Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Pre-school to prevent delinquency?

The rant below is typical of disassociated Leftist thought. Jacqueline Maley points to problems and just asserts that pre-school will fix them.  Asking for evidence that your "cure" will in fact cure anything is chronically "forgotten" among Leftists.  Evidence connecting the cure to the problem is absent.

She points to the problems that children reared in feral environments pose for both themselves and everyone else and then points out that if you get an infant very early, you may be able to train its brain into more positive behaviour channels.  It's a reasonable conjecture.

So how do we implement this draconian intervention?  The infant brain is at it most plastic when it is youngest.  The plasticity is highest just after birth and declines steadily thereafter. To make Maley's idea work, you would have to take masses of infants away from their families from shortly after birth.  Is that going to happen?  The "stolen generations" furore guarantees that it will not.

So she does not even explore that option.  She just states blandly and blindly that pre-school  will achieve the desired result.  But, for a start, pre-school is far to late to do much good and, secondly, any effect of a  few hours in pre-school will be overwhelmed by the very different experience of the feral home for the remaining 18 hours (or more) of the day.

Maley quotes theories of U.S. educators that say there is a small advantage in pre-school but those theories fade into insignificance when we look at the actual experience with the American "Head Start" program -- now in existence for many decades. It aimed to give a quality pre-school experience to children from deprived homes.  It produced some initially promising results, as new programs often do, but those  advantages rapidly faded away, leaving a program that scholarly analysts see as an abject failure.  The program is now kept going mainly as a means of offering a child-minding service in poor areas

Ms Maley hasn't got a clue.  Like most Leftist writing hers has an initial plausibility until you know all the facts

There is one simple thing politicians could do right now that would save the budget millions, or even billions, of dollars over the next generation.

The evidence is clear that this near-magic initiative works to prevent poverty, illiteracy, social delinquency, welfare dependency, ill health, and even cardiovascular disease and obesity.

Politicians like to talk about there being no "silver bullet" solution to any given problem, but according to economists and doctors, and at least one Nobel prize winner who has devoted his life to this cause, this is as close to it as it gets.

All they have to do is better fund preschools.

After 20 years of solid research into child brain development, scientists now know (and I use the verb "know" in the entirely scientific, evidence-based, non-feelpinion sense) that the human brain in the infant-to-child period is exquisitely sensitive to its environment.

Whatever crappy destiny a child's genes have planned for him or her, it will usually only be triggered in a bad environment, where a child's basic physical needs are not met, or where his or her parents fail to provide a nurturing, stimulating and responsive backdrop.

Professor Frank Oberklaid, a feted paediatrician who is probably Australia's foremost expert in early intervention and childhood development, says none of this research is touchy-feely or vague.

It is "robust and non-contested" neuroscience.

We all know that children who are exposed to abuse or neglect often grow up to have psychological and behavioural problems.

But the research shows there are long-term physical and neurological consequences from what you and I might call a crappy childhood.

The effects from a bad environment are as real and long-lasting as a blow to the head, or a kick to the kidneys might be.

"In situations of extreme poverty, child abuse, substance abuse, or any situation where the child is exposed to unpredictability and a lack of responsiveness, stress levels go up in the brain," Oberklaid says.

"This produces cortisol, and cortisol levels affect the brain's functioning. You get the biologic embedding of environmental events, so after a generation or two you start to see changes in genetic material."

Here's the real kicker: increased stress in those early years resets the body's physiological regulatory system at a sub-optimal level, meaning these children, as they grow up, are more likely to develop disease like heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

It also buggers their brain's frontal lobe development, which governs what is known as "executive function" – a trio of cognitive processes that are essential to functioning as a happy and productive adult: working memory, mental flexibility and self control.

Take a survey of your nearest prison population and you will find it full of men and women who have difficulty holding more than a few pieces of information in their minds at once, who are bad at switching between tasks and who have poor or zero impulse control.

Children are not born with these skills, and they are unlikely to develop them in dysfunctional home environments.

