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Kindergarten or Kindergrind?

Ohanian Comment: My book What Happened to Recess and Why Are Our Children Struggling in Kindergarten? documents the high stakes pressures put on your children around the country. It's good to see that at least one district is pulling back to more appropriate practices. Doing this should not be described as "lowering standards"; it is reestablishing appropriate standards.

For starters, why should kindergartners learn to read? What's the hurry?

by Sandra Hughes

LOS ANGELES "You can continue to direct teachers to teach in an atmosphere of stress and harassment… or you can allow teachers to teach children to love to read using multiple strategies." --Kindergarten teacher Trish Candia

(CBS) She may only be 5 years old, but Caitlyn Eberline wakes up with a long day ahead of her. That's because for the first time Los Angeles public schools have ended the half-day kindergarten — and stretched it to a full day, reports CBS News correspondent Sandra Hughes.

"She's really tired at the end of the day," says Rica Eberline.

And a little stressed out. Even writing her name, something Caitlyn knows how to do, exhausted her to the point of tears.

Her mother says: "She just kept writing O's and circles and I finally said let's take a break!"

It was the same in San Diego, where for several years the superintendent of schools raised standards in kindergarten to try to increase test scores.

"Principals and teachers interpreted that as no art, no music, no puzzles," explains kindergarten teacher Trish Candia.

That's right, gone are the good old days of coloring and Play-Doh. Now it's work, work, work and some are calling it "the kindergrind."

Candia says she felt the kids were under pressure. "I was a teacher and I wanted every kid in my class to do the very best," she says. "But they also need to have a life."

Nationwide the debate rages on whether kindergarten has become the new first grade — too much emphasis on learning to read and write. This year fed up teachers confronted the San Diego school board, asking them to dial back the curriculum.

"You can continue to direct teachers to teach in an atmosphere of stress and harassment… or you can allow teachers to teach children to love to read using multiple strategies," Candia says.

When research showed that some underperforming kindergarteners could catch up by third grade, the school board took a bold move and lowered their expectations.

"If you had the speed limit of 90 but the traffic wouldn't go that fast… it's not gonna make any difference. And so we basically just lowered the speed limit but the kids are going as fast as they can," says San Diego school board member John de Beck.

"Common sense isn't measured by test scores," notes de Beck.

"It's a balance," says Candia.

Trish Candia wants her students to play and learn to read.

"We need to expose these kids to ideas and concepts that they can grasp," she says. And hold onto, without forgetting what makes kindergarten fun for a 5-year-old.

— Sandra Hughes
CBS News


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