Susan DuFresne’s Model Agenda for the Early Childhood Resistance

Teachers across America are the casualties of education reform run amok.  Their expertise is ignored, they’re evaluated via discredited metrics based on student test scores, and they’re expected to compensate for all manner of society’s ills.  No wonder they’re quitting at record rates. But the ascent of Betsy DeVos has engendered a new spirit of activism, and reinvigorated those on the front lines of resistance.

Early childhood educators are relative newcomers to the action.  Long marginalized as a workforce, most of those who teach our youngest children have been slow to raise their voices in public.  Not Susan DuFresne.

A kindergarten teacher in Washington State, where a former Microsoft executive heads up the Department of Early Learning, DuFresne speaks her mind easily and often.  As she wrote at my blog in November of 2015:

Little did I know that the first year I taught kindergarten, Melinda and Bill Gates—and  their cabal of corporate colonizers—would ratchet up reforms, causing the untimely shredding of constructivism, early childhood development, and my philosophy of education.

Children with a history of poverty and trauma increasingly filled my classroom, while Gates pushed for more rigor, convincing the Department of Early Learning to test all preschoolers and kindergartners through an “assessment tool” called Teaching Strategies Gold. The first two months of school is now 1:1 testing versus building relationships and establishing routines. This fall, these tests took up six-and-a-half days of school. Two additional days were devoted to data entry.

In her advocacy, DuFresne has joined forces with the Washington caucus of the Badass Teachers Association, on whose behalf she spoke at a meeting of the Washington Education Association, which met last month, in Spokane.

Sixteenth on the union’s agenda of new business items was “We believe in Unstructured Playtime…Now What?”:

WEA will provide model bargaining language to support ample unstructured play time for elementary students that is suitable between districts.

WEA will provide educational information through existing channels of communication to raise awareness of the positive impacts of unstructured play, and the negative impacts when there is not sufficient time for unstructured play.

Farther down the list was “Developmentally Appropriate K-3 Standards:

That WEA will advocate to remove or revise developmentally inappropriate standards for the K-3 ELA [English Language Arts] and Math Washington State Learning Standards/Common Core State Standards that are used in Washington State classrooms.

Both new business items passed.  Here’s the transcript of DuFresne’s remarks, printed with her permission:

Good afternoon, I am Susan DuFresne, from Renton EA [Education Association], and I am speaking as an individual in favor of NBI [New Business Item] 34 and on behalf of the WABAT [Washington Badass Teachers Association ] Caucus.

As an early childhood educator, I know that children develop on a continuum at very different rates. How do I know this? I am a mother, a grandmother, a former para-educator and a special education and general education kindergarten teacher.  Oh, and I was actually a child myself.

Not to mention, research tells us: Childhood development has not changed over the past twenty plus years.

But yet when the corporate makers of Common Core sat around their big business table to push their agenda—for profit—they excluded early childhood experts. As a result, kindergarten standards today are a blend of former first- second- and even third-grade expectations.

Educators, I don’t have to tell you every child is unique in their development. Children are not factory widgets on an assembly line—and despite all the learning targets I write on the board, or standardized tests we give them, they never become standardized. And we would never want them to be.

These inappropriate expectations create spikes of behavior issues in schools.

Ninety-minute reading blocks in kindergarten?  Scripted curriculum often demands five-year-olds sit at desks with paper and pencil, with no time for learning through play or crafting vital social skills.

Because of these standards, third graders are forced to take the SBA [Smarter Balanced Assessment] on computers, and all play disappears for the remainder of primary grades, limited only to recess. We’re forced to replace authentic learning with ear buds and Chromebooks and label it “personalized” learning.

These standards are simply abusive. It is time to listen to early childhood experts, protect our youngest children, and create a continuum of learning that allows for children to develop skills at their own rate.
We must consider that light—in each and every child a success—not as failures labeled by these standards in their early years.


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1 comment to Susan DuFresne’s Model Agenda for the Early Childhood Resistance

  • Brava!

    Unfortunately, many elementary students don’t even get recess during which to play. The American Association for the Child’s Right to Play (and, yes, apparently we need such an association) estimates that 40% of American schools have eliminated recess. Worse, many elementary schools have been, and continue to be, built without playgrounds!! This, to use one of Susan’s words, is indeed abusive.

    During my talks I often say that not only does it seem as though the policy makers don’t understand children; it appears they don’t like them either.

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