Susan Sluyter, a kindergarten teacher with 25 years experience, resigned from her job last month over the “climate of data fascination” that had seeped into her workplace, a fascination that has led to a constant scoring, testing, and assessing of her students. Sluyter explained her decision to quit in a recent article in the Washington Post accompanied by her resignation letter. In that resignation letter, Sluyter states she was no longer able to reconcile what she called a “disturbing era of testing and data collection in the public schools” with her understanding of the way children learned and the things a teacher needs to do to in order to build a healthy and “developmentally appropriate environment for learning.” In a Today interview on Wednesday morning, Sluyter said that so many things were taking her literally and figuratively away from the classroom that it took the joy out of teaching.
Sluyter detailed in chronological order her growing frustrations that ultimately led to her resignation in the Washington Post. She first saw the beginnings of the “disturbing era of testing” happening in the upper grade levels in 2002 when No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the sweeping educational reform that holds schools and teachers responsible for student performance, was signed into law by President George W. Bush. The fascination with collecting data eventually trickled down to the kindergarten and even PreK levels. First, there was a literacy initiative that prescribed both the techniques and time spent teaching literacy skills. Next came math assessments, periodically after each unit plus an additional one annually. Those were on top of the three existing annual literacy assessments. After that, it became required to post Learning Objectives in the classroom. Teachers were supposed to make these goals explicit by reading the objectives aloud to students. Intended to enhance a student’s learning, Sluyter saw them as “enhancing pressure on children.”
More recently, said Sluyter, teachers were told to add more math instruction time, making math and literacy “mirrored blocks.” Sluyter pointed out that single-subject blocks are not how children 4-6 years old learn best. Teachers can help them learn best, said Sluyter, when academics are integrated with play “and theme-driven projects extend over time, weaving academics throughout.” Literacy goals were being upped as well, and educators found themselves in professional development classes that asked them to teach kindergarteners how to form persuasive arguments and provide textual evidence. The general push for increased academics in Early Childhood has resulted in play being cut from classrooms. Sluyter said that there are no longer arts and crafts centers, drama areas, sand tables, and block areas in many kindergartens even though childhood experts are steadfast in their agreement that kids 4-6 “learn largely through play.” Sluyter lists other changes: teacher assessments, three hours per week of education strategy courses that last half the school year, weekend online courses to renewal teaching credentials, a biannual Kindergarten Entrance Assessment, and, last but not least, the total replacement of the existing math curriculum with one that is “more aligned with the Common Core.”
Sluyter pointed out that all these activities fracture teachers’ concentration and turn them into a data collectors instead of educators. But the negative impact is even harder on the students. Sluyter stated that “when adults muck about too much in the process of learning” by adding at too soon an age additional pressures and challenges, children start to feel stupid. The joy of learning disappears. And Sluyter believes that the “ill-informed pressures and expectations on our young children” prevent their social and emotional needs from being met and are at the root of many of the increased number of behavioral problems that have been reported by teachers everywhere. In a resignation letter penned with “deep love and a broken heart,” Sluyter said she feels that she did not leave her job, but rather that her job left her: “I reached the place…where I began to feel I was part of a broken system that was causing damage to those very children I was there to serve.”
By Donna Westlund