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Standardizing Early Childhood Education?

Under federal mandates states are developing new standards for the education of young children.
Testing Young Children
Testing Young Children
In Washington State Governor Locke's administration is proposing new benchmarks for young children. The Early Learning and Development Benchmarks represent new risks for Washington's children. Since the benchmarks were required under federal mandates, all the nation's children face these risks.

The first risk is that the tools themselves may be overly simplistic or too complex to be useful. This risk can only be evaluated in the context of the actual benchmarks, which will be made public on November 8.

Another risk is that the tools will be presented as value-neutral, when they cannot be anything but based on values. All educational practice reflects what is culturally valued for children to learn and to experience. That fact that the tools will reflect values is not a problem - but deciding whose values to reflect can present lots of problems.

Given the dynamics of the balance of power between the early childhood field and the common schools, early educators risk being pushed aside when it comes to articulating what we value in early childhood care and education. When materials are presented as universal, objective or value-neutral it is more likely that our values will be ignored.

If the aim of the benchmarks is to standardize practices and centralize administration of early education and care, then they represent a threat to young children, and early educators and care providers.

This is because the standardization efforts in common schools have disempowered teachers in the common schools. We risk being handed scripts and expected to teach lock step in ways that are not developmentally appropriate or culturally relevant to our children.

More important than the quality and usefulness of the benchmarks themselves is how the benchmarks are framed. If they are viewed as something that are necessary in order for teachers and providers to do their jobs, as basic resources, then they present little risk to the profession. In this context, they will be quite useful because having an organized framework of benchmarks is very useful indeed. But if they are presented as the solution to the achievement gap and as the way (or a primary way) for improving early care and education, then they become problematic.

That's because the benchmarks cannot be more than just one type of the sorts of necessary tools used for teaching. It's clear that well developed benchmarks are essential for qualified and experienced early care providers to do their jobs. But having this tool does not matter if the funding for early care and education does not attract and retain qualified and experienced care providers. Any distraction from getting the funding required to provide quality early care and education is harmful to children's care and to the profession.

Fixing the system with funding is harder to do than setting benchmarks. Any team of educational experts can write out benchmarks based on quality research and theory. You can even get such materials off the shelf and from other agencies that have developed such frameworks. But funding and operating a system of quality care and education is hard work. You can't just buy one at a bookstore or from a team of academics. We need to be honest about this, and to make it clear that benchmarks are nothing more or less than benchmarks.

It's really important that we keep this in mind - or risk having the system built incrementally around whatever benchmarks are developed. Politicians may build up the importance of the benchmarks to make it seem like they are doing things, and then we may wind up with cookie cutter programs based on simplistic notions of learning and development.

It's also important that we not lose sight of the fact that it is impossible to have an effective program without well-developed frameworks of development and learning. While such frameworks are not "the" solution, there can be no solution without them.

Related, just because with benchmarks often comes standardization and centralization (based on child-unfriendly models) doesn't mean that the benchmarks are bad in themselves. It will be interesting to see what the 2nd draft looks like, and then to see how the benchmarks are used.


homepage: homepage: http://liberationlearning.org

'Scuse me 31.Oct.2004 23:25

Catalina Eddie

I've often wondered when I hear about such things, about the implications of telling the federal government to go fuck itself. I'm serious. What might happen? I'm sure Gary Locke would have a different take on it than me, but like, might that result in tanks rolling into Cascadia? Does anybody have any thoughts about this?

I'm not politically sophisticated, and I really can't think of effective ways to resist. I sure would like to hear from someone who does.


a quick fun fact 02.Nov.2004 12:23


This is probably related to the main article--if you look at the Washington voter's guide, there's an initiative or ballot measure about a new tax for new funding for different kinds of extra-curricular things related to K-12 education. Sounds OK at first, but then look at who helped write up the little explanation thing in the voters pamphlet: Bill Gates Sr.

Crazy agenda 02.Nov.2004 15:09


I am a preschool teacher in a classroom that would be effected by this kind of movement.I teach in a four's room. I read this artical this morning and took it with me to a staff meeting.My co-workers and I are horrified by this.
Children learn at different rates and that should be ok.It's all about maturity and to some degree home enviroment. I have in my afternoon class a boy who still should be napping but he's at school with me. This child has days where everything is overwhelming to him due to fatigue.If I had to give him a benchmark test on a day that he was tired there would be no way he'd pass.No one thinks well when tired.On the other hand I have students who would pass with amazing marks because they were ready and ahead of the other kids.There's alot of variables to childrens learning.
As a parent of two I dont like the benchmark tests. My now 5th grader was a wreck in 3rd grade over these test.He was worried about passing,he didint want to be left behind to be mocked by his peers.Also this same year my son's teacher had the parents teach at home the times tables to the kids.The teacher was to busy preparing the class for the benchmarks.A basic math skill was put aside for these tests. My son passed but is facing the test agian this year and it is yet to be seen what effect they will have on my son and his classmates.
Along the line of developement my younger son a 2nd grader just this school year has started therapy for fine motor skills.We were'nt worried about some of the troubles he was having because he had'nt reached the milestone of where they should've been mastered.We let him grow on his own with the attitude "he'll get it".And that's a point I as I teacher try to get across to parents your child will get it.Childeren all love to learn.If you slow down and let them master things at their own pace they will grow into being masters.
There's 3 years between my boys.My younger son was doing work in Kindergarten that his bother did in 1st grade.Not because he's smarter but because the education system keeps pushing for children to learn more and at a younger age.
A man by the name of Tom Hunter who is a great childrens advocate sings a song about children learning to read.It goes something like this.Lots of little squiggles and lot of little lines looks like alot more than you need then squiggles and lines become letters and words and before you know you can read. Thats literacy through a childs mind and it really does work that way.
I say mellow out already let them be childeren as long as they can.It's a short time and it goes by fast.Why raise childeren to be stressed out and hateful of learning.
I know of families that have dubbed their child as being stupid because the child did'nt pass the exam to enter a private school.So from this screwed up testing the opinion of the child changes in the eyes of the parents.The very parent whom the child gets thier direction from.Not to mention their self image.