Developmentally Inappropriate: How Common Core Jeopardizes the Foundation of Learning and May Harm Some Children (VIDEO)

284_article_CommonCore_0By Elaine Magliaro

Jonathan Pelto, who served five terms in the Connecticut House of Representatives, called Wendy Lecker “one of the most powerful and important voices on behalf of public education and against the corporate education reform industry’s unending assault of public school teachers, public schools and the rights of students and parents.” Lecker is a columnist for the Hearst Connecticut Media Group and is senior attorney at the Education Law Center. Pelto said that while “many policymakers, education administrators and even the organizations responsible for protecting and promoting public education have turned a blind eye or engaged in the politics of appeasement, Wendy Lecker has continued to speak the truth and promote the notion that a just society strengthens not undermines its commitment to a comprehensive public education system.”

On his blog Wait What?, Pelto called attention to an article that Lecker had written for the Stamford Advocate earlier this month titled Common Core jeopardizes foundation of learning. In her article, Lecker said that proponents of the Common Core State Standards assert that “the standards do not dictate what is to be taught in school.” Lecker stated that the “claims are false: many of the standards are bad for education and demand developmentally inappropriate educational practices in schools.”


Recently, experts at the organization Defending the Early Years issued a report focusing on one of these bad standards: the standard calling for kindergartners to “read emergent-reader texts with purpose and understanding.” Translation: children must learn to read in kindergarten.

This mandate contradicts everything we know about child development and forces kindergarten teachers to engage in damaging practices. Play has been severely reduced or eliminated in favor of direct instruction, worksheets and frequent testing.

Becker continued by saying that “the milestones of child development have not changed in a century.” She said there is a wide range of development in children in kindergarten–but noted that most of them “are not ready to read.”


Reading requires understanding that symbols, letters, represent sounds and put together, in words, represent ideas or objects. Kindergartners’ brains cannot comprehend that kind of abstraction. They also typically do not recognize certain shapes and lines that are essential to understanding letters. This “lack” is normal, and it explains why play is essential in kindergarten.

Lecker said that Diane Levin, a child development expert at Wheelock College, told her that “through play, children develop the foundation for reading.”


When a child builds with blocks or engages in socio-dramatic play, s/he is making a representation of something in a different form — a step toward abstract thought. By painting and drawing, a child begins to understand that two-dimensional lines can represent three dimensional objects — a precursor to comprehending that letters can represent sounds and words can represent objects or ideas. By telling stories or putting on plays, a child understands sequencing. In playing with objects, s/he learns to categorize. These activities are intentionally designed to help children build a strong foundation for the kind of skills required for formal reading instruction later on. Children need to first build this foundation experientially, in the concrete world in which they live, in order for the skills to have meaning for them.

Last May, Valerie Strauss (Washington Post) posted information from a document that was published by Defending the Early Years. According to Strauss, the document was created in order “to help teachers and parents understand why the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are inappropriate for kindergarten through third grade and to help teachers and parents advocate against them while at the same time promote policies and classroom practices that will best meet the needs of young children.”

The document gave  six reasons why the Common Core State Standards for K – Grade 3 should be rejected. I’m going to post the first and third reasons here:

  1. Many of the Kindergarten – 3rd Grade CCSS are developmentally inappropriate, and are not based on well-researched child development knowledge about how young children learn. 1, 2

The CCSS for young children were developed by mapping backwards from what is required at high school graduation to the early years.  This has led to standards that:

  • list discrete skills, facts and knowledge that do not match how young children develop, think or learn;
  • require young children to learn facts and skills for which they are not ready;
  • are often taught by teacher-led, didactic instruction instead of the experiential, play-based activities and learning young children need; 1, 2, 12
  • devalue the whole child and the importance of social-emotional development, play, art, music, science and physical development.

