by Susan Bowles
This article was written in response to a Gainesville Sun commentary about pushing math skills on preschoolers to raise U.S. PISA scores. Bowles is a kindergarten teacher who calls attention to the need for age appropriate teaching and learning strategies. Simply pushing the mastery of high level skills on younger and younger children is ineffective and unfair.
Your published commentary “Math education needs to start at home” was full of misinformation. It began, “Educators and parents alike are alarmed over the persistent gaps between 15-year-olds in the United States and their international peers on math and science outcomes.” They based this on the scores of recent PISA (an international student assessment) scores.
This is false. Educators and informed parents are neither alarmed nor concerned by this gap in PISA scores. Between the differing percentages of children in poverty (we have the highest poverty among the industrialized nations) and the implementation of Common Core Standards there are absolutely no surprises here.
The recommendation and conclusion of the contributors of the commentary: Focus more on preschoolers and the math vocabulary and ideas they are being presented and we will “ensure that the future PISA scores will not be so bleak.“
Let me state this very clearly. We need to stop pushing skills on little children to improve test scores.
It is important to make connections and talk about patterns and numbers and words we see in day-to-day life with children. But, the emphasis on test scores seems to override what’s developmentally appropriate for children in elementary school, and seemingly now, preschool. Years of research and child development theory have been tossed out because early childhood educators are never included in policy decisions.
We need to give childhood back to children. Preschoolers and Kindergartners need opportunities to play. Children learn by discovery and experience. They need to play with real authentic toys like blocks and dolls and crayons and Playdoh. They need to paint and play outside games without a coach or other adult. They need to pretend and problem-solve. Let them climb and jump and twirl.
The emphasis on skills, standards and testing has taken so much away from our children, and from the teachers who want them to love learning and make their own discoveries.
Learning for young children needs to be child-centered, not skills-centered. They need to have opportunities to learn about their world in a meaningful, personal way. They need to interact with each other and learn how to communicate, co-operate and even negotiate. They need to be authentically listened to by adults, and responded to with genuine conversation out of caring and interest without the outcome goal being that they will have learned some pre-requisite skill to help them on the plethora of tests they will face in the future.
Education is not all about how we will score on PISA. Education should be about providing the opportunities for children to learn and grow and blossom into their fullest potential, whatever that may be. This is not exclusively academic. We are dehumanizing education. Education should empower students to become moral, respectful, civil, compassionate, competent and contributing adults. To place the improvement of PISA scores on the very small shoulders of preschoolers is shameful.