Monday, January 22, 2007

All-Day Kindergarten Is Not the Answer

Senator Lyle Hillyard (R-Logan) is sponsoring SB49 that would fund all-day Kindergarten. This is one of Governor Huntsman’s priority issues. Participation by individual students would be voluntary (at least for now). From the way this went down last year, supporters know that the only way this bill has a chance of passing is to include the phrase that schools “may not require a student to participate in extended-day kindergarten.”

But this is a foot-in-the-door tactic. Once the program is firmly entrenched, some future legislator will introduce a bill to strike that language from the law. By that time, most parents will have been strong-armed or forced by convenience factors to have their Kindergarteners attend full-time.

SB49 also says that schools “will ensure a majority of students enrolled in an extended-day kindergarten class under this part are students who have the greatest need for additional instruction, as determined by the kindergarten readiness assessment.” Right now most schools don’t know squat about their incoming Kindergarteners until they are already in school. Assessment occurs during the first month or so. Under SB49, a relatively extensive assessment would need to occur for each potential Kindergartener sometime prior to creating class schedules. That could prove problematic.

We know from other locations throughout the country that have voluntary all-day K that parental requests for their child to be enrolled rarely involve the child’s academic needs. Most parents that request for their kids to attend all-day K do so mostly for child care reasons. SB49 would have schools turn some of these people down if their kids are not disadvantaged and the program has failed to enroll sufficient disadvantaged students. I’d hate to have that job, because we also know from districts with voluntary all-day K that the kids that would benefit most are the ones that are most difficult to enroll.

But that’s not my major beef with this bill. At Utah Politicopia, I wrote something like the following. (I fixed some spelling and grammar issues in this post.)

All-day Kindergarten is strongly promoted by the education industrial complex for a variety of purposes. Among those purposes are to expand power, gain more funding, expand control over younger children, and provide child care services. This is only a step along the way to state-sponsored required preschool where government has more control of children than parents.

Much research has been done on all-day kindergarten, but it is deucedly difficult to find research that has been done by an objective source that is not deeply involved in the current education industrial complex. Most studies rely on very short-term results. However, some information can be gleaned from these studies. A summary of research can be found here.

Most research findings deliberately skew results by citing measurement against children with no Kindergarten and obliquely citing measurement against children with half-day Kindergarten. And most research focuses only on one-year gains. Weiss found in a 2002 study of 17,600 Philadelphia schoolchildren that almost all gains disappeared entirely by fourth grade (with the exception of science and attendance).

Almost all studies agree that children from low-income families benefit most from all-day Kindergarten. What is not mentioned much is that children outside of this demographic do not benefit much (if at all), and that a small percentage of these are actually harmed. One of the points most touted is that children that attended all-day K had a 70% greater chance than their half-day attending peers of reaching third grade on time. What is little mentioned, however, is that this number applies to an incredibly small number of students. Since the population to which this measure applies is so small, other unmeasured and uncontrolled factors likely contributed to skewing the numbers.

Mandating all-day Kindergarten for all students applies a mass salve to all children without any long-term benefit. It is yet another solution that implies that government knows better than parents how to manage the development of young children. While some children could benefit from all-day K, it is folly to mandate it for all students.

Substantially expanding the size and power of the education industrial complex over the past four decades has had little salutary effect on student outcomes. In fact, the result has been just the opposite by many measures. Enacting policies that expand the size and power of this establishment even more is not the road to success. Just doing more of what schools already do is obviously not the right answer.

I’m sure this will earn some hate-mail from big government types and educators. But let’s be honest with ourselves and realize that more government-run education is not necessarily the path to a good and productive life.

10 comments:

Democracy Lover said...

I suspect you think that government-run education is not good for the country altogether.

I would certainly not be in favor of "kindergarten readiness assessments", since I think our children are over-tested as it is. The objective of education is not to train children to score well on standardized tests which is fast becoming the focus post-NCLB.

What worries me about your post are things like your concern that proponents of education might want to "expand control over younger children". What kind of "control" are you worried about? What are you afraid might happen to the children in these extended-day kindergartens?

I know you oppose any effort by the people to band together to use government to provide for their general welfare, but I smell another agenda here.

Reach Upward said...

I'm not opposed to people banding together to use government to provide for the general welfare. But that constitutional phrase is very broad and is open to broad interpretation. Thus, we have continual disagreements over what falls within that phrase and what does not. Many parties have honest disagreements about this. Some parties are perhaps not quite so honest.