An example of a developmentally inappropriate Common Core standard for kindergarten is one that requires children to “read emergent reader texts with purpose and understanding.”  Many young children are not developmentally ready to read in kindergarten and there is no research to support teaching reading in kindergarten. There is no research showing long-term advantages to reading at 5 compared to reading at 6 or 7.6

3. Early childhood educators did not participate in the development of the standards.

The CCSS do not comply with the internationally and nationally recognized protocol for writing professional standards. They were written without due process, transparency, or participation by knowledgeable parties. Two committees made up of 135 people wrote the standards – and not one of them was a K-3 classroom teacher or early childhood education professional. When the CCSS were first released, more than 500 early childhood professionals signed a Joint Statement opposing the standards on the grounds that they would lead to long hours of direct instruction; more standardized testing; and would crowd out highly important active, play-based learning. All of this has come to pass. Notably, this important Joint Statement was not even reported in the “summary of public feedback” posted on the Core Standards website. 11

In January, Strauss wrote another Washington Post article about Common Core and early childhood education titled Report: Requiring kindergartners to read — as Common Core does — may harm some.


Two organizations that advocate for early childhood education — Defending the Early Years and Alliance for Childhood — issued the report titled “Reading in Kindergarten: Little to Gain and Much to Lose.”  It says there is no evidence to support a widespread belief in the United States that children must read in prekindergarten or kindergarten to become strong readers and achieve academic success.

Nancy Carlsson-Paige, Geralyn Bywater McLaughlin and Joan Wolfsheimer Almon–the authors of the report , wrote the following:

Many children are not developmentally ready to read in kindergarten. In addition, the pressure of implementing the standards leads many kindergarten teachers to resort to inappropriate didactic methods combined with frequent testing. Teacher-led instruction in kindergartens has almost entirely replaced the active, play-based, experiential learning that we know children need from decades of research in cognitive and developmental psychology and neuroscience.

When children have educational experiences that are not geared to their developmental level or in tune with their learning needs and cultures, it can cause them great harm, including feelings of inadequacy, anxiety and confusion.

Reading Instruction in Kindergarten: Little to Gain, Much to Lose

Strauss said that Carlsson-Paige, a professor emerita of early childhood education at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the author of “Taking Back Childhood”, co-wrote a tough critique of the kindergarten Common Core standards.

Excerpt from Carlsson-Paige’s critique:

When the standards were first revealed in March 2010, many early childhood educators and researchers were shocked. “The people who wrote these standards do not appear to have any background in child development or early childhood education,” wrote Stephanie Feeney of the University of Hawaii, chair of the Advocacy Committee of the National Association of Early Childhood Teacher Educators.

The promoters of the standards claim they are based in research. They are not. There is no convincing research, for example, showing that certain skills or bits of knowledge (such as counting to 100 or being able to read a certain number of words) if mastered in kindergarten will lead to later success in school. Two recent studies show that direct instruction can actually limit young children’s learning. At best, the standards reflect guesswork, not cognitive or developmental science.

Moreover, the Common Core Standards do not provide for ongoing research or review of the outcomes of their adoption—a bedrock principle of any truly research-based endeavor.

Too many people who have no understanding of child development are proponents of the Common Core State Standards and the high-stakes testing that goes along with them. Isn’t it time we stood up for our kids and said “NO” to No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, Common Core, and the mania for high stakes testing?


Common Core jeopardizes foundation of learning (By Wendy Lecker) (Jonathan Pelto)

Wendy Lecker: Common Core jeopardizes foundation of learning (Stamford Advocate)

6 reasons to reject Common Core K-3 standards — and 6 rules to guide policy (Washington Post)

Report: Requiring kindergartners to read — as Common Core does — may harm some (Washington Post)

Our New Report! Reading Instruction in Kindergarten: Little to Gain and Much to Lose (Defending the Early Years)

Reading Instruction in Kindergarten: Little to Gain and Much to Lose (Defending the Early Years)


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8 Responses to Developmentally Inappropriate: How Common Core Jeopardizes the Foundation of Learning and May Harm Some Children (VIDEO)

  1. bigfatmike says:

    There have been similar criticisms of the common core math standards.

    Cognitive development places real limits on what can be taught. Ignoring those limits comes pretty close to child abuse – in my view.

  2. Elaine Magliaro says:


    “Ignoring those limits comes pretty close to child abuse – in my view.”

    That’s how I see it too. I think the mania for the high-stakes testing of children in our public schools is also a form of abuse.

