Thursday, February 22, 2007

Does Pre-Kindergarten Improve School Preparation and Performance?

The short answer is NO.

There are literally scores of articles that have been written on the outcomes of preschool, especially as seen as a return on investment, or closing the achievement gap. Some cite incredible conclusions like pre-k students won't end up in jail, or that they make better citizens, or that they show more advanced brain scans, or that will have more successful lives. Studies are being skewed like mad to push this pre-k agenda, because there is HUGE money to be made. Quite frankly many are coming to the conclusion that it causes more harm than good for kids to be wrested from their homes earlier, or that it is causing young ones too much stress and makes them more aggressive, or that any gains made early on just dissipate later (the "fadeout effect"). Here is one in particular that caught my eye.

Using a new rich source of data, researchers Katherine Magnuson, Christopher Ruhm, and Jane Waldfogel conclude in their paper, "Does Prekindergarten Improve School Preparation and Performance?" (NBER Working Paper No. 10452) that early education does increase reading and mathematics skills at school entry, but it also boosts children’s classroom behavioral problems and reduces their self-control. Further, for most children the positive effects of pre-kindergarten on skills largely dissipate by the spring of first grade, although the negative behavioral effects continue. In the study, the authors take account of many factors affecting a child, including family background and neighborhood characteristics. These factors include race/ethnicity, age, health status at birth, height, weight, and gender, family income related to need, language spoken in the home, and so on.

Does preschool help some kids? Sure - for those kids who have unstable homes, or parents who are less than nurturing, it can be beneficial. No one disputes this. Kids need a safe, loving, and nurturing environment. But even Headstart has been coming under fire for being ineffective. One article reports this:
The naked truth is that one to two years after entering public school, children from Head Start programs score no differently on tests of academic achievement, social behavior, emotional adjustment and other measurable outcomes from their non-Head Start peers.
States who have been dumping more money into pre-k are already re-examining this strategy because they are not finding that the billions of dollars in investment in pre-k to be paying off. Pre-school initiatives are in fact falling short. What it is doing instead is causing stress in young kids and other problems.

But look at this piece of correspondence from CT:
CT State Senator Thomas Gaffey, who is also co-chair of the Education Committee, wrote a letter to Allen Taylor, Chairman of the State Board of Education, in August 2006 in which he complains that money spent on pre-k had not been worth the investment: He said this …..
I have spent some time analyzing standardized testing scores among Connecticut public schools over the last seven years, and I am alarmed with some of the results and trends which I have discovered. My greatest concern regards 4th grade CMT reading scores. The state of Connecticut has invested large amounts of money in programs specifically designed to improve reading scores among young students. The School Readiness Program and the Early Reading Success Program, born implemented in 1998, were meant to help children in unfavorable situations.
With, these programs in place, it was expected that the state of Connecticut, and especially its priority districts, would experience meaningful improvement in test scores. Instead, the anticipated upward trend has not occurred, and in many instances, reading scores amongst 4 graders have declined. From 2001-2004, the percentage of students on the statewide level achieving a reading score at or above the goal level declined from 57.9% to 52.8%. Moreover, certain poorer areas have also shown a downward trend in, test scores. In Hartford, the percentage of students at or above the goal level declined from 20.0% to 14.6% from 1999 to 2004. New Haven, East Hartford, and other priority districts have also experienced notable drops in scores over the same time period.

These results lead me to question the efficacy of the reading and school readiness programs put in place and monitored by the Department of Education. The State of Connecticut continues to spend large sums of money to improve education, and it is imperative that this money is spent in the most cost effective manner. Most important, the huge sums of public investment should yield positive results. The 2004 4th grade reading scores released March 28, 2005 (2004 Fall tests) are extremely disappointing.

Please provide a detailed response to the following to what measures have been implemented during the past two years regarding;
1.) How carefully has the Department monitored reading and school readiness programs in the priority schools districts;
2.) What standards of review does the Department utilize to ensure that these programs adhere to the highest quality standards (that are generally agreed upon as nationally accepted standards);
3.) What analysis is done annually to correlate the most efficacious reading and readiness programs to the best performing districts (on CMT’s) as compared to lower perforating district with similar socioeconomic demographics and what recommendation for program change is made by the Department to the lower performing districts;
4.) Staffing levels dedicated to these tasks and OPM budget requests made for staffing;
5.) What specific remedies the Department offers to address these declining scores and what programs, if any, have been implemented in the last few years?

I do not need to stress to you the importance of improving reading scores among today’s students. I am similarly concerned with the decline in the 4th grade math scores. While participation levels are up, that is no consolation for declining performance. I look forward to your response.
So if CT State Senator Gaffey states that the efficacy of spending more money on pre-k hasn’t worked here in CT why are legislators now looking to expand pre-k programs? I'll tell you why: It is because the only ones who stand to benefit from these programs are the teachers unions who will be growing their membership rolls by adding "certified pre-k" teachers to the public school employment machine. Taxpayers will dole out more money for more teachers, more benefits, more space in schools and more resources required.

From this article on the War on Toddlers:
Universal preschool will provide job security for teachers and education administrators and provide lucrative contracts for specialty interest groups such as curriculum providers, transportation providers, food service providers, construction companies that build schools, maintenance and custodial services, school psychologists, and drug companies. Drug companies? Yes! Preschoolers will be tested, and funding of preschools will be based on test results. What happens when a kid doesn't test well? A small child's inability to focus could be diagnosed as ADD. What will be the solution - Ritalin for 3-year-olds?
Instead of satisfying the teachers union by allowing pre-k to be subsumed into public education and adding to the NEA/CEA’s membership rosters we ought to really do some meaningful education reform to eliminate or fix the programs that do not work. We cannot merely throw more money at the problem and we certainly shouldn't be throwing younger kids into the mix. They ought to be concentrating on the kids who are in school instead of marching more into the door earlier.