preschoolers of my own that may need this option in a few years.
Sarah Richerson

Anonymous said...

I am a parent of a kindergarten student in a public school, and I have been very involved in my daughter's school life, so I feel confident that I have a pretty good idea what her day-to-day experience is. Standardized testing is barely a blip on that radar -- she couldn't even tell you when she took the tests, because she doesn't recognize them as such. Meeting the new "core" standards has influenced her education quite a bit -- there is a push for reading and math skills that the teachers admit wasn't there before. These requirements still don't pose much challenge for her, so at least part of me is thankful for the push (otherwise I fear she would be truly bored and even regressing). She is absolutely NOT stressed by school. There is no homework, no late nights, no tears. I think it would be ideal for every child to shape their own education according to their pace and interests (similar to the Montessori approach), but when I look at her school, I see a lot of very intelligent, caring educators doing the best they can for every child who walks through the doors (and only mildly inconvenienced by government oversight).

Unknown said...

I have a toddler, and I am terrified of having to eventually expose her to these types of things. I will home school if I can, but it is pretty unlikely.. so my question- out of complete ignorance as to how this works- can you simply opt out of the testing? Is it a one day thing? Can it be skipped? Or will they require it for the child to move to the next level? And if you did home school for kindg. do they take a test to enter 1st grade? I just wonder if there is an out... Thanks so much for your blog:)

Teacher Tom said...

You can always opt your child out of standardized testing, Itzy Bellababy. Every school district does things a little differently, so you'll need to ask locally for details. That said, I've never heard of a test to enter any public school grade. Children are usually just enrolled based on age and address.

In most cases, you can homeschool up to 3rd grade without doing anything special. After that, you'll need to check with your local school district. Here in the Seattle area, homeschool kids even have the option of cherry-picking public school classes that interest them. My relatives on Bainbridge Island homeschooled their 3 kids, all of whom chose to take a few classes at their local high school at various times during their school "careers."

Opting out may be one of the strongest messages of protest an individual parent can send to their school.

Anonymous said...

You cannot opt out in West Virginia. It's a law. You might ask to see your local school district's testing schedule. I'm old enough to remember when the kerfluffle about st*nd*rd*zed testing were the t*sts built into purchased curricula--we're lobsters boiling in a pot. I cannot comment on any st*nd*rd*zed t*sts used in my school, because if I did, I would lose my teaching license. According to my administrator, my communications (email, phone, texts, social media, Internet, etc) at home and at work are monitored for key words associated with this practice, and I can be prosecuted for such discussion.

Janice Comrie said...

Thank-you Tom for being an advocate for children. When we makes decisions based on what is best for children, we always make the right decisions. I hope you continue with your advocacy as there are many knowledgeable Early CHildhood Educators that support your work. Sometimes the truth hurts but we must face it and do better for our children.

MJZ said...

Just to clarify, the Common Core Standards are NOT connected to MAP Testing or ANY testing of kindergarten students. The two tests being developed to support implementation of the Common Core Standards, Park and SMARTER Balanced, begin at 3rd grade. The goal of the Common Core is to update curriculum in schools so that students are prepared for life in the 21st Century. Many schools are in desperate need of these updates. Sometimes Bandwagons are harmful when jumped upon.

Teacher Tom said...

@MJZ . . . What an interesting use of words: "an update"? Really? As misguided as they are, MAP tests are at least an attempt to create benchmarks in order to track progress. Common Core is a wholesale rewriting of curricula, drawn up by bean-counters and politicians, people with zero educational background. Seventy-percent of professional teachers are opposed to these standard that attempt to dictate both what and how teachers can, developed with minimal input from professional educators. Common Core is robbing teachers of their autonomy to teach the children in their classrooms as they know is best, mandating standardized testing that require employing extensive class time in teaching to the test, mandates using those tests to fire teachers, encourages competition among teachers and students in what ought to be a collaborative process, cuts traditional things like Shakespeare and Melville in favor of instruction manuals (this is literally true). As a teacher, the thing that sticks in my craw the most is that these "standards," created by non-professional dilettantes, seek to dictate to veteran teachers "how" to teach -- what incredible stupidity and hubris.

And all of this without the massive failure in how Common Core is being implemented at the expense of our children and their schools.

Common Core is not the same as MAP, it is much more anti-child and anti-education. It is not a update, but rather a take-over of schools by corporate interests.

This is not a bandwagon, it is a national disaster.

Teacher Tom said...

I will also point out MJZ that Common Core is NOT based upon any research or data concerning what we know about how children learn. They are based on corporate practices, guesswork, and the mythical "Jobs of the 21st Century."