  3. Elaine M. says:

    The Science Of The Common Core: Experts Weigh In On Its Developmental Appropriateness

    Last April, comedian Louis CK fired a round of disparaging tweets about his kids’ experience in a New York City public school. His particular gripe was with the Common Core standards that have been voluntarily adopted by 45 states. Among his tweets: “My kids used to love math. Now it makes them cry. Thanks standardized testing and common core!” and “It’s this massive stressball that hangs over the whole school. The kids teachers trying to adapt to these badly written notions.” His commentary got a lot of support from other frustrated parents around the country. Of course, it received some mixed reviews from the media and educators.

    Some weren’t having any of it. Alexander Nazaryan wrote a response piece in Newsweek, arguing that while testing kids “to hell and back” isn’t the solution to the U.S.’s lag in education, “introducing a set of national standards is a first step toward widespread accountability, toward the clearly worthy goal of having a teacher in Alaska teach more or less the same thing as a teacher in Alabama. And for those teachers to have to account for what their charges learned. Or didn’t, as it were.” He ends by suggesting that the kids subjected to the new standards will probably be ok, and that objecting to the Common Core is mainly a class issue anyway. “For the most part, the complaints against Common Core and the charter-school movement have come from upper-middle-class parents whose objections are largely ideological, not pedagogical. It’s fun to get angry when you’ve got nothing to lose.”

    But this is more than an issue of parental pique. Child development experts and early childhood educators believe that there is actually quite a lot to lose. The issue is not at all ideological, they say – it’s partly pedagogical, and partly psychological. According to experts, a poorly conceived set of standards has the potential to be, at best, fruitless and, at worst, detrimental to the youngest kids who are on the frontline of the Common Core. In the long run, the argument goes, it might be associated with a lot more cost than benefit.

    Pushing the Little Ones Further

    Last year, two educators, Edward Miller and Nancy Carlsson-Paige, wrote an essay published in the Washington Post, which expressed serious concern about the advisability of the Common Core, particularly for the lower grades. “The K-3 standards,” they wrote, “will lead to long hours of direct instruction in literacy and math. This kind of ‘drill and grill’ teaching has already pushed active, play-based learning out of many kindergartens.…There is little evidence that standards for young children lead to later success. The research is inconclusive; many countries with top-performing high-school students provide rich play-based, nonacademic experiences—not standardized instruction—until age six or seven.”

    It’s not clear exactly where the current trend – of pushing more information on kids earlier – came from, but it seems to be a response to the idea that the U.S. needs to catch up to other countries’ education systems. The problem with this strategy is that there doesn’t appear to be much evidence that “more sooner” is the most effective strategy. “The real school starting age is 7,” says Alvin Rosenfeld, MD, faculty at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center and author of Hyper-Parenting and The Over-Scheduled Child. “It may be 8 or 6, depending on the child. This is all based on what we know about child development, starting from Piaget. Your brain isn’t sufficiently wired to do it before then. And you also have to keep in mind, all kids are different, and it’s very hard to predict what will happen with age. Some kids who were reading Harry Potter at 4 end up as career baristas. Others can’t read till they’re much older, and they turn out to be highly successful as adults.”

    David Elkind, long-time child development expert at Tufts University and author of The Hurried Child, says that a related problem with the Common Core standards is that “children are not standardized.” Between ages 4 to 7, he says, kids are undergoing especially rapid changes in cognitive ability, but this neurological and psychological development occurs at all different rates. “Some children attain these abilities—which enable them to learn verbal rules, the essence of formal instruction—at different ages. With the exception of those with special needs, all children attain them eventually. That is why many Scandinavian countries do not introduce formal instruction, the three R’s until the age of seven. In these countries children encounter few learning difficulties. Basically, you cannot standardize growth, particularly in young children and young adolescents. When growth is most rapid, standardization is the most destructive of motivation to learn. To use a biological analogy, you don’t prune during the growing season.”

