Pre-K studies from October

I did a “You Guest It” article on the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs blog a few months ago.   Here’s the text:

My daughter will be attending Tulsa’s excellent universal public prekindergarten program next year, at an already excellent elementary school. I am thrilled to be able to take advantage of this free program. But how excellent is this program, really?

In President Obama’s 2013 State of the Union address, he called for universal prekindergarten, and cited Oklahoma’s program. This week, the Washington Post ran an opinion piece lamenting the lack of momentum from that speech, citing—as many do—research indicating increased cognitive results and lifelong positive effects from a high-quality preschool program. Tulsa’s program has been studied by Georgetown researchers and by all indicators, according to them, meets the benchmarks of this type of quality program, not only by what the program provides but by the results.

I challenged this assertion in a piece written for The Federalist in 2013 (“The False Promise of Universal Pre-kindergarten”). The criteria for defining a quality program depend on a series of benchmarks related to class ratio and teacher degrees, and looking at the results of these programs, the output is suspect. Most commentators who cite the remarkable long-term effects of preschools are speaking of very intensive and small historical programs such as the Perry Preschool Project, the Chicago Parent-Child Center, and the Abecedarian experiment. Those programs are not the same in almost any way as larger universal programs such as the ones found in Oklahoma, Tennessee, Georgia, and the city of Boston.

In October 2014, the Cato Institute published a study by David Armor, a professor emeritus of public policy at George Mason University and the author of Maximizing Intelligence (Transaction Publishers, 2003). Armor took an even more in-depth look at the inputs and outputs related to the evaluation of preschool programs and found definitively that contemporary programs extolled for their high quality are not being evaluated in a way that accounts for discrepancies in control groups and treatment groups. In Tulsa, for example, the researchers used Regression Discontinuity Design (RDD), which is considered flawed and non-experimental and “biases outcomes upwards” by not considering students in the treatment groups that drop out of the preschool programs. The control group in Tulsa is from the next year’s cohort and has just started school, and therefore the control group has all the students with no dropouts.

The Tulsa results, as Armor highlights, are “truly staggering”; the verbal skills for the treatment group were almost a full year of schooling ahead of the control group. This result, he says, is larger than the result even from the intensive historical programs such as Perry and Abecedarian—and is likely inflated.

When evaluations of contemporary preschool programs are undertaken instead with randomized experimental designs—considered the “gold standard” for education evaluation—results are far less extraordinary. The Head Start Impact Study originally had discrepancy problems but a special analysis by Peter M. Bernardy, which accounted for these discrepancies and used correct methodology, found that any positive results began fading by kindergarten and first grade. Similarly, an evaluation of the Tennessee pre-K program found this fade-out. One reason for waning results at this grade level are the intense cognitive development that occurs during these years of children’s lives—which indicates the quality of kindergarten and first-grade programs may be much more influential than the quality of prekindergarten.

What does this mean for Oklahoma? As I mentioned in my Federalist piece, studies do show more benefit from preschool for disadvantaged children than for children who have educated parents. As I stated, “If you are an educated parent who spends time talking and learning with your children, your child probably will not gain any extra educational benefit from preschool. Oklahoma makes the classic mistake of assuming the government can do a better job of providing for our children than parents.”

Preschool for disadvantaged children may have its benefits, but that does not augur for a state-run program that catches all children. If Oklahoma is truly concerned about how the state is failing young children, offer Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) to the better off, and focus instead on reforming educational options for the most vulnerable. That may include bolstering Head Start statewide with private and non-profit partnerships, as it does in Tulsa. It may even include some version of the state-run prekindergarten, but instead a targeted intensive program for those who fall below the poverty line

– See more at:


The Cursive Article that Went Viral

People are really into cursive.  So much so, that when my good friend Prisca Shrewsbury and her new cursive business inspired me to look into the benefits of cursive writing, I could not predict the response I would receive after writing my 10 Reasons People Still Need Cursive.

Apparently it’s a controversial subject, and those who believe cursive is important are very passionate about it.

Introducing Crappy Crafts blog

I have some published work coming up soon, and I have a few buyers’ guides waiting in the wings. But I have a huge backlog of crappy crafts — posts I haven’t done, because I didn’t want this blog to be a craft blog.