That's why compulsory, state-subsided preschool for at least one year, but ideally two, is something economists are switching on to.

The Nobel-winning American economist James Heckman has devoted much of his professional life to researching the economics of early childhood, and has shown that funding early childhood delivers a return on investment.

His analysis of one preschool program estimated a 7 to 10 per cent return on investment. Analysis of another early childhood program, the Chicago Child-Parent Centre, estimated $48,000 in benefits to the public per child from a half-day of public preschool. The estimated return on investment was $7 for every dollar invested.

These savings are based on the greater adult productivity of the kids involved, and reduced costs in remedial education, healthcare and criminal justice participation down the line.

The good news is we know exactly what we have to do in order to prevent a lot of these adverse outcomes.

Oberklaid spends his life advocating early intervention policy, and has advised state and federal ministers on the subject.

If he could make politicians do one single thing, it would be to fund one year of universal preschool education. Even better, fund two years of it.

Preschool helps develop the early building blocks of educational success – learning colours and numbers, understanding patterns, realising that printed words hold meaning. It socialises children. Any language, hearing or developmental problems a child may have are picked up early.


Some possible directions for education under Trump

Trump has called for the abolition of the Department of Education, as did Reagan. By contrast, both Presidents Bush sought to strengthen that Department. Trump has nominated the splendid Betsy DeVos to be secretary of the Department, and she is a fighter for every kind of school choice. The federal government spends seven or eight percent of its money on education, and its method is typical of the federal intrusion into local matters: it gives money from the federal treasury to states and localities on condition. The conditions are myriad, confusing, and usually ugly when they can be understood. Title IV of the Higher Education Act governs federal student aid, and it numbers around 500 pages. A lawyer for our college told me once that I would be unable to read it, because he himself cannot read it, for which reason his firm keeps a specialist who is the only person he knows who understands what it says. For this reason alone, it would be a grand thing to get rid of the Department of Education.

There are also some excellent intermediate steps. If one changed the conditions of the federal education money that goes to states, localities, and schools, there could be an immediate influence. Education is one of those things that is easy enough to understand, but hard to do. The first thing to understand is that human beings are made to learn, and they desire to do it naturally. This means the job of teachers, like the job of parents, is to help children learn, not to make them or cause them to learn. Good schools are built around this fact. It also means that authority over the schools can best be exercised by those who are closest to the students. What if the federal government required states to pass charter laws that delegated wide latitude and real authority to schools, not to the Department of Education or to state departments of education or to school districts? What if it relied, not upon high-stakes centralized testing as in Common Core, but in the simple fact that parents and teachers are much more likely to care for students than strangers, even if those strangers are highly trained federal bureaucrats?

The chairman of our education program at Hillsdale College has written a series of standards that states might adopt for K-12 education. For each grade, they take up about half a page. But if a child can do the things on that half a page, the child has learned a lot. Here is a way for higher levels of government to be sure that any money they give to lower levels is well spent in education. It involves hardly any management of details. That is the constitutional model, the model that comes from our Founding.

To follow this practice would liberalize the system. It would mean that there would be plenty of bad charter schools, just as there are plenty of bad schools now. But it would also mean that there would be a proliferation of good ones. Hillsdale College has helped to found 16 charter schools, with more coming, and they are all doing well. Everybody wears a uniform and signs an honor code. Everybody—indeed everybody in kindergarten—learns to read. Everybody studies mathematics at least through pre-calculus. Everybody learns Latin, history, literature, philosophy, physics, biology, and chemistry. Everybody is admitted by a lottery system. For the inner-city schools, care is taken to advertise only in the immediate area, to make the opportunity available to the children who live in poor areas. The students in these schools make on the average excellent scores on the ubiquitous state standardized tests, and they do this without class time or curriculum set aside to prepare for those tests. They do very well even in relation to the legions of public schools that now take months to cram only for those tests, which means the students know little more than what is on those tests, and all the adults get raises and promotions if the students do well. That’s why there have been spectacular instances of cheating—by teachers and school administrators!—on those tests.

