The Trouble with Kindergarten

If you’re not aware of what students are required to do in kindergarten these days, be sure to read this article in Rethinking Schools titled “Testing Kindergarten: Young Children Produce Data, Lots of Data.”

A teacher with 6-years’ experience in the Milwaukee Public Schools writes about how little recess and nap time her students get and describes in great detail the amount of testing she is required to administer:

I have seen a decrease in district initiatives that are developmentally appropriate, and an increase in the amount of testing and data collection for 5-year-olds. Just when I thought the district couldn’t ask for any more test scores or drills or practice, a new initiative and data system pops up for my school to complete. My school has not met our Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) for the past three years. Due to our failure to meet AYP, we are now a School Identified for Improvement (SIFI), with Level Two status.

The students in my classroom during the 2008-09 school year completed more assessments than during any of my prior years of teaching kindergarten:

    Milwaukee Public Schools’ 5-Year-Old Kindergarten Assessment (completed three times a year)
    On the Mark Reading Verification Assessment (completed three times a year)
    A monthly writing prompt focused on different strands of the Six Traits of Writing
    28 assessments measuring key early reading and spelling skills
    Chapter pre- and post-tests for all nine math chapters completed
    Three additional assessments for each math chapter completed
    A monthly math prompt
    Four Classroom Assessments Based on Standards (CABS) per social studies chapter (20 total)
    Four CABS assessments per science chapter (20 total)
    Four CABS assessments per health chapter (20 total)

I recently learned that my students will also be expected to complete four benchmark assessments beginning in the 2010-11 school year.

Read the article here.

28 thoughts on “The Trouble with Kindergarten

  1. I could barely get through the piece. That is how depressing the situation is. Bravo to this teacher for standing up and sounding the alarm to protect our youngest members of the K-12 juggernaut.

    We need the Alliance for Childhood to take over the schools because politicians and school brass are not showing themselves to be responsible when it comes to the developmental, emotional and social health of children. The sad thing is, all these “initiatives” are not designed to light a fire and spark inspiration but to raise test scores. That’s it.

    Kindergarten children are hard wired to learn. Almost all of them come to school with a burning curiosity, no matter their socioeconomic situations. It boggles my mind how adults seem to be doing everything in their power to extinguish that spark. How is it that parents turn their children over to such incompetent adults? I hired better babysitters.


  2. I couldn’t read the piece through. I skimmed because it’s just to overwhelming to contemplate. Parents….please protect your children. The kids are being treated as data points and as their legal guardians you have say as to whether your children are participants in research.


  3. I read the whole thing, but I could stand it only because my kids aren’t going to public school anymore. I agree, it’s deeply depressing.

    PsychMom, I wish I knew how public-school parents could protect their children, short of walking out, an option most parents don’t have. I know what it’s like to complain to a public school. Believe me, they are not receptive.

    The sad truth is that the forces of NCLB are way more powerful than the parents.

    On a happier note, I found out at dd’s kindergarten conference that her kindergarten is no longer asking kids to bring in a “sound-of-the-week” object from home. They do some kind of “language workshop” at school instead. I thanked the teachers for taking one more task off my overloaded plate.


  4. As a public school teacher myself I have come to understand and agree with the frustrations described here. However, if I may…

    Please remember that we teachers are employees, and the bottom of the ladder employees at that. The federal government has established standards, the state government comes up with its standards in the hopes of meeting the national standards, the school districts are charged with achieving the standards and results set by the state, the district then charges the principal with producing good numbers, and finally we are hired to get it done. While teachers do have some control over what goes on in their classroom (and I know it varies), most often we are receiving our orders from the top down. I hope no one would complain to the overnight shelf-stocker that makes $8.00 an hour about the corporate policies of Wal-Mart.


