The buzzword in education these days is 'rigor'.
Form the Glossary of Education Reform, "The term rigor is widely used by educators to describe instruction, schoolwork, learning experiences, and educational expectations that are academically, intellectually, and personally challenging." Go to this link to read more.
A simple Google search yielded this article in a notable website. Here is another article which speaks of 'rigor'. Both articles are about as clear as mud when it comes down to actual teaching practices, and neither article addresses the need for differentiation of lessons for those students with learning challenges or those who may know little Engish.
Unfortunately, since the actual components of a 'rigorous' classroom are not clear, I find schools are interpreting 'rigor' as 'let's instruct students above typical developmental level'. Hence, you see heavy reading, writing, and math instruction in kindergarten with limited center/play time. You see worksheets for third graders including passages at a high school level. All students are expected to achieve at the same high level or they are placed in reading, writing, and math intervention groups.
My school is no different from other schools in the district, so these two examples I have are not to indict any program but to illustrate the point.
- Kindergarten Math Test: Children read two word problems as a whole group and were then sent to their tables to work them out on the worksheet provided. The first word problem read: "Pam found 6 flowers at recess. She wants to give the flowers to her 10 friends. How many more flowers does Pam need to find if Pam wants to give a flower to each of her 10 friends? Show your thinking with objects, pictures, words, or numbers. Write an equation to match this story." READING LEVEL OF THIS PROBLEM WAS SECOND GRADE.
- Third grade writing worksheet: Students were to read a passage, state the author's opinion, and find supporting details in the passage. The passage provided to the students was printed from this webpage about classroom pets. To determine approximate reading level, I used this website, cutting and pasting the text. The reading level of the website turned out to be high school. Even if the teachers went over the text line-by-line, the vocabulary, sentence structure, and language levels of the text were very high for the average third grader. My EC students typically function significantly below average, so accessing this lesson was impossible for them.
What does rigor in the classroom look like? This author explains it well.
At no point does she say to present the actual classroom materials two or more years above grade level.