Friday, February 12, 2016

Democrats love universal pre-K — and don’t seem to care that it may not work

It's neither as effective nor cost-effective as people tend to think

By Kevin Huffman

As campaign issues go, promoting preschool for poor kids is about as close to a no-brainer as it gets among progressives.

Indeed, when Hillary Clinton officially launched her campaign last summer with a call for expanded access to prekindergarten, the New York Times reported, “Of all the issues Mrs. Clinton could have delved into, early childhood education is perhaps the most obvious and among the safest.”

Both Clinton and Bernie Sanders have made universal, school-based pre-K a centerpiece of their platforms. Meanwhile, they’ve demonized any opposition. “They aren’t just missing the boat on early childhood education,” Clinton said, “they’re trying to sink it.” Sanders, not to be rhetorically outdone, claimed that “to turn our back on children at that period is disgraceful.”

And why shouldn’t we all fall in line on this issue? We know that children from low-income homes enter kindergarten already significantly behind their wealthier peers. Research shows that they hear about 30 million fewer words, they have significantly lower exposure to books, and their impulse control and self-regulation — often called executive function — tend to be less developed than in higher income children. So it makes absolute sense to look for meaningful interventions between birth and age 5.

Unfortunately, the predominant remedy advocated by those on the left is neither as effective, nor cost-effective, as people tend to think.

Researchers at Vanderbilt University have spent the past six years comparing cohorts of Tennessee pre-K students with their peers who applied to the statewide pre-K program but were lotteried out. The results are not stellar. The pre-K students entered kindergarten with a decided advantage over the comparison group, but that advantage diminished over time. By the time the children reached third grade, the pre-K attendees actually underperformed the comparison group.


As the state’s education commissioner from 2011 to January 2015, I can’t help being disappointed. Low-income children in Tennessee struggle in school, and like many, I have been hopeful that the school-based pre-K program would boost achievement and, eventually, be expanded.

Still, I’ve been surprised with how pre-K advocates rushed to defend their sacred cow.

Some, including Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman, have dismissed the unwanted results as a product of flawed methodology. This is odd given the impeccable credentials and the extraordinary care of the researchers. In fact, based on my multiple conversations with the Vanderbilt team, I would posit they were genuinely hoping for good results and were surprised and discouraged by what they found, but nonetheless committed to honesty in their analysis.

In another defensive maneuver, some pre-K advocates have suggested the reason Tennessee’s pre-K isn’t working is because Tennessee isn’t doing it the right way. “If your program isn’t very good, you can’t expect it to have long-term benefits,” sniped the director of the National Institute for Early Education Research.

That’s funny, because pre-K advocates for years told me how great the Tennessee pre-K program was based on their own metrics. We were in the upper tier of states, meeting nine out of 10 quality standard benchmarks on a well-regarded rubric from — guess who? — the National Institute for Early Education Research.

I understood, though, that Tennessee’s pre-K was roughly analogous to all of its schooling. Like most states, we have some good programs, some bad and a large smattering of average. (We score slightly below average on national tests, though scores are climbing faster than in most other states.)

The studies showing that pre-K “works” are based on small, high-quality pre-K programs. Indeed, if you parse the language of pre-K advocates, you will often find the words “high-quality” when they describe what we need. See, for example, Clinton’s campaign promise that “every 4-year-old in America [will have] access to high-quality preschool in the next 10 years.”

That’s great, but what leads us to believe that we can take small, high-quality pre-K programs and blow them out into a statewide or nationwide intervention? Why would we think we can build a “high-quality” program for all the nation’s 4-year-olds when decades of effort have failed to produce universal high-quality in any other grades?

This matters because, as the Vanderbilt study shows, an average pre-K program doesn’t seem to have academic impacts.

It’s important to note a couple of caveats here. The study is ongoing, and we don’t know how results will ultimately wind up. Also, there is good evidence from other studies that pre-K programming has a positive impact on non-academic results. Pre-K can improve executive function, eventually resulting in better behavior and even higher graduation rates. The Tennessee study is too preliminary to measure these effects.

But while we wait for a full accounting, given the doubts the study has raised so far, and given the urgency of improving early childhood interventions, let’s park the highly politicized groupthink on pre-K and have a real conversation about solutions.

We should consider a wider range of interventions. I would love to see apolitical research comparing school-based pre-K, private day care, church preschool and Head Start. In the same way that public charter schools have become an important addition to traditional public schools, are there ways to let dollars flow to early childhood programs based on effectiveness?

Instead of advocating for universal school-based pre-K, let’s advocate for 3- and 4-year-old children and be open to different possibilities. If our goal is to help them rather than simply to add another grade level onto our public schools, then let’s stop demonizing opposition to pre-K, attacking the bearers of bad news and making pre-K just another tool of partisan orthodoxy. We owe it to our low-income families and the schools that ultimately serve them.


I can't stand that 'Caesar' Rhodes: Oxford student who said statue left them feeling 'under assault' knew so little about him he didn't know his first name

An Oxford student who complained of feeling ‘under assault’ by memorials to Cecil Rhodes knew so little about him that they thought his first name was ‘Caesar’, documents show.

Responding to a questionnaire about racism at the prestigious university, the student said they objected to having to go to ‘Caesar Rhodes House’ to visit a library.

They added that paying ‘homage’ to a ‘great colonialist’ like ‘Caesar Rhodes’ made them feel ‘uncomfortable’ and helped ‘perpetuate racial inequality’.

The comments were contained in a survey of students at Oxford by the university’s branch of the National Union of Students.

It was carried out by representatives of the union’s Campaign for Racial Awareness and Equality (CRAE), which has supported calls for memorials to Cecil Rhodes to be torn down.

