Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Government preschool waste

While 15 states this week begged the Obama administration to direct programs for their youngest children, Indiana decided to chart its own course, with Gov. Mike Pence (R) refusing to sign off on an expensive, intrusive federal preschool grant application. Concurrently, the Cato Institute issued a highly useful review of the major and highest-quality research on government preschool, which continues to show such programs, at best, don’t benefit kids beyond first grade. Here’s a summary:

"Before considering expanding preschool offerings--especially making it universal--policymakers need to seek more randomized trials that track control and treatment groups over several years, and they should only attempt to replicate programs that have statistically significant, lasting effects that can be achieved at scale and an affordable price.

The original logic of helping disadvantaged children catch up may still be valid, because Head Start–type programs do show modest benefits during the preschool year. However, the proposal to expand preschool to everyone defeats the purpose of closing achievement gaps by giving disadvantaged children a ‘head start.’

 More importantly, the evidence as it currently exists demonstrates only short-term skill gains that fade after a few years, and there is insufficient evidence--two small, old, very intensive programs--for the type of long-term behavioral changes envisioned by the Heckman Group.

Pre-K education may help, but the available research does not support expanding existing government programs. New preschool programs should not be introduced unless they have statistically significant, non-negligible benefits, even though that’s the opposite of the headlines seen by anyone who reads newspapers and policy briefs about “early education.”"

The Cato report shows the studies that supposedly find preschool will end all our education and economic woes are misleading and typically based on three boutique programs from 50 years ago that were nothing like current preschool programs or proposals.

At best, government preschool is an early remediation possibility for children in mind-starved home environments, and it may be able to help some of these children avoid jail and graduate from high school. But so far, very enthused teachers and researchers, even with lots of money, have only been able to take tiny steps towards these laudable goals. That’s no reason to push government preschool programs. Far better to take the millions in private dollars currently expended trying to get lawmakers to coerce taxpayers into funding such highly speculative programs and send them to valid, well-planned research groups.


A four-year-old boy was expelled because his mother vented about his preschool on Facebook

When was the last time you vented on Facebook? Bad traffic or weather, a news story that’s made your blood boil, even a frustrated swipe at a friend or family member who pressed your buttons. Facebook is the world’s punching bag; it listens placidly, it absorbs all our woes and after a good old-fashioned rant everyone feels better.

At least they do until a hot-headed Facebook post causes problems in the real world. This happened to a US mum, Ashley Habat, whose four-year-old son Will was expelled from his preschool for something Ashley wrote on Facebook. Ashley was frustrated that she hadn’t been given sufficient warning about School Photo Day, and in a fit of anger let loose at her son’s school on her personal Facebook page. “Why is it that every single day there is something new I dislike about Will’s School?” she wrote. “Are my standards really too high or are people working in the education field really just that ignorant.” She also ‘tagged’ the school, The Sonshine Christian Academy in Florida.

The next day, she was called to the office. Ashley was told that Will could no longer attend the school, that he “wasn’t the right fit”.  “I was in shock,” Ashley told a Florida TV station. “Why would you expel a four-year-old over something his mom posts on her private Facebook page only people on her friends list can see? He did nothing wrong.” She insisted that the school made no effort to work through the issues with her; they simply expelled Will as their first response.


More British private school pupils flock to overseas universities

Increasing numbers of pupils from leading private schools are taking university courses overseas because of concerns over rising tuition fees in the UK.

A survey of members of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, which represents 260 top fee-paying schools, found evidence of a significant shift towards international universities.

According to figures, nine-in-10 heads have seen an increase in students wanting to study overseas over the last three years. Some 84 per cent are actively encouraging pupils to include international universities in their options, it emerged.

It marks a major shift since the introduction of higher tuition fees of up to £9,000 a year for the first time in 2012.

The study, which was commissioned by Maastricht University in the Netherlands, found that a rise in domestic tuition fees was the biggest driver of overseas study, followed by increased awareness of opportunities and an attempt to enhance students’ career prospects.

The United States is often seen as the most popular destination for students studying outside the UK, with 9,500 crossing the Atlantic for higher education courses last year. But courses in mainland Europe are now also increasingly popular, with more teenagers taking degrees in countries such as Holland, France, Germany and Sweden.

Universities in Canada and Australia are also growing in popularity, it emerged.

But the study said heads believed more should be done to encourage overseas study in the country generally, particularly in the state system. More than half claimed that careers advisers failed to promote international universities enough and a similar number believed students taking domestic degrees should be given more opportunity to spend part of their course abroad.

Richard Harman, chairman of HMC and headmaster of Uppingham School, said: “For many decades students studying languages at university have expected and looked forward to a period of study abroad. In recent years the value of this experience had become recognised as something from which all undergraduates can benefit.”

Bedales School, Hampshire, now sends almost one-in-10 pupils to universities abroad, including those in Italy, Holland, Canada and the US.

Keith Budge, the headmaster, said: “At Bedales we encourage our students to consider all university options – in particular to look at overseas universities especially in North America and Europe, and we certainly seeing more demand from our students for this.

“Also, for the majority going on to a UK university, we promote the massive benefits of spending some time abroad; there is no doubt that these experiences improve students’ employability.”

Prof Martin Paul, president of Maastricht University, where the number of UK undergraduates has more than doubled in the past three years, said: “While the message is getting through to students that studying abroad can significantly improve employability, there continues to be a need to provide more opportunities and information. Maastricht University has been a trend-setter in enhancing international career prospects by stimulating student mobility, and we welcome other European universities to join this strategy.”


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