  5. I just finally saw the beautiful documentary Etre et Avoir ( ) — well worth tracking down, for anyone interested in the heart of teaching. 4- to 12- y.o. students coexist in a one-rm classroom in rural France. The kindergarteners steal the show, and the teacher’s main tactic with them seems to be real, honest-to-goodness listening. Assessments appear slim to none, but the teacher takes every opportunity to actually communicate with the kids. He is ambitious and cares about their progress but never seems to be in a rush, which is just so different from how I remember my boys’ kindergarten. Theirs was all hurry hurry hurry–7 mins. of this, now 5 mins. of that, now 3.3 minutes of this before we run off to a different room….none of it all that related.

    ps I will say that Etre et Avoir makes me feel a bit wimpy about HW complaints, as these kids help their parents with heavy farmwork after school and then sit down together, kids & parents, with HW. In one scene several adult family members try to help a boy with math. Although their style’s a little rough around the edges, it’s a funny, moving thing to watch.


  6. I’m in college right now… Sometimes I feel that elementary and middle school children have more homework than college students. Literally.

    In college the homework is necessary because you don’t spend much time in class and it’s just reading.

    In K-12 you spend 7 hours a day and by the time you come back home you don’t get a lot of free time. If they spend 7 hours a day in school… then why are they getting homework? What ARE they doing in school?


  7. Franklin–I often think we need college students like you to speak up on behalf of younger children. From what I’ve observed,college students these days have it easier than middle and high schoolers. They spend less time in class, their out-of-class work is so much more interesting and is almost never due the very next day, their end-of-the-term projects are worthwhile, and many of them have finals before the winter break, meaning the break is truly a break.

    A lot of high schools are proud when their returning high schoolers tell them that college is so much easier. I think former high schoolers should go back and tell the schools that college should be harder than high school, that high school should be harder than middle school, and that they wish their high school years had left them more time to sleep, have fun, read for pleasure….


  8. I swear it’s because they are power hungry! They delude themselves that they are shaping the children and making them adults… preparing them, but what do we need to be prepared for if college is easier? Algebra, caclulus, biology, world history…. none of that stuff prepares of for LIFE it prepares us for college and possibly our career… but college seems so easy compared to it! It doesn’t make sense.


  9. I also had a hard time reading that article. In additon to all the assessments for the children; I think public schools believe they are molding our young kids into model citizens because parents can’t be trusted to do it. This (somewhat unstated) agenda also leads to hostile relations.


  10. Good points, Disullusioned. Whatever the motives are, they are inexcusable in the face of research and developmental psychology. A monkey could see these practices are harmful to children. At best, you could argue they didn’t know. At best, that is a lame excuse. How could they not? They are SUPPOSED to know, they are educators! If they don’t know, how do we justify all those in service and staff meetings? What do they talk about? Wait, don’t tell me. Test scores, of course.

    The smug attitude that they know best and parents are idiots is laughable, were it not so sad. Could we parents, we who protest this abuse, ever do worse?

    More egregious then, that they DO know. How could they not? Given that educators now have shown themselves untrustworthy when it comes to the care and well being of our children, why isn’t anyone stepping in?

    I notice that no matter how harsh the criticism, everyone stops short at the word ABUSE. Abuse and education seem oxymorons, hardly synonymous. We need to start calling it for what it is. That’s what we did with child labor. We shone a light on it and examined it in the harsh light of day. We need to do the same with homework and this testing mania. Call it what it is.


  11. Our kindergarten-aged son, youngest of five children, who turned 5 the last week of pre-K and is a year younger than all but three children in his entire Kindergarten class (all four classrooms of children) has been in ISS (in school suspension) for a total of 4 weeks this school year… ludicrous as it is to send a 5-year old child to ISS, that’s where he gets the most accomplished because his classroom is a complete riot. I attended school with him for ten days and honestly, there were times when I was so confused I had no idea what the kids were expected to be doing at a given time.

    Meanwhile, throughout the day, student teachers were coming in and pulling out kids one at a time for benchmark testing the entire 2 weeks during which I sat in on class. Apparently this testing is almost a non-stop process. After the third day of class, I was the defacto disciplinarian/helper in the room because the teacher was so frantically trying to hit all the “objectives” for the day that she had no choice but to ignore the children who were bored, misbehaving, or behind.

