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Challenge Your K–2’s! They Got This.

Too often, we’re underestimating our littlest learners, which creates and exacerbates equity issues.

Here come paired texts to prove it:

Katie McGhee, a first grade teacher in Sullivan County, TN, penned The Injustice of Easy: Why Our Students Deserve More, making a strong case for rigorous tasks and meaty topics in the earliest grades.

She writes:

“Being in a classroom with high-quality instructional materials that present students with age-appropriate challenge and rich content, I have seen firsthand just how high our young children will rise when given the opportunity.”

“It is amazing to hear students explain the importance of each of their body systems and astounding to hear them discuss catalysts for the Revolutionary War. It is humbling to listen as they compare similar folktales from different cultures and encouraging to hear them discuss the injustices many early Americans faced. It is more than motivating to feel the glee of their curiosity and eagerness to learn more each day, and it is heartbreaking to consider the difference in these conversations had they been held back from content this rich due to their age. Withholding access to these topics and opportunities for high-level understanding because of their age is an injustice to our young learners now, as well as in the future when they are exposed to content of substance and challenging thought.” 

Katie also notes that this approach has its naysayers. Some folks say that “first- and second-graders should not be learning about things like body systems or the Revolutionary War,” out of a belief that “our youngest students should be learning about lighter, more fun topics and saving the heavy stuff for when they are older.”

But friends, researchers just proved Katie right.

Here’s the research abstract for Advanced Content Coverage at Kindergarten: Are There Trade-Offs Between Academic Achievement and Social-Emotional Skills?:

“Policymakers have advocated academic skills building at kindergarten as a way of improving student achievement. However, early childhood educators have concerns with this policy as gains in achievement may come at the expense of children’s social-emotional skills. Using a nationally representative data set of kindergartners, we find that advanced academic content, defined as academic skills typically taught at a higher grade, was associated not only with improved math and English/language arts achievement but also with improved social-emotional outcomes. Greater exposure to advanced content was associated with better interpersonal skills, better approaches to learning, better attentional focus, and lower externalizing behaviors. The results suggest that advanced academic content can be taught without compromising children’s social-emotional skills.”


We trade off no soft skills by starting ’em young with science, history, and grappling with age-appropriate nonfiction in Kindergarten.

A boatload of research gives urgency to Katie’s point, for it tells us that students’ content knowledge is essential to their reading comprehension. So, exposing K–2 kiddos to rich topics is building them up to be strong readers. (Really. I consider this to be the most important unknown research in K–12 ed, and if you don’t know the research, puh-lease scoot on over to this blog and school yourself!)


Katie Speaks For Tons of Us

And now, I want to connect those texts to a few hundred voices.

Over the last 2.5 years, I’ve been speaking with educators using high-quality curricula… the kind used in Katie’s schools (where they use the Core Knowledge Curriculum provided by Amplify), and the other curricula that characterize the “curriculum renaissance” named by Sue Pimentel. The kind that are all-green in reviews by EdReports.

Those educators consistently say the same thing:

“When we challenged our kids to a higher level of rigor, we were blown away by what they could do.”

“Our kids were capable of so much more than we realized.”

Over and over and over… those themes. If I heard it once, I heard it a thousand times.

Our kids are capable of more than we realize.

Now Tons of Us Need to Speak

When I read Katie’s blog, I had follow-up questions! Also, the voices of educators sharing similar stories rang in my head. I’m thinking about how we elevate these collective voices, in service of raising outcomes for our kids.

First, I’d like to issue a public plea to Katie: Will you tell us how you did it? How did you get all of your first graders accessing grade level text around rich topics? What practices or materials made it work? We’ve all been inspired by your What. I am just dying to hear your How. #PleasePrettyPlease

Now, I have a public call to other teachers, coaches, and administrators who are raising the bar in math and literacy: do you have stories to share? And – d’you want any help sharing them?

Do you need an assist with starting a blog? I once needed help myself, and Brooke Powers came to my rescue. Maybe I can create some Blogging 101 resources.

Do want to share your story without creating your own blog? Hit me up. I’ll publish great story here. If you’re in Tennessee like Katie, I bet that the TN Score folks would love to share your story, as they did Katie’s. Or if your story is about using high-quality curriculum, the Curriculum Matters folks would likely raise your voice to their PLN.

If you are improving outcomes – and especially if you are doing so with resources or tools that others can use in their districts – puh-lease don’t keep it to yourself, or even to your local PLC. Get your story into the growing national conversation about reading practice, about deeper math learning, about curriculum renaissance, about supporting all learners.

I’m excited to learn from Katie – and all of the other educators raising the bar for their kids – as more voices join this awesome national conversation.


Extra Credit

If you’re worried that we might be watering down instruction – with the best of intentions, but the worst of impacts – definitely make sure you’ve read The Opportunity Myth from TNTP, a report that drives home the prevalence of this mistake. Or this blog from Chief Academic Officer Jared Myracle, telling this story at a district level.

There are a lot of voices singing the same chorus, y’all!

Published inK–12 EducationLiteracy

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