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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Should Public Funding of Early Childhood Education Be A High Priority?

Yes, according to Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro. But what exactly is "early childhood education"?

The last question from the audience at the Holden Public Policy Forum at Webster University to DESE Commissioner Chris Nicastro was basically this: if you the commissioner had stable, and even increasing money flow (which is certainly not the case at the present time), what would she do with it?

Without hesitation, she answered: "early childhood education."

Now, why would that bother me over and above many other issues including Race to the Top funding?

Don't I think children should be educated, and certainly as early as possible?

I'm bothered because parents are responsible for "educating" their children by reading with them and doing other basic learning activities. It's called "parenting."

To Commissionor Nicastro credit, she seems to understand the notion that "school" should not be narrowly defined as only time in the "classroom," but rather, "school" is much more broader in scope and includes all educational activities. Homeschool parents understand this concept well.

To me, it seems, that will all the talk about the need for "educational reform," what we need is a revolution in returning to the basics (no I'm not very creative in my proposed solutions), and not fads and continually defining and redefining "standards."

Learning how to read, write, and add as well as many other tasks are not group activities. Why are we trying to make them group activities? Maybe because our society has tried to make them group activities, some children fall behind?

More over, the pre-kindergarten push is based on false assumptions that beg the question: is there research showing that a structured (or possibility out-of-control) classroom is better "early child education" than parents can provide their children at home or no classroom instruction at all?

Ok, now, I'm sure some of you are thinking, "Ruth, it's great that well-to-do parents might have the intuition and resources to "educate" their children at home before Kindergarten, but what about the 'poor'?"

Let's look at how well Head Start, a program focused on early childhood education for lower-income children, has preformed. Head Start serves approximately 900,000 low-income children at a cost of $9 billion per year. An experimental evaluation by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that
"Head Start has had little to no effect on cognitive, socio-emotional, health, and parenting outcomes of participating children. For the four-year-old cohort, access to Head Start had a beneficial effect on only two outcomes (1.8 percent) out of 112 measures. For the three-year-old cohort, access to Head Start had one harmful impact (0.9 percent) and five (4.5 percent) beneficial impacts out of 112 measures," according to by David B. Muhlhausen, Ph.D. and Dan Lips.
To sound like a progressive, in part, the solution is more discussion on what is "early childhood education." And to sound like a conservative, I don't think the main problem is not enough publicly funded structured (or not so structured) classroom snacks, naps, and diversity training.