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Resisting 'Downward Pressure' of Common Core in Early Education

How will preschool look three years from now, when the Common Core State Standards will be the academic benchmarks by which K-12 students and the public schools they attend are measured? Will time for cooperative art projects, for example, have given way to math instruction? Will play time outside be cut back to make way for more time to teach letters and numbers to children enrolled in public prekindergarten programs?

As states swiftly moved to adopt the common standards in English/language arts and math, a number of voices in the early-education field raised these types of concerns and questions about what the common core might do to classrooms that serve 3- and 4-year-olds.

Would the wave of new academic expectations across K-12 inevitably force early-childhood educators to "align" their standards and teaching practices for young learners in ways that could be harmful?

A new paper from the National Association for the Education of Young Children was released today to help early-childhood educators walk the tightrope between the common standards' emphasis on raising academic rigor with research results that show that play, the arts, social skills, and integrated instruction are crucial to young children's healthy development.

The NAEYC paper, among other things, calls on the early-childhood field to assert its collective knowledge on the needs of young learners (the years spanning birth to age 8), and to resist downward pressure from K-12, especially at the state level, to modify "well-developed, early-learning standards to align with those for programs serving older children." Early educators, the NAEYC paper contends, "should not allow for alignment to flow only downward but should advocate for the 'push-up' of early-childhood standards to inform ongoing development of K-12 standards, including those in areas not part of the Common Core."

The NAEYC paper notes the chief benefit of the common core, which is its potential to provide consistent learning expectations for all children across states. It also argues that early-childhood educators have an opportunity to exert their influence in the early years of K-12, especially around decisions about how children are taught and how their skills and knowledge are measured.

But much of the paper has a cautionary tone.

For one, it contends that early educators must resist pressure to focus more time on English/language arts and mathematics skills in preschool. Secondly, it says schools must ensure that the youngest learners in kindergarten, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grades still have time for activities that are not included in the common standards. And while noting the research base behind the content of the common core, the NAEYC paper points out the standards' focus on more nonfiction text in the earlier grades, for example, has "yet to be fully explored." It urges early educators to maintain successful instructional methods such as using play, as well as small- and large-group instruction that are "developmentally appropriate" and to not veer from developmentally appropriate and fair methods of assessing young children for school readiness.

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