Sunday, January 05, 2014

Pre-school ed.: Impervious to Evidence, Liberals Ride Again

"We will restore science to its rightful place ... " So intoned a "dismissive and derisive" President Barack Obama in his first inaugural. It's been oft quoted in the five years since (frequently by me, I'll confess) for its arrogance and condescension, which has continuing relevance, but before turning to the left's latest departure from scientific rigor, I cannot resist a fuller quotation. The second part of this sentence from Obama's first inaugural reads " ... and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost." Hmm.

In his second inaugural (compared to Abraham Lincoln's second by Chris Matthews), Obama proposed a vast new program ($150 billion in combined federal and state funds) for universal preschool serving 4-year-olds. "Every dollar we invest in high-quality early childhood education can save more than $7 later on -- by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime ... We know this works."

Universal preschool is universally popular with Democrats. Nancy Pelosi has hailed Head Start as "one of our most effective investments," while the newly minted progressive heartthrob New York mayor, Bill de Blasio, proclaims, "We will ask the very wealthy to pay a little more in taxes so that we can offer full-day universal pre-K and after-school programs for every middle school student."

Before getting to science, let's talk politics. The federal government already runs a preschool program called Head Start. Democrats love it because they can claim to be doing something beneficial for poor children. Republicans decline to oppose it because they fear ads saying "Rep. X wants to deny education to poor children ... "

Now, let's talk science. Head Start, a product of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society, has been carefully evaluated by the Administration for Children and Families within the Department of Health and Human Services. The study examined 4,667 3- and 4-year-olds across 23 states. It compared children who had applied for but not been accepted into Head Start to those who had participated in it. The children were evaluated by their teachers, parents and outside examiners both before and after. As David Armor and Sonia Sousa relate in the winter issue of National Affairs, the Head Start Impact Study found almost no positive effects of the program.

While children in the program showed some positive results on measures of cognitive skills and social/behavioral ratings while in the program, those results lasted only so long as the children were enrolled and did not carry through to kindergarten or early elementary school. The principle positive effect noted in the HSIS was in social skills for 3-year-olds, but these results were reported only by parents and not replicated by outside examiners. Teachers, by contrast, noted a negative effect on social/emotional skills for the 4-year-old cohort.

The point of Head Start is the promise that it offers poor children a leg up and prepares them for school. It would be nice if it worked, but it doesn't. It does provide jobs for teachers and federally subsidized day care. But taxpayers have spent $180 billion since 1965 for a program that fails to achieve its objectives.

Other studies have examined the effect of preschool more generally on school performance and have found effects ranging from very small to none.

What then was Obama referring to when he insisted that "high-quality" preschool "boosts graduation rates," "reduces teen pregnancy" and so forth? In a post titled "Obama's Preschool Proposal Is Not Based on Sound Research" on the center/left Brookings Institution website, Russ Whitehurst explains that the studies the president and other advocates of universal pre-K rely on are flawed. They do not involve randomized controls (as the HSIS did) but instead employ something called "age-cutoff regression discontinuity."

Due to state-mandated birthdates for enrollment in preschool, the studies wind up comparing kids who are actually enrolled in play-based programs for 3-year-olds with those enrolled in academically oriented preschool for 4-year-olds. These regression discontinuity studies also fail to account for dropouts from the program. The Brookings post, to which Armor also contributed, concludes: "Because 'gold standard' randomized studies fail to show major impacts of present day pre-K programs, there are reasons to doubt that we yet know how to design ... a government funded pre-K program that produces sufficiently large benefits ... "

Armor and Souza suggest in National Affairs that those truly respectful of science would propose: "A national demonstration project for pre-K in a selected number of cities and states, accompanied by a rigorous randomized evaluation that would follow participants at least into the third grade. This demonstration project should also examine whether 'preschool for all' closes achievement gaps between rich and poor, since it is possible that middle-class children will benefit more than disadvantaged children."

This would put science in its "rightful place," but don't hold your breath. Many liberal nostrums are impervious to evidence.


Who Could Hate Student Achievement?

Ask any parent what are the key factors that will help their children achieve the American Dream, and the top answer will almost certainly be a quality education.  Sadly, for generations it seems that there has been a steady increase in bad headlines and alarming stories about the state of education for American children, especially in urban and underserved areas—precisely where it is most critical.

Yet there are inspiring success stories.  In Hartford, one school in particular, Capital Prep, has managed to compile a record that is nothing short of outstanding.

According to the Hartford School District’s website, the entire Hartford School District’s graduation rate was 59.9% in 2011, and the target for 2012 of 62.7%.  By contrast, Capital Prep’s graduation rate in 2012 was ninety-seven percent.

In that same year, about two-thirds (64%) of Capital Prep graduates enrolled in four-year colleges, the second highest level among other schools in the District.  After three years (the latest figures available), 95% were still enrolled in college.

In the 2012-2013 school year, only 12.8% of incoming kindergarteners read and wrote at the state’s established “proficiency” levels, yet by spring this level improved to 59.5%, one of the greatest levels in improvement in the city.

We should not overlook the context of these achievements.   Census records show almost 40 percent of Hartford residents live below the poverty line. According to Hands on Hartford, a local charity, the city’s astounding poverty rate of 33.5 percent makes it the second-poorest major city in the Unites States.  Hartford is 70 percent black and Hispanic.