I believe that parents have not only the right, but the responsibility to take care of the needs of their youngest children. Research shows that little long-term benefit accrues from pre-K schooling. An intensive study showed that the highly touted Head Start program produces no statistically measurable positive results over the long term. For most kids under six years of age, parents are the best teaching system available.

However, some parents are unwilling to make this a priority. A certain number are simply incapable. But applying a broad solution to everyone to make up for the incompetent and the unwilling is the wrong approach.

I do not believe that government is the answer to every issue or perceived problem; but it is the best tool for some of society's needs. It is a tool that should be applied appropriately and guardedly, as it has a tendency to get out of control and/or produce undesirable side effects.

Our government-run education system is a breaucracy. I have studied bureaucracies and understand how and why they work. They gain a life of their own, and as is the nature of organisms, they seek to thrive and expand -- not for any altruistic purpose which may be attached to their mission statements. Government bureaucracies outside of the free market lack the pressures that cause market bureaucracies to flex and change when necessary. Each government bureaucracy seeks to expand its size, funding, and control. It's only natural. But it means that we need to be vigilant when dealing with them.

The founder of the American Communist Party wrote a treatise a century ago about how to control the prolotariat forces. Part of his plan included separating children from parents and having the state take over education so that it could influence the indoctrination of the children. Do we really need to expand this process or start it earlier than we do at present?

Besides, our public school systems are failing in many ways. We do not need our public education system to simply do more of what it already does. We need innovations. Expanding the bureaucracy will not lead to the kind of innovation we need to produce the results that are needed. Making the bureaucracy deeper (a la NCLB) won't do it. Making Kindergarteners go to school all day won't do it. And, as Jay Evensen notes in today's D-News, vouchers are insufficient.

Jeremy said...

I have a few of questions regarding your position on this topic.

1. Do you seriously believe the UEA or “Education Industrial Complex” wants to indoctrinate our kids with Marxist beliefs? That seems a rather unrealistic objection to all day Kindergarten in my book.

2. You said:

"I believe that parents have not only the right, but the responsibility to take care of the needs of their youngest children. Research shows that little long-term benefit accrues from pre-K schooling. An intensive study showed that the highly touted Head Start program produces no statistically measurable positive results over the long term. For most kids under six years of age, parents are the best teaching system available.

However, some parents are unwilling to make this a priority. A certain number are simply incapable. But applying a broad solution to everyone to make up for the incompetent and the unwilling is the wrong approach."

How does the proposal your opposing conflict with this statement?

Parents won't be forced to send their kids to all day kindergarten and they won't lose their right to pull their kids out of school all together and home school them either. Your slippery slope argument that the UEA will be pushing for mandatory full time kindergarten doesn’t seem to be based on any actual facts. Utah’s teacher unions haven’t been making an argument for mandatory full time kindergarten. I’d join you in opposition if that was what we were facing but it just doesn’t seem like a realistic threat to me.

3. The claim that "...our public school systems are failing in many ways." seems pretty vague. Do you have specific examples of how Utah’s schools are failing? Jay Evansen’s screed against public schools doesn’t take into account how successful Utah schools have been considering their embarrassingly low levels of funding. Utah is doing better than most other states in preparing students for the future in spite of our system’s money troubles.

I’ve experienced Utah’s public schooling as applied to my own child for the first time this school year and I've been more than satisfied with my kid's experience in Kindergarten. I don't know that she'd benefit from all day kindergarten but I think the option would be more of a benefit than a negative for families with children who need extra help. I’m surprised that idea is so objectionable to you.

Democracy Lover said...

I take the position that parents do not have "rights" as regards their children, only responsibilities. The children have rights: The right to a loving and nurturing home life, an education that teaches them how to learn and imbeds a love of learning, to name the ones relevant here.

A 2003 study (pdf) by the Health and Human Services department proves Head Start's ability to help narrow the gap between disadvantaged children and other children in the areas of education and social behavior. According to the survey, most children entering Head Start had early academic skills that were below national norms. However, by the end of the program, Head Start children showed gains in vocabulary, early math, writing skills, and other literacy-related areas. Head Start children also showed growth in their social skills which better prepares them for cooperative classroom learning.

I would agree that under ideal circumstances many parents could provide similar benefits to their children, but that presupposes that the parents have adequate time at home (not working 2-3 jobs), possess the skills and knowledge to do it, and are not otherwise impaired. It is specifically disadvantaged families who are least likely to meet those criteria.