So I started a craft blog.

Why Crappy Crafts?

I love to craft.  I already spend time scrapbooking and writing, so crafting things for my kids is another creative outlet for me.

Here’s the problem.  I can’t sew. I’m clumsy.  I’m cheap.  I’m impatient.  My projects never come out looking picture-perfect.  They are not much to brag about.

So why would I post them? Because I spend hours on Pinterest scouring for ideas I can use for the kids.  It takes a while to find inspiration, and then I have to modify it to my skill level.

The thing is, when I figure it out, my children love the end result.  I don’t have to be perfect– I just have to care.  This blog is for all of us — the imperfect, the hapless, the uncoordinated.  They are still good ideas! Make something out of it!

Love, Jen

Check it out here

{Crappy Crafts} Doll camping accessories

If you can’t tell from some of the other “projects” I’ve posted on the site, I have a creative mind but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. I mean, it’s embarrassing.

The reason I still post my crafts is in case someone a bit more crafty than me is inspired by what I’ve thought up.  So in acknowledgement that some of my achievements belong in the Pinterest “fail” category, I’ve decided to, going forward, entitle these posts: Crappy Crafts.

I really want to add a trademark symbol after that but I know what trademarks are and this isn’t trademarked. Alas. Just mentally put the tm there. It looks cooler.

Anyway, I love dolls. I didn’t like dolls as a little kid (I specifically remember having Barbies and Transformers around 4 years old and having them fighting a war against each other), but as I grew up I became more girly.  I could spend all day playing dolls with a little kid.  L also hadn’t shown much interest in dolls until recently, but luckily brother J is showing interest too so now I have some quality doll playing hours under my belt.

L, however, has loved her little pacimal monkey, Ooie, (note: the company is pretty much out of business now so you can’t get pacimals any more) since she was about 9 months old, and she treats him like her little baby.  So to try to encourage doll play with him, over the years I’ve gotten and made as many accessories for him as I could get away with. He’s about 8 inches tall so the Circo mini series works well for him (clothes, doll crib, potty/highchair set, etc).  [By the way, isn’t this the CUTEST thing?]

Over the summer, we as a family went backyard camping and L loved it. She wanted Ooie to participate fully next time with his own sleeping bag. Challenge accepted.

The Circo mini crib has the perfect squishy bedding to form the base of a sleeping bag (I can’t find a purchase link to the crib but here is the twins bunk bed set with the same bedding).  I sewed on the pillow that came with the crib and added a soft blanket (more like a nap mat than a sleeping bag).

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It has already fallen apart but it was cute while it lasted.

As usual, I decided to take it about two or three steps more and made a collapsible tent, a grill, and a fold-up lounge chair.

For the tent, I used an old Sweetheart Cottage playhut that had already fallen apart.  The pop-out roof gable was perfect for the size tent I wanted, and it was put together with bendable poles so I could take it all apart and put it into a bag for portability:

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Here you can see how the poles became the handle for the ‘carrying case’

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The grill was easy enough (you can see it in the above pics). I had a metal M&M tin left over from Valentine’s day and used the instructions from this website as inspiration.

Ahem. This is most definitely not mine. See why my versions are called “Crappy Crafts”?

I then added some 3m wire hooks as legs and as a handle and threw in a battery operated tea light for the fire.

Finally, the chair.  This was actually harder than I thought it would be.



I used a wooden easel stand:

But I wanted to use the “back” of it for the chair, which means the center of gravity was off.  I ended up putting a wood sample as the seat of the chair and then wrapping a long strip of cloth for the back.  Velcroing the cloth made the chair tip the correct way and keeping it un-velcroed allowed it to collapse.

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The back of the chair/the front of the easel

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So that’s it! L loved her camping toys and played with them a bit and has recently pulled them back out to have sleepovers for Ooie.  All of the items are a bit precarious since I can’t sew worth a darn but hopefully someone with more skill can make use of these ideas!

Next crappy craft: my easy peasy soft baby carrier for a tiny stuffed animal.

Previous crappy crafts:

 A Desk For the Boy

Play Kitchen


What do you think? Any other ideas on how to make a camping play set for a doll? Let me know in the comments!