    In all of our parent-teacher conferences we’ve been told that our son is a liability in the classroom – when we asked why, the teacher said “we have to have these kids reading complete sentences by the end of the year.” So what? He already reads. He can’t use scissors very well but you put a book in front of him and he reads better than most of the 6 year olds in his class – that is NOT the problem. The problem is the frantic nature of kindergarten – he’s not allowed enough time to FINISH anything and after a couple of hours of this, he becomes frustrated and feels like a failure because he can’t color as fast or cut out things as fast or even organize his papers as fast as required by the pacing in the classroom.

    Our normally happy and eager 5 year old is being turned into a curmudgeon. If they don’t pull him out of the room and send him to the “isolation room” to complete his work periodically, he blows up, throws things, yells at people, and demonstrates ALL the attributes you’d see in an overworked adult.

    Meanwhile, our second grader has for the last two years brought home more homework than the other four kids combined. He is doing homework from 3:15 until 6 PM and he’s 8 years old… There’s no time for any “Play60” in his afternoon at all.

    I can think of no better way to make a kid hate school than to do this too them during their first few years of it…


  12. Wow..step-mom. I don’t know what to say. If that’s what “mainstream” school is these days, it’s clear to me that school has lost all purpose. I was shocked as soon as you said your son was on suspension…….A 5 YEAR OLD. Yeah, he’s the one that needs to be taken out of the class for being a problem…yeah right. It’s galling and appalling. Could you not take him out for the year and try again in the fall when he’s older? Maybe a year to play at home will take him further than being subjected to that nuthouse.


  13. Oh, step mom, I feel like crying after reading your comment. Is there any way you can remove this child from such an awful environment? Is there any way you can homeschool? I wish you could take your eight year old out too. He will get completely burned out by the middle of high school, if not before.

    I’m so sorry for you. Here’s a hug. I homeschooled for one year and it was the most magical year of our lives. Your son is reading. I betcha, if he were home, he’d be reading much of the day. If you did nothing but read and go to museums, he’d already be way ahead of the pack.

    Deep breath. If you are in a position to homeschool, just by taking your son to the library, puppet shows, museums and nature centers, you’re already giving him an exciting education. Children are hard wired to learn. He should be fascinated by his world, digging for bugs in the grass, swinging from trees, learning the joys of reading and writing.

    Not only is his entire day wasted, you have to constantly run interference and damage control. Trust me, homeschooling is a piece of cake compared to this.


  14. Gifted Exchange has a piece on homeschooling and working. She links to an article that highlights a single working mom, working from home. I’m not saying it’s not hard. But there simply HAVE to be alternatives to the kind of horrid kindergarten environments I keep reading about. Voting with your feet is very empowering.

    Public school at times seems to have completely lost its mind. There are better places for our children if you look hard enough.


  15. Gifted Exchange has a piece on homeschooling and working. She links to an article that highlights a single working mom, working from home. I’m not saying it’s not hard. But there simply HAVE to be alternatives to the kind of horrid kindergarten environments I keep reading about. Voting with your feet is very empowering.

    Public school at times seems to have completely lost its mind. There are better places for our children if you look hard enough.


  16. HWB- I truly think some of the barbaric practices in Kindergarten are to “thin the herd.” The kids who can’t sit still are seen as troublemakers (better to drive them out in Kindergarten).


  17. Disillusioned, what are they planning to do with the “sicker” ones in the herd? Take them out back and shoot them? We really are building a “survival of the fittest” society, are we not?

    The irony here is that the “sick” ones in the herd are often the most brilliant. As John Taylor Gatto says, children who question the status quo make trouble for schools. It’s as if we are building some utopian society gone awry (don’t they all?) where everyone must be the same. Stamp out creativity and initiative because it is not egalitarian for some to have it and some not.


