Friday, July 28, 2006

In Kindergarten Playtime, a New Meaning for 'Play'

This article is yet another variation on the attack on NCLB -- the tired old canard about "our kids are so busy cramming for the harsh testing required by NCLB that they don't even have time to play."  This story attempts to be especially heart-wrenching by focusing on the youngest children -- and of course making the ubiquitous point that rich white kids don't have to do this; only poor minority kids have to "suffer" under this terrible system.
What utter NONSENSE!
A) I'm highly skeptical that NCLB has turned kindergartens across the country into sweatshops.  Can anyone show me any EVIDENCE -- as opposed to the usual self-serving anecdotes that drive 99% of the debate on education in this country -- that supports this assertion?
B) I've seen ZERO evidence that American children, in general (at ANY age level), spend too much time slaving away academically and too little time playing.  That assertion is sort of laughable when you think about it.  All of the evidence is that our kids are getting their asses kicked by kids in other countries (think India, China, Eastern Europe, Japan, etc.), NOT because they're inherently less smart or more disadvantaged, of course, but for three primary reasons: first, our K-12 system is, overall, mediocre at best, so our students attend, on average, worse schools; second, they attend schools for fewer hours per year (see the first page of the presentation at for some data on this); and 3) our country has been so dominant for so long that we've gotten very complacent, so, for example, our kids are PLAYING virtually 100% of the time that they're not in school, while kids in other countries are attending after-school private tutoring, etc.  I'm not advocating that we adopt the norm in much of Asia, where children appear to work nonstop, but my primary point remains: there's NO evidence that American kids are working too hard and playing too little.
C) Finally and most importantly, the article doesn't acknowledge a critically important FACT: minority children in this country, by the time they arrive in kindergarten, are ALREADY two years behind their white counterparts, and the gap begins to widen immediately -- see the chart on the 2nd page of the presentation at, which shows both of these things for African-American kindergarteners (interestingly, the white-Latino gap, while equally wide, does not widen further in the first year on schooling, though it does widen over time). 
Given the critical need to close this achievement gap as quickly as possible and the FACT that, currently, our kindergartens are not only failing to close the gap, but actually WIDENING it, you think maybe a new approach might be worth trying for low-income, minority children?!?!?
And the slap at Achievement First is particularly idiotic, given its incredible track record of educating precisely these children and not just closing, but ELIMINATING the achievement gap -- see the final slides in the presentation at, which also cover Achievement First's "12 Lessons About School Reform", which should be required reading for anyone in the education business.
July 26, 2006
On Education

In Kindergarten Playtime, a New Meaning for ‘Play’

THE word “kindergarten” means “children’s garden,” and for years has conjured up an image of children playing with blocks, splashing at water tables, dressing up in costumes or playing house. Now, with an increased emphasis on academic achievement even in the earliest grades, playtime in kindergarten is giving way to worksheets, math drills and fill-in-the-bubble standardized tests.

Nowhere are the demands greater than at Achievement First East New York Charter School in Brooklyn, which holds classes through this month. On a recent Friday morning, 20 kindergartners in uniforms of yellow shirts and blue jumpers or shorts, many yawning and rubbing their eyes, filed into the classroom of Keisha Rattray and Luis Gonzalez. Some sat in plastic chairs lined up before the teachers for phonics and grammar drills, while others sat at computer screens, listening through headphones to similar exercises.

The classroom has no blocks, dress-up corners or play kitchens. There is no time for show and tell, naps or recess. There is homework every night. For much of the day, the children are asked to sit quietly with their hands folded as their teachers drill them in phonics, punctuation and arithmetic.

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