Monday, February 27, 2006

Absurdity in the Pre-School Debate

Rob Reiner and California's First 5 Commission are promoting universal preschool. The attempt is to provide preschool to those communities typically unable to afford this type of critical early education. The measure will go before the voters in the form of a ballot proposition -- number 82.

It seems this is a good idea, well intentioned, but suffering from poor execution. There are issues with funding sources, the staggering amount ($2,400,000,000.00), contentions over how "universal" the plan actually is, teacher pay, inequity in tax increase. And that's fine, except the critique that seems to get the most play, the one that is consistently repeated, highlighted on edu-blogs and op-eds, is the finding that learning gains demonstrated by poor kids who attend preschool programs begin to fade by grades 3-4. Such claims are repeated here:
although without the usual misguided emphasis.

I keep seeing this. We should not advocate that more poor kids from non-white ethnic groups attend preschool, because 4 years later the academic gains attributable to their attendance in preschool have faded. Four years later.

Who the hell cares what happens four years later? The point of the program is to work toward the goal of ensuring that every kid who enters kindergarten does so with the skills necessary to be successful. In kindergarten. Most of these skills are of the social variety, but in their absence, the kind of critical foundational learning that must occur in Kinder often does not. You think kids wait until until 8th grade to start falling behind? What are the obvious root causes? I don't dispute the findings regarding academic-gains-slippage; they're just unimportant. They tell us only what we already know: poor, non-white kids are not succeeding in America's schools, and in particular, the shit starts to hit the fan in those critical later elementary grades. Who knew? Seriously, thanks for the update, but how did those kids who went to preschool, who attended Head Start and similar programs, how'd they do in K-1?

No single program will irrevocably right the lilting ship and to condemn an entire undertaking because the benefits have faded over the course of four years, when the academic gains of the kids in question have been affected by countless additional factors, is ridiculous in the extreme.


Blogger posthipchick said...

Not only does it give them the social skills, it also gives ELD students language skills.

Many Latino students who don't go to pre-school start Kindergarden speaking only Spanish, therefore putting them at an even higher disadvantage for success in school.

The big question remains: How do we change things so that our schools ARE serving our poor, non-white students?
Eradicate poverty? That is certainly my theory, but I am smart enough to realize this is an impossibility. So where does this leave us?

8:37 PM  
Blogger TMAO said...

I like initiatives like this one because they target a nexus-point of poverty-achievement. Like migrant ed, or free lunch, or increased instructional minutes, they are a way to bridge the divides poverty creates.

That said, the highest quality teachers working in the highest needs schools are living bridges. We need more of them, and we need more of them working in the places where their skills make all the difference in the world.

9:03 PM  

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