Thursday, March 14, 2013

Government-Funded Preschool Is a Failure that Obama Wants to Spread Nationwide

Oklahoma and Georgia are held as models but show few results

President Obama has announced a cure for the country's social ills: universal preschool. It would help children "read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, form more stable families of their own," and also reduce teen pregnancy and violent crime, he said in his State of Union address. As evidence for these remarkable claims he pointed to Oklahoma and Georgia, the early adopters of universal preschool. But the real evidence from those states suggests that preschool doesn't deliver on even its most basic promises.

Oklahoma implemented its program in 1998 and is the pet of universal preschool activists because it's a red state that has diligently applied their playbook. It spends about $8,000 per preschooler, about the same as on K-12. Its teachers are credentialed, well-paid, abundant (one per 10 children) and use a professionally designed curriculum. Georgia expanded a pre-K program for high-risk children to all 4-year-olds in 1995.

Both programs are voluntary and involve the private sector. Oklahoma pays churches and other community providers for the children they enroll. Georgia effectively hands parents a $4,500 voucher for a qualified preschool. Both states have participation rates well above the 47 percent national preschool average, and Oklahoma's 75 percent enrollment rate is the highest in the country.

Yet neither state program has demonstrated major social benefits. The first batch of children who attended preschool in Georgia, in 1995, are now turning 22, so Obama's claim that they are better at "holding jobs" and "forming stable families" can't be true.

But what about, say, teenage girls staying out of trouble? Teen birth rates have declined in the past 10 years in Georgia and Oklahoma (as they have nationwide), but both states remain far above the national average. In 2005, Georgia had the eighth-highest teen-birth rate and Oklahoma the seventh-highest, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Now Georgia has the 13th-highest, Oklahoma the fifth-highest. Many states without universal preschool have a far better record.

Preschool activists counter that this disregards shifting demographics and loosening sexual mores. They also claim there might be "sleeper effects" of preschool that don't show up in studies. But the logic of universal preschool is that social pathologies such as teen births can be addressed by positioning children for success in school. And there is little evidence that this is true.

Consider graduation rates: Oklahoma has lost ground and Georgia is stagnant. Oklahoma ranked 24th in 1998 but 25th when its first batch of universal-preschool children graduated last year, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics compiled by the United Health Foundation. Georgia's high-school graduation rate was 46th from the top in 1995. It dipped to 47th in 2009, the year its first batch graduated, before rising to 45th in 2012.

The preschool case also isn't helped by scores from the National Assessment for Educational Progress—the national report card. The average NAEP reading score for Oklahoma fourth-graders dropped four points between 1998 and 2011—although it went up nine points for Georgia. Yet none of the three states with fully realized universal pre-K (Florida, which began its program in 2005, is the third) was among the top-10 highest scorers on the NAEP reading test in 2011. Oklahoma remains below the national average and Georgia has just reached the national average.

As for black students, fourth-grade math and reading NAEP scores in Georgia and Oklahoma were above the national average of black students in other states when Georgia and Oklahoma embraced universal preschool. Now the scores are at the national average. Only Florida was among the top-10 scorers in reading for disadvantaged children in 2011.

More revealing, the NAEP reading gap between black and white children in Oklahoma was 22 points in 1992. In 2011, it was also 22 points. Georgia had a 28-point spread in 1992. In 2011? Twenty-three points. NAEP called Georgia's results "not significantly different."

William Gormley of Georgetown University and other preschool activists dismiss the ho-hum academic progress of Oklahoma and Georgia on the grounds that building effective programs takes time. But consider Gormley's most recent studies of Tulsa's "early cohort" children who participated in pre-K in 2000-01 and "late cohort" children who participated in 2005-06, released by Georgetown's Center for Research on Children in the U.S. He found that the initial reading and math gains of the early cohort had completely vanished by third grade. This is consistent with studies of Head Start programs, but he attributed it to the infancy of Tulsa's program.

What about late-cohort children? The reading gains for all subgroups—girls, boys and minorities—also evaporated by third grade, but this finding was buried in Mr. Gormley's fine print. The only lasting gain among the late cohort was in the math ability of boys, which the study trumpets.

The math improvement among third-graders who had been to preschool—combined with the initial (though transitory) gains of pre-K in making children "school ready"—is enough of a fig leaf for advocates to declare that universal pre-K "works" and is a "good return on investment." A more realistic report card for the two states:

Lowering teen births: Oklahoma, Fail; Georgia, C.

