|Back to September Ed Reporter|
|NUMBER 236||THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS||SEPTEMBER 2005|
|Universal Preschool Gains Momentum|
|Benefits Debated; High Expulsion Rate; Head Start Deficiencies|
Vermont in June became the fifth state to enact universal preschool, acting without floor debate in the legislature or voter approval through initiative. Quietly added to an appropriations bill by a conference committee, the new law expands access to a statewide education fund that had previously been limited to programs for children from low-income families or with limited English proficiency. By enabling districts to add two more grades below kindergarten, the law is expected to cost taxpayers an additional $40 to 70 million per year.
The Vermont law encourages "collaboration" between public school systems and licensed private daycare centers, but does not mandate it. Critics note that the law could drive hundreds of independent preschool providers out of business by attracting most of their clients into "free" public programs.
"Few legislators clearly understood that this was happening. It was accomplished completely below the radar of public and legislative debate, with almost zero attention from the news media," wrote John McClaughry, former vice chair of the Vermont senate education committee and president of the Ethan Allen Institute. (Barre Times Argus/Rutland Herald, 7-3-05)
Urged on by Gov. Bill Richardson, New Mexico in March passed a preschool bill establishing a $5 million pilot program. The governor's avowed goal is to provide preschool "for every child."
Gov. Richardson "has ruined education in the last two years," Maude Rathgeber, a former teacher who serves as president of New Mexico Eagle Forum, told the Education Reporter. In addition to backing public preschool, the governor successfully pushed to abolish the elected state school board and recently called for elimination of the state higher education commission.
40 states fund some preschool
The Census Bureau estimates that in 2003 nearly 60% of all eligible children were enrolled in public or private preschool, more than twice the percentage in 1980. There are still more children in private than in public preschools. (See Education Reporter, Mar. 2005.)
CA mulls expensive plan
Researchers at the University of California-Berkeley and Stanford University issued a study in May warning that the push to require a four-year degree is not supported by solid research. Such a standard is "very expensive and yields no consistent improvement for young children when compared to those kids whose teachers have two-year degrees and training in child development." The researchers, led by Berkeley education professor Bruce Fuller, also argue that there is no proof that children learn more in school-based programs than they do in other settings.
Supporters of the California proposal point to a study released by the Rand Corp. in March touting the benefits of universal preschool for 4-year-olds in reducing special-education needs, juvenile arrests, and holding children back a grade.
But as a letter to the editor of the Los Angeles Times noted, "The Rand study based its claims of cost savings on "high-quality" preschool programs, and that is my major concern. California has proved itself incapable of providing high-quality elementary, middle or high school programs. Why should we believe it will do better with preschool?" (4-2-05)
'Constitutional right to preschool'?
Full-day kindergarten is coming soon to Oklahoma now that Gov. Brad Henry persuaded legislators to appropriate $145 million for that purpose this summer.
Reacting to the growing trend toward state funding of pre-kindergarten and full-day kindergarten programs, the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council in May approved model legislation to maximize efficiency for taxpayers and parental satisfaction with such programs. Its Smart Start Scholarship Program offers choices between full- and half-day kindergarten, full-time or flexible preschool schedules, and private preschool providers.
High expulsion rate
The study was based on a telephone survey of 4,815 state-financed pre-K classrooms. It is estimated that more than 5,000 preschool children are expelled each year. To minimize expulsions, Tufts Educational Day Care in Somerville, MA actually has unruly 5-year-olds sign "contracts" promising such things as "I will not scream, try to hit, or say you're not my boss." (Boston Globe, 6-2-05)
A review of full-day kindergarten research likewise found fleeting benefits: "Research shows that most full-day kindergarten students demonstrate somewhat higher academic and social achievement than half-day kindergarten students; however, the higher academic achievement seems to diminish somewhat over time," concluded a February 2001 report prepared for the Kansas Department of Education.
Not much of a Head Start
Head Start also faces congressional allegations of financial mismanagement and embezzlement in some local programs.
The Bush administration advocates sending Head Start money to states to dole out instead of directly funding local grantees from Washington. Governors active in the National Governors Association have proposed streamlining the 69 federal programs spread across nine departments or agencies dealing with children under age 5.
10 letters of the alphabet
As academic pressure increases on the youngest learners, so does the idea of "toddler tutoring" for overanxious affluent families. Programs known for boosting older children's academic achievement such as Sylvan, Kumon and Kaplan are now offering tutoring programs for children as young as 2. Sylvan typically charges about $45 an hour. (Wall Street Journal, 7-12-05)