I accountability shift in the United States? When is

I am currently pursing
my degree in Early Childhood Education and have studied the impacts that academic
policies are having on our children at such a young age.  So several questions arise, such as, at what
point did the question of accountability shift in the United States?  When is too much, too soon?  What role do play-based programs play in the
future success of a student?  I set out
to answer this question using all of the prior research and knowledge acquired
throughout the semester, as well as additional sources. 

At what
point did the question of accountability shift in the United State and
why?  In 1983, then President, Ronald
Regan’s National Commission of Excellence in Education released a landmark
report, Nation at Risk, in which he questioned the efficiency of the United
States educational system (Cohen-Vogel & Little, 2016).  In response to said questions, a series of
reforms that included academic and accountability standards was created.  There were concerns that response to said
reforms would push higher academic content at younger grades.  Later, this issue was amplified by the
passing of the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act, which holds that all children are
to be tested annually, starting in the third grade and required teachers to
focus more and more on academic content (Cohen-Vogel & Little, 2016). 

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studies propose that accountability reforms have led educators, especially in lower
grade levels to feel an immense amount of pressure to prepare students for
assessments in the third grade (Booher-Jennings, 2005).  According to Bassok, Latham & Rorem,
another study of kindergarten between the years 1998 and 2010, found considerable
changes in the belief of Kindergarten teachers as it relates to school
readiness and the time spent on academic content and standardize assessments (Bassok,
Latham & Rorem, 2016).  “They note
that “kindergarten teachers in the later period held far higher academic
expectations for children both prior to kindergarten entry and during the kindergarten
year (Bassok, Latham & Rorem, 2016). They devoted more time to advanced
literacy and math content, teacher-directed instruction, and assessment and
substantially less time to art, music, science, and child-selected activities”  (Bassok, Latham & Rorem, 2016, p.1). 

When is
too much too soon?  According to Little
& Vogel’s article, An Analysis of the Discourses Used by Policy
Advocates in the Debate over Kindergarten, while this is not a new debate
it has intensified over the years (Cohen-Little &
Vogel, 2016).  Some early education experts have concerns as
it relates to the extreme shift in academic pressure at the expense of
play-based programs (Little & Vogel, 2016). 
An exorbitant amount of literature shows that the quality of
children’s early educational experiences is critical because it parallels
outcomes later in life (Cohen-Little & Vogel, 2016, as cited in Chetty et
al).  While evidence suggest that
increased, intense and academic content may be beneficial to Kindergartners, (Duncan
et al., 2007; Watts et al., 2015), there is also evidence that academic
advantages may come at the risk of behavioral proficiency later in life
(Huffman & Speer, 2000).

So what exactly
happened to Kindergarten and why are children being pushed so hard at such a
young age to learn and absorb so much information?  According to the article, What Happened to Kindergarten, Curwood
states, “It’s a 21st-century truism that in order for the United
States to get ahead in the global economy, we need to upgrade our public
schools”  (Curwood, 2007, p. 28).  Curwood states, that often we mistake “faster
for better” (Curwood, 2007, p. 28) and because of that, Kindergartener
students’ encounter drills and homework, leaving no time for playtime.  “Kindergarten is now first grade and first
grade is now second grade,” says Ann Stoudt, a kindergarten teacher in New
Jersey for about 19 years (Curwood, 2007, p. 28).  Curwood defends her position that we are
pushing children to learn more and more at younger ages.

What role do play-based
programs play in the future success of a student?  According to Karen Worth, a Senior Scientist
for the Education Development Center, students want to learn and understand our
natural word through natural inquiry (Learning Science Through Inquiry, (n.d.).  According to Cutter-Mackenzie and Edwards, open-ended play is
important for young children because it provides opportunities that are
necessary to support learning, such as exploration and discovery (Cutter-Mackenzie
& Edwards, 2013).  Through play-based
programs, children are able to be engaged learning through association of prior
knowledge, thus children learn through inquiry. 
Students are able to form associations through authentic based learning and
assessments (Cutter-Mackenzie & Edwards, 2013).

According to video, The
Learning Classroom:  Theory into Practice,
children learn best when they are able to construct their own knowledge.  This video provided an excellent example by
providing students with the materials and allowing them to collaborate to find
the answers (The Learning Classroom: Theory into Practice, 2003).  In an article written by Susan Edwards, play-based
learning is “a cornerstone of early childhood education”.   She
believes that play can be reflective, yet social, active and engaging for a
student.  Edwards believes that
play-based programs create “powerful pedagogical learning environments for
young children” (Edwards, 2017).

According to Plevyak
and Morris (2002), “the pressure to perform on standardize tests in the upper
primary grades is having an impact on the curriculum in both Kindergarten and
preschool program” (Plevyak & Morris, 2002, p. 2).  Students are no longer aloud to be children,
but rather are required to focus on preparing for what is to come next, such as
being prepared for the next grade level. 
It has been indicated by numerous studies that attitudes and opinions
are the same of what to expect from a Kindergartener, however, teachers and
parents rank those three categories in a completely different way (Welch &
White, 1999).  According to Clifford’s
(1996) study, teachers ranked physical health, effective communication,
curiosity and enthusiasm as indicators of readiness, however, parents believe
that academic skills as more of necessary pre-kindergarten skill.

So how do we meet the needs of the
changing landscape of Kindergarten as it exists today?  According to McLennan, Kindergarten has
transformed from exploration and play to academic assessment.  Today, teachers are trying to juggle and
support play-based programs while still meeting the increasingly academic
pressure in meeting academic standards. 
She suggests that as educators, we plan lessons based on the objectives
and curriculum, but only as a starting point for the lessons.  Once the lessons begin, we should let
students go where they will and encourage their creativity and exploration (McLennan,
2011).  Her view is of more a student centered
classroom verses teacher directed learning.

McLeannan goes on to say that it is
important to interpret the curriculum through “your classroom lens”, meaning
that one should consider the needs and interests, while considering the culture
of the community.  She states that as
educators, we should offer opportunities for children to explore new ideas and
practice those concepts through hands on exploration.  Finally, McLennan states that she feels there
is a medium, which requires us to integrate a play-based program with the
academic standardize assessment (McLennan, 2011).

Based on my research, it appears that
there is a thing as too much too soon!  Research
indicates that we may doing more harm socially to children than good, by
pushing such an academic agenda at such an early age.  Research indicates that play-based programs
are extremely important to the success of a student because they help release
their energy and engage them mentally and physically.  It is my opinion that we need to restore a
balance between what was and what is Kindergarten today!  I feel that there is enough research to
indicate that we should slow down and focus more on developing a child
emotionally and socially, so that they are better prepared for what is to come
later in life academically. 

I feel as if we are
pushing the cart before the horse and doing our children a true injustice.  Our children need guidance and direction, but
not at the expense of losing time through use of play-based activities. There
is a healthy balance between learning what we need to learn and all of this
academic legislation that has been shoved down our throats.  I really enjoyed watching the K4 during my practicum
as they learned how to share, compromise and overall just work out their
issues.  I watched the benefits of their learning
environment as they played with playdoh and sand.  I could see such a difference between the K4
and Kindergarten students and honestly it frightens me because I felt like the
Kindergartner’s were just so overwhelmed. 
Reading all of this research has guaranteed has guaranteed that I will
be teaching my class with a very fine balance of engagement and assessment, but
in a fun engaging way!