  18. I don’t see children who are separated from “the herd” as being anything but normal kids reacting to a very disturbed environment. The kids that can cope with that level of chaos…those are the ones I’m worried about, because they aren’t focussing on anything, they’re not finishing anything and they are learning to tune out adults so fast.


  19. What I can’t understand is how any principal, any administrator..who would walk into a classroom such as the one step-mom described would think that that classroom is functioning properly. Maybe they don’t look.


  20. PsychMom, I don’t understand it either. It’s not that they don’t look, it’s that WE don’t look. (well, not you and me.) No one is watching, there is no oversight, and in some odd twist of irony, the educators seem the least educated of all.

    I know the Alliance for Childhood has put out proclamations, decrying this. But proclamations are not cutting it anymore. Maybe we need a coup? A hostile takeover?


  21. I’m only joining the coup if there’s a secret handshake and we get to wear bandanas.

    I got enraptured in Seth Godin’s new book this week, Linchpin
    …in it, he’s calling for “artists” to “ship”. I’m taking that to mean that if you want to matter, or if you want to do something that matters, then get busy and do it. I’m drawn to books like this these days because I think a storm is brewing in my core and I’m looking for guideposts. Lying down and waiting for the feeling to pass, just isn’t cutting it anymore.


  22. Agreed. There definitely is a big case of denial going on with most administrations. I’ve seen many cases of musical chairs where the parents get fed up and transfer their kids to another school in the same district (kinda like shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic).


  23. I want you all to know that there are corners of hope for early childhood education. I teach kindergarten at a charter school in San Diego Ca: the San Diego Cooperative Charter. We believe that children learn best through a partnership between parents and educators. My students learn through play and exploration, as children were designed to do. My job is to know each of them well enough to be able to structure learning experiences that will best meet their needs. Just as in the mainstream kindergartens I’ve experienced, some of them read and write at the end of the school year, and some of them do not, but they all love school, have learned to negotiate and get along with their classmates, and are excited about learning. Our curriculum is the CA state standards, but our day is filled with blocks, guinea pigs, singing, gardening, clay, rainforests, outer space, dress up, swings, stories, drawing, and questions.
    Our school, which serves children in grades K through 8th, was started by parents and educators who saw how children were being short changed by the typical public schools. It was hard work, but oh so fulfilling. If you want a better learning experience for your child, and ALL the children, find out what you can do to create alternatives. You’ll be glad you did.


  24. I just found the article because my daughter is having trouble in kindergarten. Not even four weeks into school, she has been ‘written up’ twice, sent to ‘time out’ multiple times, and to the principals office. I’ve requested the oppertunity to sit in on the class to see what is going on and flat out told no. I requested a meeting with the teacher to discuss my concerns because I believe there is a root cause to my daughters acting out when she did wonderfully in preschool and rarely acts out at home. I also have concerns with the curriculim(sp?) and wanted to discuss in class activities; not to mention the 2 hours of homework being assigned to a kindergartener, after a 7 hour day at school with only 1(!) 15 minute recess the whole time. The teacher does not do private meetings with parents; so she informed the principal that its time for a ‘solutions meeting’; a form of disiplinary meeting that with go on her school record. Parents are not allowed in the classroom to volunteer or observe or anything unless the join the PTO, which isn’t ‘accepting new members’ until a meeting later this month.
    I have no idea what I going to do other than be on the schools case at every turn. I can switch her into another class, but I have no way to tell if thats any better; I could switch her into another school, but its still the same district. I’m middle class, so I can’t afford to send her to a private school, and homeschooling is a last resort option because my daughter Needs social interaction with other kids, its in her personality, and we don’t have enough ‘local’ friends (moved recently) to meet that social need if she is out of school. And this is just the first 4 weeks of school!!


  25. Becky, what a nightmare. I think you should go ahead and try to switch your daughter into another class. Ask other parents and see if you can locate a better teacher. For that matter, maybe another school in the district might be better too.


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