The blunder has remained for over a year in the online report, which has been used repeatedly by campaigners to accuse Oxford of racism.

It is likely to prove an embarrassment to those campaigning for the removal of memorials to Cecil Rhodes at the university, as it calls into question how much students really know about the 19th century politician’s life.

The student, writing anonymously, said: ‘Caesar Rhodes was a great colonialist after whom northern and southern Rhodesia was named.

‘He got rich of [sic] the labours of southern African mine workers under the colonial regimes that he helped to house.

‘We have a whole building off of South parks road that is essentially an homage to Caesar Rhodes…when I go there, I feel very uncomfortable and under ideological assault, as though I’m made to feel like this guy did something good or deserves to be honoured with his own entire building.

‘To me, that shows a really glaring example that, at Oxford, there are institutional structures that perpetuate racial inequality and oppressive historical figures.’

The building in question – called Rhodes House – housed the Bodleian Library of Commonwealth and African Studies until 2014, when it was moved.

The student made the comments as part of the 100 Voices Report, an ongoing project which was completed just over a year ago and is displayed on the student union website.

The report author said: ‘Despite the fact that BME students can and do thrive in the stimulating environment of Oxford, many experience significant racism on a structural and interpersonal level during their time here.’

Following publication of the report, CRAE declared in November that it ‘stands in full solidarity’ with Rhodes Must Fall Oxford – a now failed campaign to remove a statue of Rhodes at Oriel College.

It said: ‘The violence of the statue’s presence is part of a broader exclusion of the experiences of students of colour at this university.’

The college originally said it would have a six-month listening exercise, but last month announced it had decided the statue should stay.

In a statement, Oriel College said it had received an ‘enormous amount of input’ from students, academics and other individuals and groups during its consultation.

The college said after ‘careful consideration’ it had decided the statue should remain but it would add ‘a clear historical context to explain why it is there’.

Rhodes, a British imperialist in southern Africa in the 19th Century, left money to the college on his death in 1902.

A scholarship programme in his name has so far been awarded to more than 8,000 overseas students.

The university has always denied it is ‘institutionally racist’ and has said it is committed to supporting potential and current ethnic minority students.

The student union has been contacted for comment.


British secondary schools face teaching crisis: Classrooms can't keep up with the immigrant baby boom

Schools are suffering from a teacher shortage driven by rising pupil numbers fuelled by immigration, figures suggest.

A report by the Government's spending watchdog found that while the number of teachers in the system has increased over the past ten years, pupil numbers are also growing.

The National Audit Office said that recruitment of teachers would have to increase over the next few years to keep up.

Local councils have repeatedly complained that they are struggling to accommodate a bulge in primary school numbers caused by a baby boom following high immigration.

The swelling of primary school numbers is set to transfer onto secondaries and council leaders have warned of an urgent need to expand schools.

The NAO report said while secondary school teacher numbers had remained stable since 2005, the number of primary teachers has increased by 19,000, 'reflecting changing pupil numbers'.

It warned that a similar increase was needed in secondary schools soon, but that teacher recruitment is now more difficult because of the improving economy.

The report said: 'Between 2011 and 2014, the number of pupils increased by 7 per cent in primary schools and fell by 3 per cent in secondary schools.'

It added: 'Primary schools have had to recruit more teachers to keep up with rising pupil numbers. Secondary schools may now have to do likewise as pupil numbers start to increase.'

The watchdog also said that more teachers were now leaving before retirement age, suggesting 'retention' was likely to become an issue.

It said: 'Overall, the number of teachers has kept pace with changing pupil numbers.

'There were 21.6 pupils to every teacher in primary schools in 2008 compared with 21.0 in 2014.

'In secondary schools the pupil teacher ratio was 16.2 to 1 in 2008 compared with 15.8 to 1 in 2014.
Last year, the head of Ofsted Sir Michael Wilshaw (pictured) warned that schools were struggling to cope with an influx of migrant pupils and needed more 'capacity'

Last year, the head of Ofsted Sir Michael Wilshaw (pictured) warned that schools were struggling to cope with an influx of migrant pupils and needed more 'capacity'

'There are, however, growing signs of shortages. Most commonly discussed are shortages in maths and certain science subjects.'

Last year, the head of Ofsted Sir Michael Wilshaw warned that schools were struggling to cope with an influx of migrant pupils and needed more 'capacity'.

In 2013, a leaked paper prepared by the Department for Education revealed that a steady increase in the number of babies being born has helped fuel the schools places crisis. The report said there were 120,000 more born in 2011 than in 2002, in addition to a 'threefold increase in net long-term migration since the mid-1990s'.

The document cited evidence collected by the Home Office that the 'impact of immigration has been substantial', adding that it was seen 'as an important contributory factor, through both the arrival of migrant children and the high birth rates of some migrant groups'.

It said an additional 35,000 secondary places will be needed by 2015, adding: 'This shortage of places is the direct result of the increase in the birth rates since 2002 and the surge in net migration since the mid-1990s.'

Official figures released last year showed the proportion of primary school pupils who do not have English as a first language increased from 18.1 per cent to 18.7 per cent. In secondary schools, the proportion rose from 13.6 to 14.3 per cent.

÷More than a fifth of British 15-year-olds are so poor at maths it could hinder their ability to take part in society, according to an international report.

Twenty-two per cent were 'low performers' in arithmetic – while 17 per cent had fallen behind with reading and 15 per cent in science.

One in ten of this age group struggled across all three subjects, the study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development found. They were classed as low performers if they scored below Level 2 on tests by the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment.

This is considered the baseline proficiency required to participate fully in modern society.


1 comment:

Hina Khan said...

More than a fifth of British 15-year-olds are so poor at maths it could hinder their ability to take part in society, according to an international report.

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