I published a post the other day titled, “Parent: No, my kindergartner won’t be doing that homework assignment,” by a mother of three, Cara Paiuk, who wrote:

I just can’t imagine prioritizing homework with my 5-year-old son when I feel it’s more important we spend time together as a family, nurture our children, or let the kids play together.

That followed a number of other Answer Sheet posts in the last few years about how kindergarten has changed from a year in which young children learn largely through play to one that is focused on academics and tests.

In many places, kindergartners now go with very little — or no — physical education, recess, art and music. Parents have complained, and so have kindergarten teachers, who say they feel as if they are being forced to present curriculum and lessons to kids before they are ready in this era of standardized test-based reform. In this 2014 post, for example, a kindergarten teacher in Massachusetts named Susan Sluyter explained that her job had become all about “tests and data — not children” and that is why she had decided to quit.

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Paiuk’s post prompted a response from teachers, including a 24-year educator named Valerie E. Hardy who has taught children in kindergarten through grade 4 — 16 years for Garden Grove Unified School District in California, and the rest for Cherry Creek Schools in Colorado. She has been a master teacher for countless student teachers, as well as a new-teacher mentor, and has been part of the opening teams for two new schools during her career. She has two grown daughters and has been married for almost 31 years.

Hardy, who teachers at Pine Ridge Elementary School in the Cherry Creek district, said parents shouldn’t blame kindergarten teachers for what is happening to their kids in school. Teachers don’t have the authority anymore to decide what actually happens.

Here’s the email from Valerie Hardy:

As a veteran kindergarten teacher, I feel I must defend myself and my colleagues from yet another teacher attack. Who decides the curriculum we teach? Not us. Who passes the laws that says children must be proficient with certain tasks and have mastered particular subjects? Not us. Who requires us to teach standards we know are not appropriate for the developmental stages of our students. Again, not us. We would love to have exploration time, social time, finger painting and recess! We know that there is valuable growth that occurs from student-centered social activities.
Take a look at the standards that we are expected to teach and have each student master. If reformers have their way, and in many places they do, our reviews and pay will be linked to the success of our children as they meet these standards. I have been a teacher for 24 years. I have watched my autonomy shrink more and more over the years. Where I used to be able to stretch out an activity or lesson because my students were engaged and wanting more, I now must stick to the long-range plan. Where before, I could scrap a lesson that wasn’t working and try something else, today I must stick to the standards.
I tell my parents that homework is important for establishing the routine of sitting down in a quiet place with all the materials ready, so that work can happen without distractions. This is a routine that will become a habit, which will become a lifelong asset. However, I also tell my parents that unstructured play is more important.
Please! Every time I turn around, my profession is being demonized. The ills of our nation are often dropped at our feet. The media focuses on the bad and unlawful, and rarely on the good teachers who come to school every day ready to make a difference in the lives of their students. They love them, feed them, nurse them, teach them and guide them toward success. I wish that every person who makes decisions about education and every parent who is unhappy could spend one week in a classroom. I would bet they would have very different things to say about us.
Sincerely,
Valerie Hardy
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