Peter Rawitsch: Childhood Cannot be Standardized

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.


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10 comments to Peter Rawitsch: Childhood Cannot be Standardized

  • Thank you, Peter, for speaking up on behalf of teachers and children. The early CCSS harm kids. Who can defend them, other than people working for Bill and Melinda Gates or other powerful people?

  • Teddi Urriola

    Thank you for speaking up, Peter. I am a UPK teacher. The current standards P-2 are beyond horrible. Developmental differences are so much better addressed by a continuum for all children, but it is especially important at the early stages of learning. You need only to look at how uniquely children develop the physical ability to crawl, walk, and run to realize that cognitive learning is equally as unique and falls along a developmental continuum. a Please continue to advocate for our youngest learners.

  • Thank you, Peter. Young people should not have their earliest experiences turn them away from the love of learning, and our standards should address that (as well as preserving that love into their later years).

  • Betsy Marshall

    Thank you for volunteering your time and expertise to the discussions going on in Albany. When you write that some of the people in your discussion group were concerned that without standards teachers would not know what to teach, I find that sentiment very discouraging. In my school district, when they moved to full day kindergarten, there was a decision to push out more veteran teachers and hire younger teachers who would be more malleable and willing to follow the standardization and testing mandates. I absolutely agree with your statement “…we observe, listen and get to know our students so we can determine what they know, what they are ready to learn.”

  • Christine O'Connor

    As a grandmother and retired professional rehabilitation counselor, I have been appalled by the pressure put on children to conform to rigid expectations in educational settings. People learn in different ways and need time to destress (play) and learn to recognize and control their emotions in social settings. These skills are not taught by a computer but by teachers who have the experience to care and lead and are not hemmed in by trying to push kids to achieve standards that they are not cognitively, physically or emotionally able to achieve.

    Thank you Peter for your continued work to review and improve the classroom for our children and grandchildren.

  • Jane St.Pierre

    Thank you, Peter, for all you have done and continue to do for our youngest learners. As a former elementary school teacher and current college adjunct, teaching pre-service early childhood teachers, I applaud your knowledge, passion and expertise. The NAEYC’S white paper on developmentally appropriate practice emphasizes the key ideas you stated. Please know how much the children, their parents and grandparents, and those of us who are passionate about early childhood education are behind you and the great work you do.

  • Lynn Horn RN

    As a former school nurse (elementary level) I unfortunately witnessed how standardized testing has affected a young child in the school setting physically and emotionally.
    Common Core is sure to increase the stress level in this age group; and those children who are somewhat fragile will not fair well . There are too many school aged children on anti-anxiety medication now and my fear is that this will increase as we test the heck out of these kids.
    We should not be putting stress on children at this age level; especially Pre-K -1. This is the age we need to reinforce good social skills, encourage interactive play, learning rules, social etiquette, eye contact, respecting authority and yes, some basic academics appropriate for this age. We are stressing kids to the max…detrimental both physically & emotionally. Let’s face it…If a child is not well physically or emotionally they will not be able to take advantage of their academic program afforded to them.

    Today’s technology has already robbed these kids of creative play and learning good social skills. (Yes, this should be learned at home as well.) In a controlled setting such as school you would hope they would have more exposure to creative and interactive play; but unfortunately testing may very well rob them of this learning opportunity .

    Let’s go back to the time where we teach our kids the basics that is needed for a successful day to day life. “Everything I need to know I Learned in Kindergarten” and then proceed with academics.

  • Danielle Elliott

    Thank you Peter, for standing up for the unmet needs of a young learner. As the only parent representative on the ELA 6-8 review committee, I fully support the removal of the term ‘with prompting and support’. Young children need joyful and engaging exposure to language and literature, NOT prompting and support. That term is a means to push children to the edge of their developmental capabilities. While every parent wants to see their child challenged, the current standards often pave a path to frustration. Young children acquire a learning identity that guides them throughout their lives. If we want our children to believe they are capable of learning, we must give them experiences that make them believe they are capable of learning. Frustration has no benefit to a young child.

  • Mary DeFalco

    “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.”
    As I stated before on Dr. Ravitch’s site: why reinvent the wheel?

    NYLearning Standards were in place before Common Core appeared on the scene.
    The NY State Learning Standards are far superior to the Common Core’s. NY State Learning Standards did not change the curriculum; it gave us a new way of teaching, incorporating higher order thinking skills including the imagination; CC ignores the imagination. Common Core not only imposes a new curriculum but limits the thinking skills to be taught. New York Learning Standards builds on prior knowledge and makes learning fun. Children’s minds are activated in bridging prior knowledge to the new. Common Core ignores the interactive approach using the direct teaching approach.

    Here is a link to the NYState Learning Standards:

    You will note that NY State wrote standards for every area; however, they grouped related areas together like science, math, technology; social studies: geography, history, and political science.

