My Response: Common Core Reading in Kindergarten

Jan 19, 2015 by

out of sync

“My Response: Common Core Reading in Kindergarten”

By Donna Garner



Defending the Early Years (DEY) has released a report which challenges the Common Core Standards in Kindergarten reading and makes recommendations as to what is developmentally appropriate and inappropriate for children in K.  The DEY report has indeed built a strong case to substantiate its claims that the Common Core is completely out of synch with what most kindergarten children are able to accomplish.


However, I scanned through the Defending the Early Years (DEY) report “Our New Report! Reading Instruction in Kindergarten: Little to Gain and Much to Lose,”

( ) ( 


The DEY report has a few sections that mention the Bank Street developmental reading skills kindergarten children need, but I did not see an extensive explanation about phonemic awareness nor about phonics.  I also did not see those all-important phonemic awareness/decoding skills mentioned in the “Recommendations” contained in the DEY report.


In the Sources, I did not see any references to:

National Right To Read – (  ( )


Phonemic awareness – (  ( )


Synthetic phonics —


Marilyn Jager Adams’ Beginning To Read, c. 1994 (


MRI’s – ( ) ( (


The empirical National Institute of Child Health and Development, National Institutes of Health (NICHD) reading research (“The NICHD Reading Research Program” — ) (


It is as if the writers of the DEY report, while criticizing Common Core, have themselves failed to validate the NICHD’s reading research which is the best, most expensive, peer-reviewed, replicated, independent reading research that has ever been done in America. 


I am concerned that the writers of the DEY report are themselves rather limited in their understanding of the scientific/medical research done by the NICHD under Dr. Reid Lyon and his team.  The whole language/holistic/New Jersey Writing Project crowd vilified Dr. Reid Lyon politically and eventually managed to disrupt the implementation of the NICHD reading research, but I hate to see the DEY group falling into the same trap of acting as if the NICHD empirical reading research never occurred. 


Even though No Child Left Behind (NCLB) has other problems, the NICHD reading academies under (NCLB) worked because they taught teachers about phonemic awareness/decoding skills (phonics).  During the President G. W. Bush administration, the reading academies managed to build the reading skills of children all over America, particularly among language-impoverished children.  There is valid research to prove that:


The DEY needs to make use of the NICHD empirical reading research because it is medically and scientifically based.  This would form a stronger foundation for the DEY report. 


Donna Garner

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1 Comment

  1. Teacher with a Brain

    During the 1960s there were a number of reading research projects funded collectively known as the “First Grade Studies.” A number of the researchers followed students through third grade or beyond. The synthetic phonics reading programs did deliver short term results that trumped more wholistic approaches at the end of grade one in word identification skills, however if followed through grade 3 and grade 5, the advantage was no longer evident and some less skill-oriented approaches appeared to offer an edge in writing skills and comprehension. One issue in this debate is that Americans tend to look at short term advantage and forget that human development is years in the making. What appears to be advantageous on the short term, may not prove to be over the long haul.

    I have a copy of the DEY article on my desk. I do not interpret it as promoting HOW to teach reading, therefore I believe it would be out of place to tout studies of HOW to teach reading. Instead, I interpret their thesis as there is little argument to begin reading instruction in kindergarten, that more is lost than is gained overall. They appear to favor the developmental kindergarten, the kind I attended, and the current practices have certainly not produced a superior “product.” I am a product of “look-say,” and I had no trouble transitioning from high school to college level reading, nor did many of my peers.

    They cite several studies that have looked at achievement several years down the road and they also have considered discipline referrals and issues, behavior problems and in at least one longitudinal study, police records. These studies span decades and were conducted in more than one country.

    I believe they are arguing that kindergarten is more developmentally appropriately a place to engage in active, hands-on learning and to learn and practice social skills. The argument is that if we provide children with a developmentally appropriate education at a “sensitive” (my word) period, we facilitate learning and development. By the end of third grade there is no detectable difference between reading achievement of children subjected to early explicit reading instruction and those who first received it in first grade. However, there may well be other advantages to a less skills and academically oriented program throughout K. These advantages may translate into academic, social and emotional gains when we have the patience to follow the experimental and control groups across time.

    When I was in college, earning my B.S.Ed. (you know, the degree for the dummies)I read a lengthy piece on a study conducted in England, in probably, the 60s. In that study the experimental group was provided with a hands-on, active approach to learning in grades 1 and 2 (there may or may not have been public K classes in that period, I know they were just coming into vogue stateside). By the end of third grade the experimental group, first formally introduced to reading instruction in grade 3, showed no statistical difference from the control group, instructed formally in grades 1 and 2, on achievement testing. I never forgot this study and I wondered why it was not replicated and further publicized.

    These efforts say nothing about HOW we should be teaching reading or even pre-reading, as that was not their point. There point was that many children lack the developmental readiness to profit from formal reading instruction at age 5 or even 6, though almost all are ready at age 8. They further postulate that there are valuable learning opportunities that will enable educational progress in a developmentally appropriate manner that very well may pay dividends that are apparent several (or many) years later.

    There is no reason a developmentally appropriate K cannot incorporate extensive reading aloud to children, rhymes and word play to train young ears to profit from systematic phonics instruction in grade 1. Most children dearly love storytime and they hear good language, when they are exposed to vocabulary, to concepts, they are enriched. These learning opportunities become the raw materials from which to construct dramatic play at the various play stations within the classroom, incorporating the new language and concepts, making them their own.

    My children were raised developmentally. I shunned academic K, though my children were extensively read to, from fiction to concept books, to folktales, to even novels around age 5. They developed attention spans, they were happy to sit and listen, they did not need to be “entertained” and tricked into learning because, frankly, the content of the lessons was boring. They both learned to read in first grade, with great ease. As preschoolers they acted out the stories we read to them into their very important dramatic play. I have a fond memory of them playing the Billy Goats Gruff, using the kiddie slide in the family room as the bridge the billy goats crossed over. In second grade when 2-3 classes were having a science lesson together, the teacher asked the children where acorns come from. I had reread Steven Kellog’s version of the story about the sky “falling” (the title escapes me at this moment). An acorn had fallen from an oak tree and hit the silly hen on the head, convincing her the sky is falling. Lessons on several levels from this traditional folktale. He knew the answer to the teacher’s question (no other child did) and it was because his life was enriched with children’s literature. I never, ever drilled him on letters, numbers, sounds. I did read him many variations on counting books, alphabet books, we owned a couple dozen of these and he learned these skills joyfully.

    How would you remember where an acorn came from, if someone told you in an instructive way (perhaps) or through this factoid being integrated into a well-loved story you had listened to dozens of times during your early childhood? What if you hear a half dozen “stories” every day from the age you can first sit still for stories all the way until you are 8? What if parents and teachers carefully choose stories to represent the best in children’s literature, including poetry and rhyme? You will have much background knowledge to apply to learning to read, to profiting from math instruction, to science, etc. You will have an excellent attention span, and perhaps more importantly, you will have known love as you snuggled with mom, dad, grandma or grandpa as you looked and listened to hundreds of hours of stories, and that kind of love and acceptance goes a long way toward facilitating growth and development into a confident child who is ready and eager to learn.

    For heaven’s sake, why are we crippling childhood and natural curiosity subjecting 5 year olds to formal reading, writing and math instruction that young children have little natural interest in? If you want them to WANT to read, invite them to LOVE and CRAVE literature, then TEACH them to read using all the best that research has demonstrated. Earlier is not necessarily better.