Food Battles – One View on What to Do

Why, hello world.

I had to take a break from professional writing for a few months due to conflicts of interest, and although you’d think that meant I’d be more free to write for my poor unloved blog, I guess..not. Huh.

Wait But Why, my new favorite beloved, has a great post explaining, well, why, I can’t sometimes just get off my butt and write. Especially without a deadline, or (and this is important), the promise of money.

Hatas gonna hate.  Procrastinators gonna procrastinate.


Where was I?

I do have one pro-free range parenting article from earlier this year up on that other site:

Your Helicopter Parenting is Hurting My Kids

It’s not much of a controversial issue by this point.  It’s totally in vogue now to be all like, “Hey, those crazy overprotective parents, I mean, right?”  And, like I’ve said before, this blog is not for advocacy or controversies or opinions — just information. So instead I want to highlight some of the feeding and nutrition stuff mentioned in the article.

Ellyn Satter, a nutrition expert, has become famous for counseling parents on feeding their children and minimizing mealtime battles, beginning with newborns. We talk more and more about on-demand breastfeeding for infants, and thank goodness. Study after study has indicated that infants know when they are hungry and when they are full.

We young parents are starting to get that. But we still don’t get that the concept extends beyond infancy. We’re treating the infants with respect and then infantilizing our toddlers, instead of learning the mealtime division of responsibility:

  • The parent is responsible for what, when, where
  • The child is responsible for how much and whether

This means that if your kid doesn’t want to eat the healthy well-balanced meal you provided, even when considering their taste preferences, well, okay. They will live.

Even as a Satter devotee I don’t perfectly follow her rules. No food in between snacks and mealtimes? Nope. I’m theworst. My kids regularly ruin their dinner, even if they are eating healthy snacks. You know why I break that rule on a regular basis? Because after two babies who had weight issues, I’m still afraid I’m starving my kids. Yeah, those kids. The healthy ones over there currently trying to dismantle my bookshelf.

Our kids are so much more capable than we give them credit for.

I highly recommend reading Satter’s books, even if you don’t end up agreeing with everything in them. I found it very freeing to just chill out regarding toddler eating habits.

For more information regarding implementing the Satter method, check out the incomparable Amalah, who writes an advice column on AlphaMom.

..and so much more. Amy (Amalah) really really loves Satter.  And I love Amy. So it’s just a hippie circle of love over here.

“Wait but Why” does my dream post on names

Names. Oh names. I’m not a name nerd. My children’s names are not overly unique.  I don’t think they are too popular, but they are popular nevertheless.

I also don’t get too worked up about overly uneeek names (although kreative spellings sometimes make me raise my eyebrows).  Those who use Gywneth Paltrow’s baby Apple as an example of a crazy baby name has no idea how crazy celebrity names can get! It doesn’t take too much to finally desensitize me to unusual names.

That being said, what does drive me insane is layperson pronouncements on baby name trends, or what’s popular, or what’s passe.  It comes from being an analyst; I don’t like to pretend that I know what I’m talking about without at least doing a modicum of research.

That’s where the Baby Name Wizard comes in. Laura Wattenberg is not your typical baby name analyst. A data nerd, she pulls from the Social Security Administration website to delve into every nook and cranny of the world of baby naming. Her most well-known tool is the Name Voyager, but I also have love for the Name Mapper, looking at the popularity of baby names by states.

Finally, one of my favorite websites, Wait but Why, has taken Wattenberg’s years and years of analysis and blog posts and distilled it down for new readers with his trademark humor.   I was pleased when the post came out because it’s everything I’ve wanted to write.  Let it be your gateway drug to the awesome world of baby name data visualization.

A few recent preschool related articles

First is the Brookings Institution’s write up on new research into Tennessee ‘ program. The author also tackles misleading statements regarding previous research,  including Tulsa’s program.

Second,  good discussion on universal pre-k on the Freakonomics blog. They seem to have come to the same conclusions I have.

Third is the YWCA Tulsa’s recently released report on “Child Care in Crisis”.  I am looking for an online link. The center just ended its forty year program due to rising costs.