Kindergarten (and Career) Readiness Rat Race

I am conflicted about the push for universal preschool. My kids had a terrific experience with Montessori preschool, however, it seems unlikely that universal Montessori preschool is in the offing and I find it difficult to disagree with the sentiment Chris expresses here:

I can’t say that I remember much from my Kindergarten days beyond Elmer’s paste and safety scissors, but it was hardly an academic pressure cooker. So the concern about Kindergarten readiness has me wondering, just how ready could kids really need to be for the first year of formal schooling (beyond the obvious of having had a fifth birthday prior to September 15 of the year)?

A local district website offers some clues to Kindergarten expectations. There are the Iowa Core standards for Kindergarten language arts and mathematics and the district Student Learning Standards for Kindergarten language arts, mathematics, and social studies.

Once you get past the bizarre Kindergarten employability skills–honestly, would we really be all that less “globally competitive” if Iowa five-year-olds spent their Kindergarten days learning to share, take turns, stand in line, and stay on task rather than learning to “use different perspectives to increase innovation and the quality of work”, “use interpersonal skills to influence and guide others to a goal,” “use time efficiently to manage workload”, and “deliver quality job performance on time”?–it isn’t at all clear to me that kids should require much in the way of preparation to meet expectations by the end of their Kindergarten year.

The language arts standards are a bit unhelpful in some places. Note to standards writers: it doesn’t really illuminate anything to say that Kindergarten students are expected to be able to read “Kindergarten level” books or know and apply “grade-level” phonics.

In any case, most of the expectations seem pretty reasonable, though I can’t tell exactly how high the decoding expectations are. So, I suppose there is some possibility that expectations for decoding skills are higher than they used to be.

Interestingly, it just now strikes me that there are no expectations that children will learn to write their names, learn about colors, or develop any particular motor skills (cutting with scissors, holding pencils correctly for writing)–I hope I just missed them.

Again with mathematics, the standards look pretty reasonable: count to 100 by ones and by tens; write numbers from 0 to 20; compare groups of objects (greater than, less than, equal to); add and subtract within ten, with fluency expected for addition and subtraction within five; understand that the numbers 11-19 are made up of ten and some number of units; measuring and comparing objects (longer/shorter, heavier/lighter); sorting objects; and some knowledge of 2-D and 3-D shapes.

My working hypothesis is that there isn’t so much a problem of absolute readiness as there is a problem with relative readiness. Some kids arrive the first day of Kindergarten with all or many of these expectations mastered, while others have not. I suppose we could try to resolve that problem by making mastery of the Kindergarten curriculum, in a preschool setting, a prerequisite of “Kindergarten readiness”–though what the purpose of Kindergarten would be at that point, I couldn’t guess. Alternatively, I suppose we could place children prepared to benefit from first grade work in first grade, quit comparing the rest of them to each other, and stop putting increasingly higher economic competitiveness academic expectations on younger and younger children.


2 thoughts on “Kindergarten (and Career) Readiness Rat Race

  1. Mary

    Thank you for posting the employability skills for kindergartners. I had not seen them. You are right about the problem with “relative readiness.” The developmental range for this group is so broad,that imposing these standards on some children might unduly stress them and make them dislike school. Others will surpass them. I also wonder whether these standards will, overall, especially the language arts standards, favor girls more than boys who are often not as interested in academics as some girls. One of my biggest concerns with the standards for the lower grades is whether they will take too much time away from art, music and recess since these are some of the areas many kids enjoy the most and having recess helps a lot of kids focus better.

  2. Karen W Post author

    Thanks for commenting, Mary. I do think that it is hard to tell just how much progress with reading is expected, though I’ll agree with you that the standards appear to favor earlier readers rather than later ones.

    Art, music, and recess are important, and it isn’t clear how much time in the Kindergarten day is left for those activities. This morning I am still thinking about the missing fine and gross motor skill development expectations–art, music (especially if kids are encouraged to move), and recess are all great opportunities for that development, in addition to just being enjoyable activities. I suppose if they stop teaching cursive, and start typing (and “doing art” on computers!) early, perhaps fine motor skill development will become just one more place “where parents should pick up the slack” but that seems like a sad vision of Kindergarten to me.

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