But I suppose it would not be Christmas season without a Scrooge in the story.  Jonathan Pelto, a liberal ex-politician turned blogger has been working his fingers to the bone.  Since he was ousted from government office 20 years ago, it appears that his newfound purpose is to launch vitriolic attacks against Capital Prep.  What is worse is that this is just one aspect of his efforts to kill education reform in the city’s poorest neighborhoods, neighborhoods in which he likely does not shop, visit, or much less live.

A 1993 New York Times article describes Pelto as being “pushed” from public office, his being fired from political positions with the Democrat Party, his arrogance and lack of being “a team player,” and paints a picture of him sitting around his family’s home “nursing a handful of grudges.” In fact, the state’s Democrat Party Chair said at the time:  “Jonathan’s demise, though part of it is voluntary, is something caused by Jon Pelto.”

Now, Pelto the blogger spends his time railing against education-reform advocates.

Pelto is so obsessed that even the tag-line for A Better Connecticut—an education-reform group— which reads “Every Zip Code. Every Classroom. Every Kid” somehow offends him as he also has criticized this organization and its mission. A quality education for students in “Every Zip Code” may be an honorable goal for some, yet it insults this ex-politician, who is from a rural Connecticut town that is 84 percent white, according to records.

The poverty rate among whites in Hartford is 18 percent, with minority populations hitting 45 percent or more.   And given a poverty rate of almost 50 percent for Hartford residents who don’t finish high school, Pelto’s irrational opposition to reforms that improve the lives of children in these circumstances is nothing short of disgusting.

In recent weeks, Pelto has attacked proposals—and anyone connected with them—to expand a highly successful magnet school program to a nearby public school that is failing, personally deriding school board officials, principals and parents who work tirelessly for a better future for local children.  Keeping minorities poor is not an answer—it is vicious and cruel.

Hartford should move forward with its plans to expand successful magnet school programs across its neighborhoods and provide better education opportunities for children of every race and economic condition, as should other communities across the nation.

With Capital Prep’s positive track record of producing better higher education and career opportunities for kids—and the wealth of social benefits that accompany these achievements—one wonders just who or what is the motivation for such hate-filled attacks.  Our children, whether in Hartford or elsewhere, deserve better.


The ethos of Capital Prep. seems to be very Leftist so perhaps Pelto has a point.  It seems to be turning out little Leftist zombies who are well prepared to succeed in zombie Leftist 4-year colleges.  "Our students are becoming skilled information processors and social change agents"

Tatler publishes its first ever guide to state education after soaring private school fees leave Britain's wealthiest families feeling the pinch

Its well-heeled readers would normally consider nothing less than a leading private school for their children.  But now it appears these are getting too expensive even for the devotees of Tatler magazine.

For among the features on society parties, luxury holidays and top restaurants in its latest edition, the magazine has published its first ever guide to state schools.

Naturally, it has focused on those with the best exam grades, top facilities and extra-curricular activities and the kudos of famous parents or former pupils.

They include St Mary Abbots School in west London - called ‘the alma mater of the little Camerons’ because it is where the Prime Minister sends his children - and Hills Road Sixth Form College in Cambridge which is one of the country’s top feeders to Oxbridge.

But education experts yesterday said the decision was evidence that the pain of soaring private school fees had reached even the wealthiest families.  The magazine itself pointed out putting two children through independent school ‘costs around £600,000 - that’s £1.2 million before tax’.

Reports have shown that parents are increasingly willing to pay a premium for a house near a good state school and top up their children’s education with private tuition as it will still be cheaper than paying to put them through the private system.

Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at the University of Buckingham, said: ‘As good as it is, private education is getting very expensive and it’s no surprise that even some of the more prosperous are beginning to look carefully at what the state system has to offer.

‘It can be a canny move by parents as children meet a more representative group of people from society and universities will look more favourably on A-level grades.’

The guide appears in the latest edition of Tatler.

A spokeswoman for the magazine said: ‘This is not something you’d normally expect to find in the pages of Tatler but with private education becoming increasingly expensive and out of reach for today’s reader, the magazine lists the créme de la créme of the British state system.’

Janette Wallis, senior editor at the Good Schools Guide, said there were just 11 state schools in its first edition 28 years ago. Now there are around 300.  She added: ‘Parents used to say to us they were looking at independent schools and were interested in good state schools too - but didn’t really mean it.

‘Now we really do have parents phoning us up to say they’re interested in both and that independent schools had better earn their keep if they’re going to have to keep paying that much money.

‘Private schools have tried not to increase their fees, especially since [the global financial crisis of] 2008. The days when they were willy-nilly making up a figure are gone.  ‘But even if they aren’t engaged in the facilities arms race there are still increases beyond their control, like salaries and other services they provide.’

A report by the Independent Schools Council last year found independent school fees had gone up by 3.9 per cent - the lowest annual increase for 20 years but still well above the rate of inflation.

This left average day pupil fees at £12,153, rising to £27,612 for boarders. Campaign for Real Education chairman Chris McGovern said at the time that lawyers and bankers were complaining about the cost.

Pupil numbers in Britain’s 1,223 private schools have flat-lined at just over 500,000, despite attempts to bolster them with foreign students.

And 33.7 per cent of families now receive some form of financial support such as means-tested bursaries or scholarships.

Anastasia de Waal, deputy director of think-tank Civitas, said: ‘We know that one of the things that happens during a recession is some parents who are paying school fees can’t afford them any more.

‘The silver lining could be that people feel state schools are improving and why should they pay for private schools?’


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