Kids Today: The changing nature of early childhood learning in the age of accountability

June 18, 2014

Daphna Bassok talks about her research on The changing nature of early childhood learning in the age of accountability.

Recent accounts suggest that accountability pressures have trickled down into the early elementary grades, and that kindergarten today is characterized by a heightened focus on academic skills. This presentation documents substantial changes in kindergarten classrooms between 1998 and 2010, using three large nationally-representative datasets. Nearly all measures examined changed substantially over this period, and always in the direction consistent with a heightened academic focus. We document large increases in teachers’ expectations for incoming kindergarteners, as well as the time they allocate to literacy, to teacher-directed whole group instruction, and to working with textbooks and worksheets. While in 1998, 31 percent of kindergarten teachers indicated that most children should learn to read in kindergarten, in 2010 80 percent of teachers agreed with this statement. After describing these striking trends, we posit several inter-related explanations, including the possibility that kindergarten teachers are responding to school-level accountability pressures and that teachers are responding to changes in children’s abilities at school entry. We present preliminary results that suggest, using teacher-reported measures, meaningful changes in children’s knowledge at school entry.