Raising graduation rates: Oklahoma, Fail; Georgia, Fail.


SD gov signs into law that teachers can be armed

South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard signed into law Friday a measure allowing the state's school districts to arm teachers and other personnel with guns, the first of its kind since the Connecticut school shooting.

Supporters say the so-called sentinels could help prevent tragedies such as December's shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., in which 20 students and six teachers died. The law will go into effect July 1.

The bill's main sponsor, Rep. Scott Craig, R-Rapid City, said he started working with federal law enforcement officials on the measure in early November, and the Connecticut tragedy weeks later "only affirmed the rightness of this bill." He said the measure does not force a district to arm its teachers or force teachers to carry a gun.

"There's no mandating of anything. It's provisional. It's a take-it-or-leave-it bill," he said.

South Dakota doesn't stand alone on this issue. For a dozen years, Utah has allowed teachers and others with concealed carry licenses to wear a gun in a public school. A couple of school districts in Texas have been given written authorization to allow guns in schools. And legislatures in other states, including Georgia, New Hampshire and Kansas, are working on measures similar to South Dakota's.

Several representatives of school boards, school administrators and teachers opposed the bill during committee testimony last month. They said the measure could make schools more dangerous, lead to accidental shootings and put guns in the hands of people who are not adequately trained to shoot in emergency situations.

Rob Monson, executive director of School Administrators of South Dakota, said his group opposes the bill because it fails to address key issues, such as school building safety, mental health and fire and emergency response.

"We were really hoping that they would look at doing a more comprehensive study of school safety overall, and not sort of jump right into arming people in our schools and thinking that is the answer to it all," Monson said.

But Craig said a number of school board members and administrators voiced support for the bill.

"There are plenty of school districts that let us know that they've wanted this, and they've wanted this kind of provision for quite some time," he said.

On Monday, the South Dakota House voted 40-19 to accept the Senate version of the bill, which added a requirement that a school district must decide in a public meeting whether to arm teachers and others. Another Senate amendment allowed school district residents to push a school board's decision to a public vote.

Craig said he couldn't say how a typical district would implement a sentinel policy, as those decisions will be made locally.

"They get to work out the details in the days ahead," he said. "They've just kind of been waiting and watching to see if this even would pass."

Monson said school districts are going to want to know how the bill's passage will affect them.

"Our biggest challenge right now will be answering all the questions that school boards and administrators are going to have about liability issues and all the other pieces that haven't been put in place yet," Monson said.


British government now plans £150m boost for primary school sports in wake of widespread criticism over proposed funding cuts

Ministers are preparing to plough up to £150million into primary schools to help them improve sports.  Downing Street is expected to make an announcement in the next few days on a new scheme to give schools thousands of pounds which must be spent on sport.

The money will help ensure that children will continue to have access to specialist sports teaching at least once a week, with a focus on competitive sports.

National sports’ governing bodies will be encouraged to provide expertise and coaches to work alongside teachers.

It follows widespread criticism of the government for making cuts in schools sports.

In 2010, Education Secretary Michael Gove provoked an outcry by abolishing £162million of ring-fenced funding for the national School Sport Partnerships.

The BBC said the Football Association, England and Wales Cricket Board, Lawn Tennis Association and other organisations, inluding Olympic bodies funded by the taxpayer, will be briefed on the plans tomorrow.

The new funding is being drawn from across government departments, including education health and sport.

It comes after widespread calls for more investment in school sport to help build on the legacy potential of the 2012 London Olympics and Paralympics.

Lord Coe, who was chairman of the Game' organising committee, is understood to have been a key advisor when the plans were drawn up.

Last year Education Secretary Michael Gove stopped ring-fencing school sports funding and scrapped £162million of annual funding for competitive school sport.

Lord Coe - who remains the only man to win gold in the 1500m at successive Olympics - has urged the Government to plough more cash into sport at schools.

Last night, a source told The Daily Telegraph: 'This is a good package, with extra money, which should help ensure the lasting legacy from the London Games. It is the last piece of the legacy jigsaw.'

Dame Tessa Jowell, the former Labout Olympics minister, has called for a cross-party 10-year programme to guarantee funding for school sport.


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