I agree about bureaucracies but when we have local control of schools and the opportunity to select board members regularly, there should be sufficient external pressure on the bureaucracy to alleviate some of its worst problems. It's amusing to see a quote from the American Communist Party these days. Of course, you could have just as easily quoted the Bible in defense of that point - "Train up a child in the way he should go..."

I see no reason to worry about kindergarten children learning anything detrimental in the pre-K programs. In fact, they are more likely to absorb negative influences sitting in their living room watching TV than in the classroom.

Reach Upward said...

Jeremy, you may be completely correct on my slippery slope argument, but I come from an angle of personal experience. Many years ago I was in the final summer Kindergarten program offered in my school district. Due to my birthday being very close to the cut-off for the school year, my parents had thought to hold me back a year, so they didn't enroll me in full-year Kindergarten. However, I apparently made some unexpected improvements during the year, so my parents sent me to summer K and I started 1st grade in the fall.

The summer K program had long been available as an option. Most thought it would always be there. But once full-year K had successfully been established as the norm, it was easy for educators to push for the elimination for summer K.

So, I guess I would say that I'm suspicious of a slippery slope agenda. You may be correct, however, that my slippery slope perspective is garbage. And, in all honesty, I appreciate the argument that having this program optional gives parents additional options that they currently don't have. One commentor on Utah Politicopia says that some kids can handle all-day K, while other's can't. That is probably true among my own children.

Do I think that the UEA wants to promote Marxist thinking? Well, yes -- at least to some extent. Perhaps it would be better said that the UEA wants to push a differenet moral agenda than what I would prefer for my kids. The UEA is a subsidiary of the NEA. Have you checked out the NEA agenda lately? Stuff like promotion of sex training and alternative sexual lifestyles down to the earliest grades runs counter to my philosophy on what schools should be doing. So, yes I do have problems with some of the UEA/NEA agenda.

You are correct that Utah public schools work wonders with what they have. But are children performing better overall than they were 40 years ago? No, they're not. Studies show a steady decline in overall student performance. In the meantime, we have increased the cost of public education in Utah by 450% in real dollars (inflation adjusted) over the last four decades. Part of this is the higher cost of construction. Our facilities need to meet higher standards than they used to. But the biggest portion of this cost has been the growth of administration, especially middle management. What do we have to show for it?

All of my children have attended preschool, not necessarily for academics, but more for social purposes. All of my kids (except the one still in preschool) have attended public schools. I am fortunate to live in an area with pretty good schools. Many of my kids' teachers are fantastic. I really, really would like the good ones to be paid more for what they do instead of expanding middle management.

My wife and I have a great deal of involvement in our kids' education. But the current structure of our system works to lock parents out of substantial input to the process. Schools say they want more parental involvement. What they mean is that they want parents to do what the schools want them to do. Our system is not structured for much parental input. It is structured to demand parental output.

Our educators are not bad people, but the system sometimes conspires against them and against doing what is in the best interest of the student. We need innovation to combat the bureaucracy and to help our teachers be more effective. If all-day K moves that process along, let's do it. If not, let's not.

Reach Upward said...

DL, I think we're going to have to disagree on the rights issue. I agree that children have rights and that parents have responsibilities. However, responsibilities are inseparably connected with rights. If the parents have responsibilities, they also have rights with respect to their children. They have the right to make the choices that they believe will be in the best interest of their children. But they do not have the right to harm their children in that process.

I disagree with you on matching the biblical verse with the Communist mission statement. The Bible says nothing about turning over your responsibility to train up your child to a government bureaucracy.

Still, I can see your point of view. Mormon apostle Dallin H. Oaks once said that church members had better think very clearly about their responsibility to properly educate their children. He said that if they choose to take them out of the public school system they had a responsibility to ensure that they received a proper education. He also suggested that it was naive to remove them from public schools to protect them from the world's evils.

That does not mean that parents should not do what they can to improve the system. Nor does it mean that we should sit back and stay quiet about the system's faults.

Like most studies promoted by the education industrial complex, the one you cite focuses chiefly on short-term gains. Other studies have found that all gains from Head Start completely disappear by high school age. We should spend our education resources on what really works in the long run.

Democracy Lover said...

The reason Head Start gains peter out by high school probably has a lot to do with the current state of K-12 education in this country. We now teach to the standardized tests that determine future funding for the school, thanks to NCLB. Things were bad enough before that legislation and they are worse now.