    Here is how one district aligned the standards to the primary grades:

    Language for Information and Understanding

    Aligning District Standards with NY State’s
    Composed by JoAnn Flammer & Mary DeFalco

    The Student:
    *Reviews text and as a continuous process: questions, activates prior knowledge, predicts, confirms, and revises predictions to construct meaning.
    *Retells or summarizes using the structures of: sequencing, cause/effect, comparison/ contrasts, or main idea detail
    *Follows written and oral instructions

    *Uses the conceptual tools of semantics (prior knowledge) syntax, and graphophonics to establish meaning:
    1. Semantics (prior knowledge- past experiences)
    -Uses pictures clues, graphs, and graphic organizers to assist in visualizing, inferencing, comparing /contrasting, understanding cause/ effect, main idea/detail and summarizing; viz., Venn Diagrams, KWL chart, mapping, webbing, and clustering
    -Self corrects using meaning clues, taking risks, reading on, rereading until it makes sense
    -Understands idioms, slang, dialect, and colloquialism

    2. Syntax
    -Uses the structure of the language to construct meaning
    -Knows placement and function of nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, etc.

    3. Graphophonics:
    -Uses cues: beginning, middle, ending, vowels, digraphs, diphthongs, clusters, r controlled vowels, compounds, affixes, root words
    -Recognizes syllables and accents, synonyms, homonyms, multiple meanings, comparatives and superlatives
    -Uses technology, resource books, and other text for information
    -Uses glossary, picture dictionary, dictionary, table of contents, and index to construct meaning

    Language for Critical Analysis and Evaluation

    Student will:
    *Analyzes and evaluates new knowledge ( material presented in print by technology, books and other means) and applies it to experiential background. (Makes connections and learns a lesson.)
    *Relates reading to one’s own experiences before, during, and after reading print, and while viewing and listening to technology
    *Makes mental pictures, generates questions, and makes predictions when reading
    *Analyzes story elements: setting, characters, problem/plot, solution/ outcome, point of view, mood, and theme
    *Analyzes, synthesizes, evaluates ideas presented in text
    *Effectively uses analogies, makes comparisons and inferences using Venn Diagrams, KWL charts, webbing, and mapping
    *Relates a character’s trait to a personal one
    *Differentiates between reality and fantasy
    *Effectively conveys analysis and evaluations through presentations, discussions, and writings
    *Listens critically while a book is read aloud
    Language for Social Interaction

    *Shows respect for speaker: listens and maintains eye contact
    *Provides verbal / non verbal feedback to speaker
    *Identifies purpose of listening: to follow directions for information and for enjoyment

    *Gives oral reports; maintains eye contact

    *Listens and responds to peers in small groups
    *Participates in cooperative groups

    *Asks for repetition, restatement, or explanation to clarify meaning

    *Discusses a variety of genre

    *Offers personal opinions

    *Shares personal ideas and experiences

    *Observes and discusses a variety of illustrations
    *Tells own story from illustrations

    *Participates in story telling, retelling, rhyme, and song

    Language for Literary Response and Expression

    *Discusses different genre of reading from home and school
    *Paraphrases – rewrites information in own words
    *Relates story to personal experience
    *Follows written and oral instructions
    *Recites rhyme, chants and poems
    *Dramatizes, improvises and pantomimes
    *Illustrates and encodes to reflect an understanding of the text
    *Memorizes songs and poetry
    *Writes for a specific purpose:

    -Writes for an intended audience
    -States opinion
    -Lists facts
    -Creates new story endings
    -Recounts actual experience
    -Produces skit or script
    -Describes story characters
    -Writes descriptive paragraphs
    -Makes journal entries reflecting feelings and judgment
    -Utilizes structure, ideas, and themes of varied genre
    -Writes set of directions/ instructions

    *Plans and brainstorms
    *Makes drafts using graphic organizers
    *Monitors writing: reads, rereads, and revises own work based on peer responses and teacher conferences
    -Rewrites to improve understanding of text
    -Evaluates and improves content by adding, deleting, and rearranging information in a logical sequence
    -Proof reads and edits by correcting errors in spelling, grammar, usage, and mechanics
    -Uses grammatically correct English
    -Varies sentence structure

    *Reads silently for extended periods
    *Chooses to read during free time
    *Locates and selects appropriate material

    • Thank you for your thoughts, Mary. Do you teach older children? The P-12 Language Arts Learning Standards, to which you provide a link, also included Core Curriculum Guidance, directing teachers and administrators to the Common Core Curriculum page on EngageNY.

      In 2012, a group of ECE experts developed a comprehensive document, NYS Early Learning Guidelines ( It was developmental in nature, seeking to account for the unique trajectories of each child. The guidelines also sought to keep the power with teachers. But the Common Core juggernaut thwarted this effort. The result is that adherence to the EngageNY curriculum has wreaked great havoc with the practice of early childhood teachers and well-being of young students across the state. Moreover, the accompanying high-stakes assessments, as you well know, have engendered fierce opposition.

      Peter has gone further in critique. In a post today at my blog, he is asking for a moratorium on the P-2 ELA Standards: Hope you’ll weigh in at NYSED and spread the word!

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