The kind of education going on in Hillsdale’s charter schools is not something that could be advanced nationally by a federal mandate. Key to the success of these schools is that the school leaders, the parents, and the teachers are all glad to be there and all help willingly to make it work. In other words, they are all volunteers. It is a partnership. Partnerships are cooperative, not imperative. If you force people who are unwilling to do something, they will not do it very well, which is the encapsulation of human freedom.

Nowhere is this freedom more evident than in the process of learning. At Hillsdale College the curriculum is rigorous and the standards of behavior are high. But they are not imperative. The ultimate penalty is simply this question: are you sure you want to be here, when there are so many other options, options generally not quite so difficult or strict? The student who responds yes to that question is self-governing, which is the aim. That is why we at Hillsdale would not support a national law that everyone had to do what we do. We know too much about human beings to think that would work.

Let us say that the Department of Education began to reform itself along these lines. It is in a real position to lead if it will do so, because it would be setting a profound example: it would be teaching the governments below not to give people orders all the time. It would be teaching them that parents do after all love their children in the great majority of cases, and that the strongest institutions are built on love. It would be teaching them that schools can do better without a national engineering project to take over their work, to set their tests, to prescribe their behavior. And this would lay the ground for the Department’s abolition.


CA: Move away from bond financing for public school construction

Proposition 51, which state voters passed Nov. 8, does nothing to improve how school facilities are paid for. Rather than doubling down on debt to construct needed school facilities, the state should enact sensible reforms that enable all public schools — not just those that can afford powerful lobbyists — to fund ongoing facilities renewal and construction costs.

Switching from debt-based facilities funding to a cash-based strategy could cut current construction and maintenance expenses nearly in half by simply eliminating interest payments. Viewed another way, for the same cost California could buy twice as much as it does now.

California should overhaul its funding formula to include ongoing facilities maintenance because, by using industry formulas and standards, these costs are highly predictable. Taxpayers are on the hook for already approved bonds and interest; they should at least have more fiscally responsible funding options in the future.

Prop. 51, a $9 billion statewide school bond, allocates the lion’s share of the bond monies to district and charter school construction and modernization. When interest on the debt is counted, its true cost nearly doubles to $17.6 billion.

Even before Prop. 51 passed, the state owed $50 billion in principal and interest on school-facility bonds dating to 1988. That debt will cost taxpayers roughly $2 billion annually until 2044. Prop. 51 heaps on an additional $500 million in debt per year for the next 35 years, at a time when student enrollment in California schools is essentially flat. Yet, we shouldn’t have to break the bank just to maintain school buildings — especially given the state’s $400 billion debt.

Under the state’s 20-year-old school-facilities finance system, funding is distributed on a first-come, first-served basis. Maintenance and construction are also not considered ongoing expenses, and funding is not prioritized on need. This means Californians are paying through the nose for buildings long after their expiration date.

The Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates that annual facilities maintenance, modernization and replacement costs for schools statewide would be roughly 4 percent of total replacement cost. That works out to $8 billion annually assuming an average useful building life of 25 years, which would cost approximately $1,300 more per student.

Fixing the facilities financial abyss that is confronting the state can be accomplished in two ways:

 * Plan for necessary facilities upgrades and construction for roughly 25 years out from now, assuming all California schools will have the upgrades they need through Prop. 51. District and charter schools should submit an inventory of all buildings and their characteristics. From this inventory a realistic budget can be derived for current and ongoing facilities needs. With an honest and accurate accounting, taxpayers can have a real discussion about priorities, and waste can be eliminated.

 * Budget realistically and optimize existing assets. With an accurate inventory and overview of needs, districts can lower costs and free up money to retire costly debt interest faster.

Though the current bonding is set and unlikely to change, it’s high time California takes commonsense steps to start digging itself out of the debt hole it’s created, rather than digging deeper.


No comments: