Monday, August 25, 2008

Catching up and Mandatory Pre-school

I've wanted to blog loads in the last few weeks, but haven't. Here's the paraphrased version of stuff I would've said.

Bob Costas...Really?
His and Matt Lauer's commentary of the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics was asinine. Honest-to-goodness, this is how the web dictionary defined that word.
"1. foolish, unintelligent, or silly; stupid: It is surprising that supposedly intelligent people can make such asinine statements."
Too true for Bob and Matt that day...Arrogance and ignorance are such an ugly combination.

The Olympics
Does anyone else want to cry while they watch all the time? Here's me: "Look. A group of starving, gangly women running as a pack." (The marathon). "Oh, jeez! Find me a tissue." True. Ever since I saw the Atlanta Olympics on TV as a high school student from my military base home in Germany, the nationalistic pride has gotten me every time. I really do love America and it leaks out my eyes during the Olympics. Plus I get no sleep. Curse this 12 hour time difference!!

I am overcome with a desire to buy new clothes every Fall. Such a beautiful school-start tradition. Maybe I can justify new clothes because I'm finally joining the local homeschool group and we'll have some monthly activities??? See, it's not even really for my kids. It's for me. I am not the mom who always wants to get stuff for my kids before myself... Is that evil? They are already so cute. And seriously, they have loads of clothes.
I thought I was finally over school-starting jitters. Last year was the first time since I was 6 that I didn't have some kind of back-to-school anxiety dream. "Finally!", I thought, "I am a grown-up." And then last week I dreamed that I was an 8th grader and I couldn't remember my locker combination and I missed my whole first class trying to figure it out. And if I went down the wrong hallway, the 7th graders would beat me up and vice versa.
Can I blame that on the fact that my husband teaches middle school? I don't think so.

Finally. Today's issue. Mandatory Pre-school.
I'm pasting an article about mandatory pre-school here. I homeschool, so obviously I have strong feelings on this and many other issues. I just thought this was informative and timely, so I'll pass it along sans any major ranting. (I already ranted a little about it on our local homeschooler yahoo group, so it's out of my system for the moment.)
It's from the Wall Street Journal online. Here's the link that goes with it:

Protect Our Kids from Preschool
By SHIKHA DALMIA and LISA SNELLAugust 22, 2008; Page A15
Barack Obama says he believes in universal preschool and if he's elected president he'll pump "billions of dollars into early childhood education." Universal preschool is now second only to universal health care on the liberal policy wish list. Democratic governors across the country -- including in Illinois, Arizona, Massachusetts and Virginia -- have made a major push to fund universal preschool in their states.
But is strapping a backpack on all 4-year-olds and sending them to preschool good for them? Not according to available evidence.
"Advocates and supporters of universal preschool often use existing research for purely political purposes," says James Heckman, a University of Chicago Noble laureate in economics whose work Mr. Obama and preschool activists routinely cite. "But the solid evidence for the effectiveness of early interventions is limited to those conducted on disadvantaged populations."
Mr. Obama asserted in the Las Vegas debate on Jan. 15 that every dollar spent on preschool will produce a 10-fold return by improving academic performance, which will supposedly lower juvenile delinquency and welfare use -- and raise wages and tax contributions. Such claims are wildly exaggerated at best.
In the last half-century, U.S. preschool attendance has gone up to nearly 70% from 16%. But fourth-grade reading, science, and math scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) -- the nation's report card -- have remained virtually stagnant since the early 1970s.
Preschool activists at the Pew Charitable Trust and Pre-K Now -- two major organizations pushing universal preschool -- refuse to take this evidence seriously. The private preschool market, they insist, is just glorified day care. Not so with quality, government-funded preschools with credentialed teachers and standardized curriculum. But the results from Oklahoma and Georgia -- both of which implemented universal preschool a decade or more ago -- paint an equally dismal picture.
A 2006 analysis by Education Week found that Oklahoma and Georgia were among the 10 states that had made the least progress on NAEP. Oklahoma, in fact, lost ground after it embraced universal preschool: In 1992 its fourth and eighth graders tested one point above the national average in math. Now they are several points below. Ditto for reading. Georgia's universal preschool program has made virtually no difference to its fourth-grade reading scores. And a study of Tennessee's preschool program released just this week by the nonpartisan Strategic Research Group found no statistical difference in the performance of preschool versus nonpreschool kids on any subject after the first grade.
What about Head Start, the 40-year-old, federal preschool program for low-income kids? Studies by the Department of Health and Human Services have repeatedly found that although Head Start kids post initial gains on IQ and other cognitive measures, in later years they become indistinguishable from non-Head Start kids.
Why don't preschool gains stick? Possibly because the K-12 system is too dysfunctional to maintain them. More likely, because early education in general is not so crucial to the long-term intellectual growth of children. Finland offers strong evidence for this view. Its kids consistently outperform their global peers in reading, math and science on international assessments even though they don't begin formal education until they are 7. Subsidized preschool is available for parents who opt for it, but only when their kids turn 6.
If anything, preschool may do lasting damage to many children. A 2005 analysis by researchers at Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley, found that kindergartners with 15 or more hours of preschool every week were less motivated and more aggressive in class. Likewise, Canada's C.D. Howe Institute found a higher incidence of anxiety, hyperactivity and poor social skills among kids in Quebec after universal preschool.
The only preschool programs that seem to do more good than harm are very intense interventions targeted toward severely disadvantaged kids. A 1960s program in Ypsilanti, Mich., a 1970s program in Chapel Hill, N.C., and a 1980s program in Chicago, Ill., all report a net positive effect on adult crime, earnings, wealth and welfare dependence for participants. But the kids in the Michigan program had low IQs and all came from very poor families, often with parents who were drug addicts and neglectful.
Even so, the economic gains of these programs are grossly exaggerated. For instance, Prof. Heckman calculated that the Michigan program produced a 16-cent return on every dollar spent -- not even remotely close to the $10 return that Mr. Obama and his fellow advocates bandy about.
Our understanding of the effects of preschool is still very much in its infancy. But one inescapable conclusion from the existing research is that it is not for everyone. Kids with loving and attentive parents -- the vast majority -- might well be better off spending more time at home than away in their formative years. The last thing that public policy should do is spend vast new sums of taxpayer dollars to incentivize a premature separation between toddlers and parents.
Yet that is precisely what Mr. Obama would do. His "Zero-to-Five" plan would increase federal outlays for early education by $10 billion -- about 50% of total government spending on preschool -- and hand block grants to states to implement universal preschool. This will make the government the dominant source of funding in the early education marketplace, vastly outpacing private spending.
If Mr. Obama is serious about helping children, he should begin by fixing what is clearly broken: the K-12 system. The best way of doing that is by building on programs with a proven record of success. Many of these involve giving parents control over their own education dollars so that they have options other than dysfunctional public schools. The Obamas send their daughters to a private school whose annual fee in middle school runs around $20,000. Other parents deserve such choices too -- not promises of subsidized preschool that they may not want and that may be bad for their kids.
Ms. Dalmia is senior analyst and Ms. Snell is director of education policy at the Reason Foundation.


Melissa said...

I have to agree about Costas. We love the Olympics, but can't stand that guy!

Lori said...

Well HI there! Welcome back to blogging! I just have to add some comments to the mandatory preschool article. First off, I have to say that my personal experience with preschool has been very positive. I DID NOT want to send my baby to preschool at the ripe age of 3. However, being from a family of educators, they told me I HAD to because "Kindergarten is not what it used to be. They teach READING in Kindergarten now! Not time for the social aspect!" The pediatrician even suggested it so I relented and my very, very shy child totally came out of his shell and loved his preschool. Glorified childcare? I dont think so unless that is what one would consider Kindergarten to be. My children's preschool teaches the basics and also some neat stuff that K-12 would never have time to teach. My son came out of preschool reading, writing, doing basic math with double digits, social and secure, and we thought he was ready for Kindergarten! Guess what they are learning in Kindergarten?
The flippin alphabet!
So yes, I do agree that the K-12 system needs to be overhauled (I did know that before but now am a little more disgruntled). I think there is some confusion as to what Kindergarten initially set out to accomplish and what the "system" wants it to be now. If Kindergarten initially prepared the pupil for school by teaching the pupil to stand in line, take turns, sit in a circle, share with others, etc. then is that what preschool should teach now? I was told that my child should know the alphabet before starting Kindergarten. So why is his class learning it now? I wonder how many kids in his class went to a preschool? How many of the kids who didnt go to preschool are going to be "left behind". I will tell you- none- because that is the way the system is set up right now. What might happen to my child if I dont intervene? He might be left behind- bored- left to his own devices because he went to preschool and got ahead because he "HAD to". Ridiculous. Expensive. Painful. I am not sure how I feel about the mandatory preschool, but I dont think it will work without making changes in K-12. I definitely feel that I would like to be able to make that choice. I hope Mr. Barama gets educated about this fact. At least there will be money FOR education if he is elected!
Until the public school system changes, we need more community support for Charter and Magnet schools. Private schools are expensive and some kids thrive in the classroom (as opposed to home schooling). Thanks and sorry to ramble!

SumGreater said...

Lori, rant away. I am nothing if not a soap-box-standing zealot on most issues.
I agree...pre-school can be awesome. I remember loving it! And your son is so great! I'm glad he had a wonderful experience.
The concern I have is not so much with pre-school as with the key word, "mandatory". It's like a draft for children. Being away from home at an early age is very good for some children in some families and very bad for others. And I'm pretty sure when they're talking about pre-school, they're talking about some full-day programs.
A lot of kids need pre-school because their parents honestly don't teach them colors, shapes, letters or numbers, or even basic social behaviors. It's like they're not even talking to their children. But actually, for now, even kindergarten is optional. If you don't like that your kid is supposed to go full-day, you just go take them out whenever you feel like it. That's what my sister-in-law in Arlington will be doing with her son this year. She's going to pick him up after lunch and recess every day. I like that kind of outside-the-box thinking. She's making public school fit her beliefs for now instead of assuming the system cannot be manipulated or changed like so many people do.
It's just like with homeschooling. I could list reasons why we homeschool all day long, but that doesn't mean it's right for every kid, or even that it will always be the right choice for my kids. Heck, I second-guess myself on it all the time. But it comes back to me feeling like it's what God wants me to do for now, so I do it.
Final thought for the night: More money for education will not mean anything if it is given to "programs" instead of "teachers." I bet my wonderful husband could be an even better teacher if he didn't have to work 2 or 3 jobs just to support our little family. Additionally, the ridiculous national and state standards that have to be met cause monumental problems. Well-paid teachers who actually have control over their classrooms is crucial.

dubby said...

One size fits all schooling never works at any age. Caring parents know what is best for their children and should be able to make decisions regarding their education.

But what you aren't taking into account is the huge percentage of part-time parents who will NOT teach their children at home. When Cathryn was three, I babysat for some kids her age that the missionaries found. They had never read a book, seen Sesame Street, and couldn't count to three. They had no clue what a number was. Mom didn't work, but she didn't take care of kids either. They were filthy, with rashes from not being kept clean. Their hair had food in it and it looked like they hadn't had it washed in months. Their clothes, well, you get the point. But there are a LOT of kids like this in the ghetto that Obama is familiar with, and that is where he is coming from. He doesn't understand about good parents who really raise their kids.

I don't think mandatory preschool is the answer, but parent education? I don't know.

Charity said...

We don't even have mandatory KINDERGARTEN! Let alone pre-school? Heaven help us all....

Lori said...

Lovin' the dialogue here! I think, getting back to early separation of child and parent, that our American "culture" (and I use that term loosely) is geared towards getting that child away from his/her mom and dad as early as possible. If you think about the directions pediatricians give to parents for getting their children to sleep through the night (ferberizing, etc.) and the push to make young children independent by "pushing them away" when in reality being close to your children, "wearing" your baby, co-sleeping, etc all promote independence much more! Ahhh- so much to say, so little time. One thing I dont want to be is complacent. I like what your sister n law is doing for her son. A lot of these things we just dont have any idea about and so we have to educate ourselves. We HAVE to do what is right for our own kids. I appreciate the education here.

Plainbellied said...

In Spain, universal preschool actually means that it is available for everyone, not just the under-privileged. But the culture is such that we had to do a fair amount of research on behalf of my friend before she felt comfortable that it could be her choice NOT to send her kids to school at 3. And the 3 year olds had longer hours and more days than the 10 year olds. It was definitely government day-care. She got a lot of flack for her choice, too.

We put a lot of thought into the decision to put our daughter into preschool this year so I bristle when people label it as daycare or babysitting. It adds about an hour of travel time a day for the 3 days a weeks she will be going (and for just 3 hours on each of those days), so it is nearly as much of a sacrifice as it is a convenience. After visiting the school, I'm very impressed with the curriculum and teachers. Her teacher actually has a masters degree in Education and there are no more than 13 children in the class with the teacher and her assistant. A 6:1 student to teacher ratio is something I really like.

We did look at the public offerings. Currently we live in a near-failing school's zone. Their 4K program is for under-privileged/lower developmental level, but if they don't fill up, they'll accept other children, too. There are some terrific schools nearby, but vouchers are only for K-12, so we couldn't have opted for a better school. And, their 4K program is 5 days a week, full school days. At the other public schools, it was a half-day program, but still 5 days a week. Yuck. I don't even like that Kindergarten is generally only offered as a full-day option.

Plainbellied said...

I just thought of one more thing. Urban Tangerine and I have talked a recently about trying to see our children for themselves instead of seeing them by comparison to other children, or standard mile-stones. It can be hard to do that pretty much all of the time. I can see why Lori would be so aggravated by being told she had to get her son ready for Kindergarten, only to have Kindergarten be something completely different. I feel really good about where Her Nibs is mostly because I think this is exactly what she needs right now for who she is and where she is. About 3 weeks ago, she started writing like mad. She asks me how to spell things as we're driving in the car so that she can write them down. She doesn't even remember all of the letters yet, so sometimes I have to explain how to form the letters while I'm driving. After so many changes this summer, she can really benefit from the stability of nursery school, too. I'm not sure just how much stability I can provide with a baby coming in two months. And, that poor child could do with a little less supervision. I think having a 2:1 parent to child ratio is giving her a complex. We don't realize how much she's capable of doing for herself, and we accidentally gang up on her when we're explaining rules or disciplining. She's becoming too much of a perfectionist; she's irrationally hard on herself. We would have kept her home rather than put her in a lame daycare-ish school, but since we could get her into this great one, we're thrilled. I think it's just what she needs right now.

Okay--sorry for the personal blog entry on Sum's comment section. But my point, again, is in support of recognizing the personal needs of the child. It can be hard to let go of the 'standard' educational needs, the bench marks from your pediatrician or standardized state testing. Whether your child is ahead of those standards or behind them, we have to focus on where they are now... kind of zen approach to education, I guess.

SumGreater said...

Hurray for the zen approach, Plainbellied! You're such a good mom. I know your daughter is going to adore pre-school--plus you got her those cute outfits to wear! I'd go just about anywhere if it meant I got a cute outfit for it!
I know what you mean about ganging up on an only child accidentally. Junior Mint had that for 5 years. I know we were (are) hard on him a lot of the time, but we want so much for him to be good himself and to set the example for his siblings. We're chilling out a bit because we just can't focus all our energy on him now and I think its good for all of us.

turtar said...

Just one point: if you look at Obama's website, he proposes "voluntary" universal preschool. He's not pushing mandatory preschool. I think there's a huge difference.