    Ekind and Rosenfeld were two of hundreds of child development researchers and educators who signed a joint statement back in 2010 expressing serious reservations about the impending rollout of the Common Core. The appropriateness of the curriculum at each grade level has been an ongoing source of concern and frustration to researchers and educators, who argue that it often pushes too much too soon. Diane Ravitch, education historian at NYU and vocal critic of the Common Core, says that in particular, “the early grades are developmentally inappropriate. Children of 5 and 6 and 7 need time for play, not a forced academic march. They will have 6-hour, 8-hour tests. That is nuts…. The American ideal was always a well-rounded child prepared for citizenship and life. Now it is all test prep.”

    • bigfatmike says:

      “It’s not clear exactly where the current trend – of pushing more information on kids earlier – came from, but it seems to be a response to the idea that the U.S. needs to catch up to other countries’ education systems. The problem with this strategy is that there doesn’t appear to be much evidence that “more sooner” is the most effective strategy. ”

      That is a really important distinction. The problems of US education cannot be solved by pushing advanced material to younger and younger students. The ‘catching up’ that US education needs to accomplish has to do with presenting materials more effectively to more students. If US education cannot reach students then no amount of testing advanced concepts is going to help.

      When it comes to math standards cognitive development is essential to apprehend mathematical concepts – without appropriate cognitive development all the teaching and testing in the world is likely to be fruitless. Somehow that incontrovertible fact seems to have escaped the attention of the so called ‘experts’.

  4. Elaine M. says:

    All Children Are Not the Same: Common Core Standards Fail to Keep Child Development in Mind

    Did you know that there are 90 reading standards for kindergartners under Common Core and that all kindergartners will be expected to read under these standards?

    I don’t know why I’m surprised. In an interview on BAM Radio Network several years ago, noted early childhood expert Jane Healy told me, “We have a tendency in this country to put everybody into a formula – to throw them all into the same box and have these expectations that they’re all going to do the same thing at the same time.”

    For the most part, that’s always been the case with education: expecting all children in the same grade to master the same work at the same level and pace. But since the inception of No Child Left Behind – and now with Race to the Top and the implementation of the Common Core Standards (“common” being the operative word) – it’s only gotten worse. The “box” has gotten even smaller. And the younger the children, the less room there is for movement inside it. (Play on words intended.)

    There’s nothing wrong with standards, or goals, per se. It makes sense to establish a certain level of mastery for children to achieve, and to determine what students should be able to do and know over the course of a particular period of time – a school year, for example. But the standards should be realistic. It should be possible for the majority of students to achieve them, each at her or his own pace. That means the standards must also be developmentally appropriate and based on the principles of child development – designed with actual children in mind.

    But they’re not. Standards are written by people with little to no knowledge of child development or developmentally appropriate practice. They’re written with too little input from people who do have that knowledge – like teachers and child development experts. In fact, of the 135 people on the committees that wrote and reviewed the K-3 Common Core Standards, not one was a K-3 teacher or an early childhood professional.

    As a result, K-3 teachers more and more often are being asked to teach in ways they know to be developmentally inappropriate. They’re asked to make demands of students whom they know are not developmentally ready for such demands. And, as Jane Healy noted, “When you start something before the brain is prepared, you’ve got trouble.”

    • bigfatmike says:

      DAVID KOHN at the NYT has an interesting article on early education:

      In it he explains that reading and other skills cannot be rushed:

      “Reading, in particular, can’t be rushed. It has been around for only about 6,000 years, so the ability to transform marks on paper into complex meaning is not pre-wired into the brain. It doesn’t develop “naturally,” as do other complex skills such as walking; it can be fostered, but not forced. Too often that’s what schools are trying to do now. This is not to suggest that we shouldn’t increase access to preschool, and improve early education for disadvantaged children. But the early education that kids get — whatever their socioeconomic background — should truly help their development. We must hope that those who make education policy will start paying attention to this science.”

      Instruction before a child is ready is not just ineffective. Kohn points out there is research that demonstrates too early instruction can be damaging to later development as well.

      It seems that we have so called experts, pushing trendy ideas about education, that may know their subjects very well but children not at all. Experts who fail to conform standards to the age related abilities of children abuse children and create problems for all of us.

  5. Elaine M. says:


    Thanks for the link to that article!

  6. Pingback: Kindergarten common core is still inappropriate.  | stopcommoncorenys

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