“We’re scarring our kids!” ….And more thoughts on teaching children to read in kindergarten

I recently came across a blog post entitled “How School Reform, Including Common Core, Has Devastated Children and Their Joy of Learning to Read.” You can find the full post here. If you don’t have time to read the full post, I’ve included some highlights below:

“School reform has taken a toll on children starting in kindergarten (even preschool). There’s little doubt that children are being forced to learn to read earlier than ever before. The reading gap likely reflects the developmental differences found in children when they are forced to read too soon.”

And on the impact that this has:

” Why are schools doing this? Forcing kindergarteners to read before they’re ready means that many will fail.”

I commented a few days after reading the post (mostly to keep the steam coming from my ears off of my computer screen).

First, the reading gap does not “reflect the developmental differences found in children when they are forced to read too soon.”

Unless poverty is somehow a developmental difference (which, technically it is, but not in the way the author implied), the causes for the gap in reading ability are not due to “development.” While I agree that forcing a child to do something before they are ready can sometimes lead to undue stress, I don’t believe that it is the place of any educator to decide that a child “isn’t ready.”

Many of us were moved to work in education because we remember that time a teacher thought we couldn’t do something—and we sought to make sure this would never happen in our classrooms.   Sometimes parents underestimate kids and it’s the educators who see what a kid can really do! I have a problem with the word “ready” because often what we see as a child being unready isn’t what is really there. 

Secondly, why do I have a problem with this post so much so that moved me to comment? Delaying a child from reading has grave consequences, such as depriving him or her of a full understanding of other classes’ content and the world around them. While waiting to teach a child to read may be right in some (extreme!) cases, I believe that it takes a very special case and an ongoing and in-depth relationship with the child to make this choice. Furthermore, this choice to delay the child should continually be revisited by re-assessing the benefits and drawbacks of the decision. I’m tempted to say that none of us have the right to delay a child from learning to read, especially not as educators who see multiple kids for limited times of the day.

I’m not sure that forcing kindergarteners to read before they are “ready” means that many will fail. These children may fail for two reasons 1) if they are left to rely on context clues or what a word “looks like” to understand a passage without some ability to sound tricky words out or 2) if they are forced to “get” phonics too quickly without reading something that is interesting, maybe by an impatient and unkind teacher. Both 1) and 2), I think we can agree, are bad teaching, plain and simple. That is all I will say about the dual importance of phonics and supporting a love of reading.

She moves on to mention how one journalist is demeaning teachers:

“Her [Hanford’s] premise is demeaning to teachers, implying that they and their education schools don’t know the “science” of reading instruction.

Many of us discounted Hanford’s previous articles upon learning that she highlights the National Council on Teacher Quality, a bogus group that attacks teachers and their education schools. It is backed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other corporations.”  

Ignoring for a second the alternative fact that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is a corporation, this blogger hits at another problem I see often across edu-Twitter: Even if resisting Common Core (which she jabs at elsewhere in the post) and a study by NCTQ is fair, it would be wrong to resist any and all attempts to measure the effectiveness of teachers and schools. Children in this country are not being educated equally, and this is an injustice.

While I agree that existing measures of what is effective should be remedied, resisting any and all attempts at public school accountability is wrong.  Someone on Twitter referred to bloggers such as this one as the “anti-vaxxers of education”, and I mostly agree. Raising alarm and calling all education reform “privatization” (this was how she responded to my comment) is just plain wrong, and it hurts schools that could benefit from innovations that challenge the norm.

An us vs. them mentality when talking about public schools and everyone else working to reform education is counterproductive. This “fight to protect public schools,” especially when done at all costs, takes attention away from our kids, who should always come first.


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