There are a lot of controversies about schools these days, often focusing on the bad, liberal education establishment and those terrible things they want to teach our kids - things like respecting other people who are different from you, or things like understanding human sexuality, or things like how to evaluate claims based on logic and evidence. Seems to be that failing to teach our kids these things is an abdication of our responsibility as parents.

a rank and file teacher said...

How about a comment from a perspective not often heard--that of an objective teacher?

I'll address a lot here.

First of all-on all-day kindergarten, I think it should pretty much be for just that, low-income situations. It should NOT be expanded greatly and I would oppose that. What people here don't realize too, is that it wouldn't be able to be implemented in many schools anyways, because there's no space for it. Kindergarten should continue to be not mandatory, but up to the parents to decide if they send their kid or not. That half day is usually enough I think.

Secondly, I agree in one regard to Reach Upward that it could lead to some expanded programs, though I doubt on any large scale. I would NOT want it to lead to mandatory pre-school for instance. A child needs to be with a mom more when they're younger. I will say that sometimes, not always, that some kids who have had some preschool do benefit academically. However, it's having involved parents that is the bigger factor. I would hate to have to take breaks from my classroom to change a diaper. Heck, I didn't even do that when I babysat. I always called my sister.

As more Marxist teaching in the school, it's the old guilt-by-association thing. If a is b and b is c, then a is c. If one really knew many Utah teachers, he or she would find that many are members of the predominate religion. A good many more are members of other denominations. While I doubt this applies to everywhere in Utah, at my own school, we have over 30 teachers. ONE is a liberal. The rest are either conservative to moderate, or have no interest in politics at all (the no interest in politics is by far the majority). I've been teaching for 11 years and have never seen this alleged "communist indoctrination" that is puported to exist so much. I'm not saying that liberal things aren't taught in some places (in places like California, I'm sure some is), but I never have and have never seen it. Besides, if it was so rampant in Utah, we would have been the most liberal state years ago rather than the most conservative. Maybe we teachers aren't doing our job so well. Many teachers are what others are--spouses, grandmothers, parents, and so on just trying to do the best job they can.

Many schools have plenty of situations for parental involvement including helping with reading tutoring programs, getting a job at the school in a support department, in the PTA, and so on and so on. I have plenty in my own classroom and still often don't get the help I need. What's missing is the factor that sometimes there are OTHER things in their lives such as work, little kids at home, and other priorities. WE DO need more parental involvement for sure and greater cooperation and I really think we can achieve that with things like greater communication between teachers and parents. I've been able to have that since my first year. I actually ENJOY the parents. I've long realized they are not perfect and they also give me a little slack and don't look to criticize me on every little thing (and believe me there's a lot you could find about me). Things work out fine with the right ATTITUDES.

What also conspires against teachers a lot that people don't see are the negative things being emphasized, the blame being focused on them for some things, and the rampant hostility towards them by some groups and individuals. There are lots of GOOD things that teachers do as well and that I see. But THEY aren't often related nor focused upon. I oould supply dozens of stories from my own classroom. Nonetheless, many times I get shot down many times when I try to share my own perspective because I'm "one of them." I tried to post several times on a forum run by someone who was posting things about classrooms that he "knew" were true everywhere. Not one of my posts was selected. I wasn't beligerent in any of them. But he allowed MANY from those who agreed with him.

In my own classroom it all comes down to ATTITUDE. The parents usually have a good attitude going in and don't fly off the handle or blame me every time something happens. I've seen the same situation happen to other teachers and THEY get reamed or blamed. With the parents, I try to emphasize reading at home which is the biggest factor in reading there is (I especially like it when they read scriptures). Also, I try to emphasize that WE are responsible for our own efforts and attitude. What we get out of something is often what we put into it.

That's the philosophy my parents had--that of individual responsibility. We were taught also that we had better learn something NO matter how good or bad the class was because it WAS important, even more important the TV, sports, and video games. And yes, I do think that can be taught to younger children because I've seen it taught by many parents.

My parents, and actually, my cousins, aunts and uncles, and siblings have long employed such in teaching to their children. My aunt's kids have gone and are going to a school in a very low-income area. Nonetheless, they have succeeded quite greatly, because their parents know that THEY are the ones who are the main influence in their kids' lives and teach their children the importance of education, responsibility, working hard, and so on.

To democracy lover--we do teach to tests somewhat, but many of us do try to teach beyond the curriculum as well. And sometimes, there are situations that call for other things. One kindergarten teacher related how a student had just had his parents go through a messy divorce. His teacher did all she could to make sure her classroom was a place where he felt comfortable. He wasn't doing much learning then because he was so angry, but he did improve in other ways such as becoming less angry later on.

