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p>In this issue:
Private Childcare Providers Launch “No Universal Pre-K” petition drive.
A group of home-based childcare providers has launched an on-line petition drive in opposition to taxpayer-funded, public school pre-k in Vermont. It is a very a big deal for these women to stand up against some very powerful special interest forces in Montpelier to protect their businesses along with the kids and families they serve. They need and deserve support.
Please take a moment to sign their “Stop the Public School Takeover of Pre-K” online petition at http://www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/349546382
Statewide Interactive Television Forum on Universal Pre-K
On October 9th, the Early Education Study committee held a state-wide, Interactive Television forum on Universal Pre-K.
For the most part, those who showed up in favor of expanding the public school’s role to include taxpayer-funded Pre-K for all 3 & 4 year olds were providers already receiving taxpayer subsidies – so, one must take their testimony with a few grains of salt.
Their stories, generally corroborated by the public school administrators who testified, were nice anecdotes about successfully preparing four year olds for kindergarten by the age of five. Clearly, these childcare providers care very much about what they do, and are probably very good at their jobs.
However, this focus on “Kindergarten Readiness” raises a larger, more important question for the legislature as they debate the need for and/or effectiveness of Universal Pre-K: What is the overall goal of public education?
Should we be directing limited resources and focusing our attention on making sure five year olds are ready for kindergarten? Or should we be looking at the whole K-12 system and making sure every kid graduates from high school ready for life?
Vermont’s Test Scores Released
It is worth looking at this question in light of the recent release of Vermont educational progress scores. In a nutshell, 85 percent of second graders are proficient or better in reading, which is great. But by the tenth grade, only about half remain proficient.
p> See the reports at: http://education.vermont.gov/)
The net results here are that our young children are entering the school system ready and able to excel, and they are doing so. But the longer we keep them trapped inside a one-size-fits-all monopoly, our tweens, teens and young adults become progressively less able to compete. This is the problem we need to solve – the one on the back end of education.
There is no chance for Universal Pre-K to ever be an effective program (requiring tens of millions of dollars of taxpayer investment) unless and until we fix the K-12 system first. To that end, is it possible that our legislators are going at the Universal Pre-K debate BACKWARDS?
Rather than allowing the public school monopoly to take over and regulate Pre-K into an extension of the less-effective one-size-fits-all K-12 system, perhaps we should be looking for ways to make K-12 more like the successful Pre-K system we have now!
Pre-K Working well; K-12 Not as Much
Right now, the public school system’s meddling in pre-kindergarten is minimal. What we have today is a free market providing a wide variety of programs that are directly accountable to parents. Teachers’ qualifications are “outcome-based” – if the service is good, if the kids are learning and happy, the parents determine with their wallets and their feet whether or not the provider is qualified. The government’s role is small, and limited mostly to making sure conditions are safe. Judging by the test scores above, this seems to be creating positive results for our youngest kids.
What our legislature is considering though is eliminating over time the diverse, choice driven, outcome-based system we have now, and replacing it with an extension of the one-size-fits-all curriculum and the “credentialing” qualification system that is causing problems in K-12.
Eliminating Diversity: At the September 18th meeting of the Early Ed Study Committee, the Superintendent of the Winooski School district, Bruce Chattman, testified that the one requirement that he imposes on providers wishing to collaborate is that they adopt a curriculum dictated by the public school system. John Nelson, Executive Director Vermont School Boards Association, made similar statements to the State Board of Education last winter. During the IT Forum on Oct. 9th, a collaborating provider from Middlebury spelled out clearly what that means: training 3 & 4 year olds to take standardized tests under No Child Left Behind. (In a word: Ick!)
Eliminating Accountability: With the free market system we have now, parents determine who is qualified to take the best care of their children based on “outcome” – results. With public Universal Pre-K, this would change: the state would determine who is qualified to provide early education through a process of “credentialing,” – certificates on the wall.
Bureaucrats love “credentialing’ because it is easy to categorize and requires no judgment. But it’s as absurd as saying the best golfer in the world is the one who’s taken the most lessons, rather than the one who shoots the best round. Under this system, a person with twenty years experience caring for neighborhood kids, a teacher who parents love and trust, could be considered unqualified.
This will have the perverse effect of driving many of our best caregivers out of the business in favor of the most bureaucratic, as illustrated in an October 11 New York Times article about credentialing, “Despite a Doctorate and Top Students, Unqualified to Teach,” by Samuel G. Freedman. One teacher described the certification process: "To me, it’s a badge of shame. It’s an embarrassment. It’s infantilizing.”
The Net Results: It is a fair question to ask, is the free-market nature of pre-k really responsible for its success and/or the monopolistic nature the K-12 system really responsible for its failures? Or, are other factors at play such as age and social development or something else entirely?
Here we can look at results from Georgia’s and Oklahoma’s Universal Pre-K programs as summed up by Lisa Snell of the Reason Foundation for some insights:
“One would expect that a large statewide investment in universal preschool including high paid, credentialed teachers and high quality curriculum would have a positive effect on fourth-grade reading scores. These scores declined, despite the fact that all of the children that took the 2005 NAEP reading test in Georgia and Oklahoma were eligible for universal preschool.”
“…. both Georgia and Oklahoma were in the bottom 10 performers. In fact, Oklahoma was the worst performer of all states in terms of gains in fourth-grade reading between 1992 and 2005, actually losing 4 percentage points…. On the other hand, none of the states in the top ten best performers in terms of gains in fourth-grade reading on the NAEP card between 1992 and 2005 had implemented universal preschool.”
Based on what we can learn from these pre-existing programs, it is a logical conclusion that taxpayer funded preschool, regulated and controlled by the public school system, is really just an expensive way of replacing what works with what doesn’t.
Replacing what Doesn’t Work with What Does
Vermont is now at a crossroads for public education. There is a growing grassroots movement to “Revolt & Repeal” Act 60/68 (www.revoltandrepeal.com) and re-determine how we pay for education in Vermont. Education Commissioner Richard Cate has called for a major restructuring of the way we administer education Vermont.
Perhaps the Early Education Study Committee’s work over the summer and fall will open some eyes about what’s working for our youngest kids – diversity of service, accountability to parents, and choice – so we can start incorporating those principles into the K-12 reform our older kids desperately need and deserve.
Maybe talk of closing schools and consolidation will turn to discussions of charter schools and innovation. Maybe the talk of eliminating supervisory unions will turn to discussions of empowering principles and parents. Maybe between now and January, our toddlers can teach our legislators a thing or two.
p> Notes & Events Contact the Early Ed Study Committee at the common email: email@example.com
They want and need to hear from you!
p> Visit the Committee’s Website http://www.leg.state.vt.us/
The Early Ed Study Committee meets next On October 27th, at 10:00. Steven Barnett of NIEER will address the Committee.
Elsewhere: Pre-K Fails to Perform
Academic Defects Won’t Be Fixed with Expanded Costly Program
p> By Jamie Story
…. United States fourth-graders perform well compared to their international peers – including France, whose fourth-graders trail the United States despite having access to universal preschool. But by the time American students reach high school, they rank near the bottom of all industrialized countries. At the same time, we spend more educating each student than almost any other country in the world….