University of Chicago study: Kindergarteners are not challenged in math

5 Apr

There is a battle brewing regarding whether kindergarten should be more challenging. Moi posted in University of Virginia research: Kindergarten is the new first grade:
Children are not “mini mes” or short adults. They are children and they should have time to play, to dream, and to use their imagination. Alison Gopnik has an excellent article in Slate which reports about the results of two new studies, Why Preschool Shouldn’t Be Like School:

In the first study, MIT professor Laura Schulz, her graduate student Elizabeth Bonawitz, and their colleagues looked at how 4-year-olds learned about a new toy with four tubes. Each tube could do something interesting: If you pulled on one tube it squeaked, if you looked inside another tube you found a hidden mirror, and so on. For one group of children, the experimenter said: “I just found this toy!” As she brought out the toy, she pulled the first tube, as if by accident, and it squeaked. She acted surprised (“Huh! Did you see that? Let me try to do that!”) and pulled the tube again to make it squeak a second time. With the other children, the experimenter acted more like a teacher. She said, “I’m going to show you how my toy works. Watch this!” and deliberately made the tube squeak. Then she left both groups of children alone to play with the toy. …
As so often happens in science, two studies from different labs, using different techniques, have simultaneously produced strikingly similar results. They provide scientific support for the intuitions many teachers have had all along: Direct instruction really can limit young children’s learning. Teaching is a very effective way to get children to learn something specific—this tube squeaks, say, or a squish then a press then a pull causes the music to play. But it also makes children less likely to discover unexpected information and to draw unexpected conclusions….
These experts in machine learning argue that learning from teachers first requires you to learn about teachers. For example, if you know how teachers work, you tend to assume that they are trying to be informative. When the teacher in the tube-toy experiment doesn’t go looking for hidden features inside the tubes, the learner unconsciously thinks: “She’s a teacher. If there were something interesting in there, she would have showed it to me.” These assumptions lead children to narrow in, and to consider just the specific information a teacher provides. Without a teacher present, children look for a much wider range of information and consider a greater range of options.
Knowing what to expect from a teacher is a really good thing, of course: It lets you get the right answers more quickly than you would otherwise. Indeed, these studies show that 4-year-olds understand how teaching works and can learn from teachers. But there is an intrinsic trade-off between that kind of learning and the more wide-ranging learning that is so natural for young children. Knowing this, it’s more important than ever to give children’s remarkable, spontaneous learning abilities free rein. That means a rich, stable, and safe world, with affectionate and supportive grown-ups, and lots of opportunities for exploration and play. Not school for babies. http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2011/03/why_preschool_shouldnt_be_like_school.html

In the rush to produce baby Einsteins and child prodigies, perhaps we are missing the creativity that play activities by preschoolers produces.
https://drwilda.com/2014/02/03/university-of-virginia-research-kindergarten-is-the-new-first-grade/
Admittedly, these studies deal with preschool. Still, there is a rush to require more and more structured learning earlier.

Annie Murphy Paul reported in the New York Times article, Research on Children and Math: Underestimated and Unchallenged:

We hear a lot about how American students lag behind their international peers academically, especially in subjects like math. In the most recent Program for International Student Assessment, commonly known as PISA, students in the United States ranked 26th out of 34 countries in mathematics. On the surface, it would seem that we’re a nation of math dullards; simply no good at the subject. But a spate of new research suggests that we may be underestimating our students, especially the youngest ones, in terms of their ability to think about numbers.
A study published in the April issue of the American Educational Research Journal, for example, finds that kindergarten students learn more when they are exposed to challenging content such as advanced number concepts and even addition and subtraction. In turn, elementary school students who were taught more sophisticated math as kindergarteners made bigger gains in mathematics, reported the study’s lead author, Amy Claessens of the University of Chicago.
Another study, published last year by Dr. Claessens with co-authors Mimi Engel and Maida Finch, concluded that as things stand, many children in kindergarten are being taught information they already know. The “vast majority” of kindergarteners have already mastered counting numbers and recognizing shapes before they set foot in the classroom, Dr. Claessens and her co-authors noted, yet kindergarten teachers report spending much of their math teaching time on these skills.
The students don’t gain anything from going over familiar ground: In the article published this month, Dr. Claessens and her colleagues report that pupils do not benefit from basic content coverage, but that all the kindergarteners in the study, regardless of economic background or initial skill level, did benefit from exposure to more advanced content….
Young students are ready to learn more advanced math concepts, as long as they are presented in an engaging, developmentally appropriate way. The next time we lament the performance of older American students, we could think instead about how to improve the math instruction given to their younger brothers and sisters. http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/04/03/research-on-children-and-math-underestimated-and-unchallenged/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0

