First-Grade Teacher Demands Moratorium on NY's P-2 ELA Standards

Education policymakers in New York have continued to reckon with the fallout from implementation of the Common Core standards, which have ignited fierce opposition among parents, teachers, and administrators.  In 2015, the state led the nation in test refusal.  Twenty percent, or more than 200,000, third- through eighth-graders, sat out the annual standardized assessments—a number that increased this year.

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Peter Rawitsch is certified in early childhood and has taught for 40 years.  A first-grade teacher, from Delmar, New York, he was selected by the New York State Education Department to review the Prekindergarten through 2nd grade English Language Arts (ELA) standards.   On August 10, the Albany Times Union published his commentary on the process, written after the first meeting of the committee. Below, he provides an update.

 

By Peter Rawitsch

In 1897, eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon sent a letter to the editor of New York’s Sun, a newspaper published from 1833 through 1950. “Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus,” she wrote. “Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?”

On September 21st of that year, the Sun published its response. “Virginia, your little friends are wrong,” the editors assured her. “They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see.”

Virginia’s 21st-century descendants might ask the same question about their childhood.

Today, the New York State Education Department’s Office of Curriculum and Instruction released a draft of the Prekindergarten through 12th Grade Learning Standards, which could potentially replace the state’s current Common Core standards. Included with the draft will be some survey questions.

In 2014, Defending the Early Years, a Boston-based organization that mobilizes early educators to advocate for appropriate standards, assessments, and classroom practices, released a position statement, “Six Reasons to Reject the Common Core Standards for K-Grade 3.”  Among the principles for guiding policy are the following:

  • Children are active learners.
  • They learn through hands-on experiences and play.
  • Every child is unique: they develop and grow physically, cognitively, socially, and emotionally at different times and different rates.

It’s time for early childhood educators and parents to tell New York’s education policymakers to stop standardizing childhood.

This past summer, I was part of a group—including early childhood educators; later elementary, middle, and high school teachers;  a library media specialist, a public school superintendent, parents, and a member of the Office of Early Learning—that reviewed the Prekindergarten through 2nd Grade (P-2) English Language Arts standards. Although we worked together on new language for many of the standards, we were divided on several key questions:

  • Is it better to create a learning continuum—a  sequence of skills that increases in complexity without grade level labels—or to use standards?
  • Which phrase should be included in a learning continuum or in the standards: “with guidance and support” or “with scaffolding, as needed”?  Or should we simply use statements that reflect what children can do independently?
  • How can we reduce the number of skills or standards so there is more time for learning through play?
  • How can we address the needs of English as a New Language (ENL) learners and children with special needs?
  • How can we create an additional document that addresses child development and appropriate practices?

Based on our concerns, New York’s education department has agreed to organize a P-2 task force to discuss these issues. But in the absence of consensus, I’m concerned about what we will see for our youngest learners in the current ELA draft standards, which were posted on the education department’s website this morning.  The public comment period runs from September 21 through November 4.

I call on parents and teachers to demand a moratorium on the P-2 ELA standards  until the needs of our children are addressed and the work of the P-2 task force is completed. Remember, there is precedent for this: In December of 2015, New York’s Board of Regents voted in favor of a four-year moratorium on linking state assessments to teacher evaluations.

I also urge you to contact Mary Cahill and Betsy Kenney, the directors of the two offices that will be organizing the task force: the Office of Curriculum and Instruction  and the Office of Early Learning . Tell them that we don’t need to make our children college and career ready. Our children deserve a childhood!

As the Sun editorial might conclude today, “A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, we will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.”

 

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