Just after school let out in June, an email arrived from Peter Rawitsch, a first-grade teacher, from Delmar, New York. Board-certified in early childhood, he has taught for 35 years. He had been selected by the New York State Department of Education to be one of 12 members of a committee to review the preK-2nd grade English Language Arts (ELA) standards.
Their task: to determine if the standards were developmentally appropriate for young children. As an advocate and critic, Rawitsch wanted to make sure that his core knowledge was current; to that end, he was conducting a review of the research supporting the principles of child development and learning.
On August 10, the Albany Times Union published his commentary, written after the first meeting of the committee. The newspaper has a paywall, but you’ll find it, below, with a heartening update, provided to me via email on August 12—hope for the future of early childhood advocacy.
By Peter Rawitsch
Last month, over 130 people gathered in Albany to review the state learning standards for English Language Arts (ELA) and math. Participants, who donated their time, were selected for their educational expertise, teaching experience, and geographic diversity.
I worked in the ELA prekindergarten through second grade (P-2) group with 14 others, including early childhood educators, specialists and one parent. Many of us advocated for the education of the whole child, the importance of play and the need to support English as a New Language learners and children with special needs. We met for four and a half days. A few continued the work online and all of us have been invited back this month to finish reviewing the standards.
The process was frustrating. At the opening session, with everyone present, we were told that we were all experts and that we should complete our work “as fast as we can, but as slow as we must.”
It was a different story when the P-2 group met. We were treated like amateurs. There was a push to review the standards before we had any discussion about the fundamental issues that should inform our work. For example: Which would better reflect children’s learning: standards or a learning continuum — a sequence of skills that increases in complexity without grade-level labels? Were we to base the rationale for revised standards on personal experience or research?
Should we keep the phrase “with prompting and support,” which is used in the current prekindergarten and kindergarten standards, or are those words indicators of skills that are not appropriate for children this young? These issues were initially relegated to the “parking lot.”
The Common Core State Standards were adopted by the New York State Regents in 2011. Its original group of authors did not include any early childhood experts. If it had, it would have started with kindergarten and progressed forward, instead of starting with 12th grade and mapping backward. It would have acknowledged that children learn and develop at different rates, which is much better reflected by a learning continuum and not inflexible of end-of-year benchmarks. The continuum would have included the physical, social, emotional, language and cognitive areas of child development. It would have stressed the critical role of play-based learning for young children.
As the week went on, we were able to tackle these larger issues, but we didn’t reach a consensus. A concern for some members of our group was how teachers would know what to teach without standards. My response is that we observe, listen and get to know our students so we can determine what they know, what they are ready to learn and how we can best support their learning.
Our work is not done. When our draft is finished in August, the state education department will review the whole P-12 document to ensure there is consistency in the language and a progression of skills. Then there will be a public comment period, followed by still more editing and revisions. Finally, it will be presented to the Regents for their review.
It will be interesting to see how our original work evolves through this process. Ideally, the state would put a moratorium on the current Common Core ELA and math standards until the standards can address all of the developmental areas. The unintended consequences of rolling out only the ELA and math standards have been: a narrowing of the curriculum, almost to the exclusion of science and social studies; devaluing of play, the primary mode of learning at the P-2 level; and over-testing. These have all been harmful to young learners.
New York parents and teachers will have an opportunity to be heard. Let’s let the Education Department know that childhood cannot be standardized.
Many members of the PreKindergarten through 2nd grade (P-2) group have been working on the ELA Standards the past two days. Today, the head of the New York State ELA Standards Review project had a change of heart.
After reading my commentary in the Times Union and meeting with me and a few members of the P-2 group, he called for a meeting of all of the available P-2 members (9 out of 15 people).
He acknowledged that our group still had concerns about early childhood and the standards that had not been fully addressed or resolved during our allotted time together.
He asked us to submit a list of all of our concerns and desired outcomes. He said that a New York State P-2 Task Force might be formed to address early childhood and the ELA Standards.
There were no promises, but it’s a small step in the right direction.