Effects on Children of Kindergarten As the New First Grade

While most recently posed by PBS special correspondent Cat Wise: “Are young kids losing the brain-boosting benefits of playtime?” this question of the day has actually already been asked and answered several times. Problem is, the powers that be continue to ignore the evidence, turning our kindergartens into the new first grade.

Just take a look:

To analyze data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Early Childhood Longitudinal Study from both 1998-99 and 2010-11, University of Virginia researchers asked detailed questions of about 2,500 1998 public school kindergarten teachers-a time before the No Child Left Behind Law was enacted–and some 2,700 in 2010.

Researchers Daphna Bassok, Scott Latham, and Anna Rowen used these teachers’ responses to compare kindergarten classrooms in 1998 and 2010. As much as possible, they also compared the 2010 teachers’ answers with those of first grade teachers in 1999.

Here’s a sampling of what was uncovered:

  • 2010 teachers are 33% likelier than their 1998 colleagues to believe academic instruction should begin before kindergarten, with children knowing the alphabet and how to use a pencil before starting kindergarten than those in 1998.
  • In 2010, 80% of teachers said children should learn to read in kindergarten vs. just 31% of teachers who believed that in 1998.
  • In 2010, 73% of kindergartners took some kind of standardized test-1/3 of them taking them at least once a month.
  • During those 12 years, daily music instruction decreased by 18 percentage points, and daily art instruction was down by 16%
  • From 1998 to 2010, the number of teachers who spent at least one hour per day on child-selected activities fell by 14%, and classrooms with discovery or play areas, such as a sand table, science, and/or art area, fell by 20%.
  • Teaching reading and math via textbooks rose about 15% from 1998 to 2010.
  • In 2010, teachers were 22% more likely to say that evaluating students in relation to local and state standards was very important or essential. Back in 1998, teachers were not asked how frequently such assessments were used to chart student progress.

Said Bassock, “We were surprised to see just how drastic the changes have been over a short period of time. We expected to see changes on some of these dimensions but not nearly so systematically and not nearly of this magnitude.”

Her conclusion: “These changes likely have important implications for children’s learning trajectories.”

Oh, yes, and know, too, that, although these findings represent a nationwide trend, they apply even more so to schools that primarily serve low-income and minority children.

In authoring the Alliance for Childhood’s “Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in School,” Edward Miller and Joan Almon found that, through play, children”learn the powerful lesson of pursuing their own ideas to a successful conclusion.” They also “have greater language skills than non-players,” as well as:

  • Better social skills
  • More empathy
  • More imagination
  • More of the subtle capacity to know what others mean
  • Are less aggressive
  • Show more self-control
  • Higher levels of thinking.

Nevertheless, U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr. and other so-called reformers continue to insist on the use of prescriptive lessons that reflect the Common Core and related state standards right there along with their aligned standardized assessments, which are then administered even to our youngest learners.

One result: Not only are second and third grade teachers now reporting that their charges are already burned out, teachers all around are being called upon to teach empathy and character.

Many call this progress. You, too?