I actually fear a loss of freedom from the policies of some of these anti-public education agendas and such. I have worked hard to make my classroom the best I can and I do see good results--my students learn and progress, I have good interactions and support from parents, and so on. But the rhetoric is starting to take a toll and doesn't make it any easier to be a teacher.

As far as the "steady decline" in student performance, it should be taken into account that we do educate a MUCH greater variety of students than ever before. We test even those with special needs often on the grade level they are age-wise at and not on the learning level they are on. Not to mention the MUCH wider diversity we have, the increasing mobility of the population (at least in my area), the greater proportion of single-parent and divorced households, less moms being in the home and two-parent income families, the absence of many fathers in the home, the increase in disrespect towards ecucaiton and teachers, kids bringing more "baggage" with them to school than they used to, and so on and so on, if there has even been a slight drop in performance, then a remarkable job has been done, especially in Utah (note that it has only been about 3 years or so in Utah since we changed whom we tested--we now test a much greater variety of students than before. That our test results have still been above national norms is pretty amazing actually.

Sorry for the long post. Often though, it's just one side that gets listened to (or the two extremes). I'm trying my best to improve things in my own area since MY neighborhood school is also the one I teach at. I think we need to REALLY REDUCE all of the politics and micromanagement by entities such as the legislature and bring things down to a community level. I think we can do that if we work toghether with the right ATTITUDE. I think we can do so without all of the politics too.

Reach Upward said...

Rank and File Teacher:

I am thrilled with your post. It was long, but well worth reading. You are the exact type of teacher that has been of incalculable benefit to my children. I would greatly love for teachers of your calibur to be paid much more than our current system permits.

Teachers come in a variety of shapes, philosophies, and capabilities. My family is fortunate enough to live where we have good schools. Most of the teachers in those schools truly care about educating their students. Some of those teachers are truly exceptional. Many are wonderful, but are horribly underpaid. Some are just so-so. And a tiny minority are just plain lousy.

My oldest son was nearly destroyed in 3rd Grade by a teacher that had once been a good teacher, but was then riddled with personal problems. At this point in time, this person lacked the capacity to deal effectively with more than two or three children at a time. This person should not have been leading a classroom, but the school and the district were hamstrung by regulations that prevented them from removing the teacher. Our local junior high has an infamous teacher that is a terrible educator that employs snide, abusive, and manipulative practices. But, once again, due to tenure, the school and the district are unable to remove the teacher.

These sore spots have been few, but their negative impact has been deep -- not just for my children, but for many, many others. I would like schools and districts to have more capacity to properly deal with ineffective educators, as well as the capacity to reward more effective educators. Unfortunately, this is the antithesis of collective bargaining, so the collective bargaining groups have strongly opposed such reforms.

You are absolutely correct about the reasons our scores have declined. Among the real reasons are greater diversity of populations and declining parental involvement. Indeed, studies show that students score quite well in non-diverse communities with high percentages of people with nothern European ancestry, even if incomes are low.

The increase of single-parent households as well as two-parent households where both work full-time, means that parents have less time to spend on their kids' education. Some have more money (hence, the expansion of games, personal audio, and other entertainment), but they don't have time. The expansion of sports and cultural offerings aimed at kids also dilutes the amount of time families have to focus on academics.

Still, other studies have found that for all of the focus on social decay, only about 15-20% of declining test scores can be attributed to these factors. Rather, the major source of the problem (per some studies, as high as 55%) is the basic structure of district bureaucracy. The expansion of the adminisphere over the past 40 years has not served our society well. And this is the level that consumes most of the increases in educational funding.

The answer to helping you do your job well is to flatten the structure, decrease the adminisphere, and put more money in the classroom -- where the rubber meets the road.

I'm not pooh-poohing parental involvement. My wife serves on our elementary school's community board. We actively work in the PTA and PTSA at our kids' schools. We volunteer to be parental support for extracurricular clubs and activities. We sit down every night and help our kids with homework (although, I must admit that some of the stuff my kids are required to do is simply meaningless crap -- it chaps my hide that a teacher is effectively scheduling my time for something worthless -- time I could spend doing something worthwhile with my child).

I applaud you for the job you do. But there are things we could do to enable you to be more effective and better paid. We should do these things, not just for your sake, but for the sake of our kids' development.

HalfDayKindergarten.Org said...

Thank you for this good work!
- HalfDayKindergarten.Org