Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children

Samuel J. Meisels, president of the Chicago-based Erikson Institute, a graduate school in child development, has raised some provocative questions about the Common Core State Standards.  By working backward from college and career readiness, he argues, the K-12 standards in English and math give short shrift to early childhood and the developmental needs of the youngest learners, from birth to grade three. And they miss half of early childhood by starting at kindergarten.

Massachusetts is one of 45 states that have adopted the standards. A year ago the state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education adopted curriculum frameworks that include the Common Core and aligned standards for pre-kindergarten.

“Early childhood education — concerned with children from birth to the end of third grade — seems nearly an afterthought in the [Common Core] standards,” Meisels writes in the Washington Post’s Answer Sheet blog. “Not only do they end (or begin) at kindergarten, ignoring more than half of the early childhood age range, they simply don’t fit what we know about young children’s learning and development.”

Standards, Meisels notes, are important. “No one, including early educators, can afford to overlook standards,” he writes. “They’re critical for setting pedagogical goals and helping us know where we’re going instructionally and what we can hope to accomplish once we get there. They’re essential for establishing reasonable expectations or benchmarks for teaching and for deciding which curriculum to follow. And they’re fundamental to conducting meaningful assessments.”

Calibrating the Common Core standards backward from the desired outcomes for high school seniors, he writes, can shortchange the standards for young learners in kindergarten through third grade. “Top-down standards such as those in the Common Core distort early learning,” he writes.

In addition, Meisels writes, the standards are silent on developmental skills that are essential elements of high-quality early learning programs. “What about socio-emotional development?” he asks. “What about approaches to learning and the arts? What about executive function and self-regulation? What about motor and physical development? These are not unimportant domains of learning in early childhood; they are often the explicit path to achieving cognitive outcomes for young children. Don’t forget that much of the evidence from longitudinal studies of the impact of early intervention tell us, in economist James Heckman’s words, that “skills are multiple in nature. A proper accounting of human skills recognizes both cognitive and non-cognitive skills.” We ignore them at our peril.”