See, Study Finds That Kindergarten is Too Easy
http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/inside-school-research/2014/02/kindergarten_is_too_easy.html

Citation:

A more recent version of this article was published on [04-02-2014]
Academic Content, Student Learning, and the Persistence of Preschool Effects
1. Amy Claessens
1. University of Chicago
1. Mimi Engel
2. F. Chris Curran
1. Vanderbilt University
Abstract
Little research has examined the relationship between academic content coverage in kindergarten and student achievement. Using nationally representative data, we examine the association between reading and mathematics content coverage in kindergarten and student learning, both overall and for students who attended preschool, Head Start, or participated in other child care prior to kindergarten entry. We find that all children benefit from exposure to advanced content in reading and mathematics and that students do not benefit from basic content coverage. Interestingly, this is true regardless of whether they attended preschool, began kindergarten with more advanced skills, or are from families with low income. Policy implications are discussed.
academic content
student achievement
kindergarten
preschool
Article Notes
Received November 12, 2012.
Revision received August 20, 2013.
Accepted October 13, 2013.

Here is the press release from the University of Chicago:

More challenging content in kindergarten boosts later performance
By Wen Huang
MARCH 17, 2014
Children of all economic backgrounds could score bigger gains in math and reading if teachers introduced more advanced content in kindergarten, according to a new study from the Harris School of Public Policy Studies.
When kindergarten teachers neglect advanced content, children tend to stagnate in reading performance later in elementary school, said study co-author Amy Claessens, assistant professor of public policy at Chicago Harris. Those students also gain less in mathematics than students whose kindergarten experience included more advanced content.
According to Claessens, “basic content” is defined as skills that more than half of the children entering kindergarten have mastered. If the majority of children have not yet grasped it, the content is considered to be advanced.
“There have been many studies of the effects of full-day kindergarten and reduced class size on student learning during kindergarten,” Claessens said. “But we know relatively little about the role of content coverage during the kindergarten years.”
Using the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study–Kindergarten Cohort, a nationally representative sample of kindergarteners, Claessens and her co-authors, Mimi Engel and Chris Curran from Vanderbilt University, examined the reading and math content covered in kindergarten classrooms and how they relate to later changes in children’s academic achievement.
The authors also looked at whether exposure to advanced content in reading and mathematics would enable kindergarten children to maintain and extend the advantages acquired from attending preschool programs.
The results indicate that adding four more days per month on advanced topics in reading or mathematics is associated with moderate increases of test score gains.
Claessens believes changing content coverage is a potentially easy and low-cost means to improve student achievement in kindergarten and beyond, especially compared with options such as lengthening the school day or reducing class size.
“At a time when education programs are facing budget constraints, this is a more viable option,” Claessens said. “Teachers could increase their time on advanced content while reducing time on basic content, without the need to increase overall instructional time, and do so in a developmentally appropriate way for young kids.”
The paper, “Academic Content, Student Learning, and the Persistence of Preschool Effects,” was published in the American Educational Research Journal.
Tags
Amy Claessens, Chicago Harris, Early childhood, early education, Harris School of Public Policy Studies, kindergarten
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wenh@uchicago.edu
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– See more at: http://news.uchicago.edu/article/2014/03/17/more-challenging-content-kindergarten-boosts-
later-performance#sthash.zREtMpST.dpuf

Claudio Sanchez of NPR reported in the story, What The U.S. Can Learn From Finland, Where School Starts At Age 7:

Finland, a country the size of Minnesota, beats the U.S. in math, reading and science, even though Finnish children don’t start school until age 7.
Despite the late start, the vast majority arrive with solid reading and math skills. By age 15, Finnish students outperform all but a few countries on international assessments…. http://www.npr.org/2014/03/08/287255411/what-the-u-s-can-learn-from-finland-where-school-starts-at-age-7

We must not so over-schedule children that they have no time to play and to dream.

Related:

‘Redshirting’ kindergarteners
https://drwilda.com/tag/redshirting-holding-kids-back-from-kindergarten/

The state of preschool education is dire
https://drwilda.wordpress.com/2012/04/10/the-state-of-preschool-education-is-dire/

The ‘whole child’ approach to education
https://drwilda.wordpress.com/2012/02/10/the-whole-child-approach-to-education/

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