What I Really Wanted to Say Today

I had the pleasure today of being on Midday with Dan Rodricks on WYPR, Baltimore’s local NPR station. I’ll post the podcast as soon as it’s up. (Edit: Here it is. I start at the 36 minute mark)

But don’t judge me for the speed talking. I had about five minutes to make my case.

Naturally, I couldn’t make my case effectively, nor respond to the advocates of universal prekindergarten, one of whom was in the studio and on for the entire hour.

Here’s the bottom line: Preschool for everyone is not a panacea to fix all the educational ills in our states. The reason intensive programs like the Perry Preschool Project and the Abecedarian Project worked is because they  didn’t focus on just educating the child.  They focused on the family and the community. It is a holistic approach to learning that we cannot just get by adding an extra grade onto formal schooling. If we are going to spend state resources, let’s please spend them on the most vulnerable of our citizens, the ones for whom just an extra grade of schooling will not have long term effects.

Look at the wonderful CAP Head Start Program and Educare. They focus on wraparound care. They understand the power of involving the parents.  And they still are struggling to have real long term results. How much could we do if we took all those valuable resources we have and boost that power, to create an intensive program that will approach the level of the Perry Preschool Project?

In terms of response to some of the comments:

Here’s what Margaret Williams of the Maryland Family Network and Professor Bill Gormley of Georgetown say (paraphrased, of course)

– Prekindergarten in Oklahoma has wonderful, across-the-board effects for children of all income levels and races. All students who go to PreK vs. students who do not have higher cognitive abilities on entering kindergarten

– The third grade ‘fade out effect’ does not immediately mean prekindergarten is a bad idea. In fact, children may come roaring back in high school and have wonderful cognitive and behavioral results.

— Maryland is already doing great with preK for disadvantaged children, so why not expand it to a universal program?

-PreK in Oklahoma exists because the voters and the business community wanted it.

Well, hello.

1. Prekindergarten in Oklahoma has wonderful, across-the-board effects for children of all income levels and races.

Short term effects fade out in the third grade (as we all acknowledged on the show). I’m not sure why we keep insisting Oklahoma’s program has fantastic results when the data do not support that. We can conjecture that the kids will close the gap in high school, but you cannot say that in the same breath in which we talk about the short term effects, because we haven’t studied that in Oklahoma.

2.All students who go to PreK vs. students who do not have higher cognitive abilities on entering kindergarten

Yep. And why don’t those higher scores persist? Because we are completely and utterly ignoring the power of the home environment. I am underlining and underscoring that point because it’s important. I want to put it in all caps and make it my title. We need wraparound, intensive care for our disadvantaged children.

  • Preschool benefits children from disadvantaged families far more than it benefits children from families that already provide the socio-emotional support, learning tools, and exposure to literacy as a natural and holistic part of child-rearing. Children in families receiving welfare had vocabularies that were half as large as those of their more affluent peers, and the disparities persisted throughout childhood.
  • A prekindergarten program, no matter how good, is not going to be able to overcome that negative educational home environment years after the fact.
  • As for those students who come from affluent families that also learn their words and letters and phonics sooner? Of course a child in a formal school environment is going to know more stuff in the beginning than a child not in the formal school environment. But any play-based education advocate will tell you that those measures of ability mean squat when you’re actually talking about instilling a life-long ability to learn. Looking at those short-term impacts falsely assumes that impact is the absolute measure of a child’s ability to learn. In fact, learning sight words and phonics are not the most important component of a preschool child’s ability to read. We have much more trouble measuring the true important parts of education — curiosity, problem-solving, and comprehension.
—–Maybe instead of educational policy experts they should have had actual experts in the field of early childhood education on.
3. The third grade ‘fade out effect’ does not immediately mean prekindergarten is a bad idea. In fact, children may come roaring back in high school and have wonderful cognitive and behavioral results.
Those critical of prekindergarten are not necessarily promoting throwing the baby out with the bathwater. In fact:

The main problem I have with universal prekindergarten is the universal component of it.
Let’s look at some of those later effects of prekindergarten:
In President Obama’s  State of the Union speech, he says:
In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children, like Georgia or Oklahoma, studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, and form more stable families of their own.
But the studies refer to the Perry Preschool Project and the Abecedarian Project, both of which were intensive programs for a small population of disadvantaged students. Those programs involved visits with the parents and tailored learning plans.

They are less preschool, more large-scale intervention. A large state-run program is not going to approach that level of wraparound care. Even Head Start, which obviously serves only disadvantaged children, does not approach that level of care.
So no. Our kids are not going to come roaring back and make up the learning gap. And it’s disingenuous to imply they will.
Maryland is already doing great with preK for disadvantaged children, so why not expand it to a universal program?
You are doing great with the enrollment numbers and the short term effect. But you’re really going to spend your resources on expanding preK to kids who don’t need it as opposed to fixing what’s going wrong with the long term effect? No state is doing great with our disadvantaged children. We are all failing. Focus on them.
-PreK in Oklahoma exists because the voters and the business community wanted it.
No, it existed because a lawmaker snuck it into a bill on a loophole. The people of Oklahoma never got to debate it. Do we love it? Sure. It makes us look good and it provides free services to everyone.  Have we had a real discussion on it?  No.
Gah.
Thanks so much to the show for having me on. I do like the fact they tried to balance their point of view with me and with Lindsay Burke from the Heritage Foundation. I am extremely frustrated, however, that neither Lindsay nor I had anywhere close to equal time.
Advertisements

3 thoughts on “What I Really Wanted to Say Today

  1. Sure, the most effective preschool programs were effective precisely because they offered comprehensive social services. Well, given that we do have proof these programs were effective, I think preschool programs SHOULD offer wrap-around care. And more affluent families can choose to deny the services if they like, but it sure as hell wouldn’t hurt to make these available. Prekindergarten helps equalize the playing field to some degree starting out; but the predictor of long-term success is going to be resources, not prekindergarten. Impoverished families don’t have access to the same resources that more affluent, better educated families have. So let’s change that!

  2. Excellent post. You probably already know this, but the historian Allan Carlson once observed that “the Perry project researchers really do not know what part of their project mix actually produced their results. I knew David Weikart, founder of the program. From 1988 to 1993, we served together on the National Commission of Children. In one conversation, he even suggested to me that all of the positive results achieved may have had little to do with the preschool programming. Instead, he thought sometimes that the weekly home visit by the teachers may have had the more powerful effect — by making disadvantaged, low-income parents better home teachers.”

  3. Pingback: Technology and Literacy: Are Screen Time Restrictions Necessary? | Six Forty Nine

Your thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s