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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Undelivered Promises of Government Preschool

The Sunbury Daily Item features a recent guest editorial claiming that taxpayer funded preschool, such as Gov. Rendell's PreK Counts, will have long-term savings by reducing crime and improving academic performance. The author claims a couple of studies back this conclusion.

What he fails to mention is that these studies were of decades-old, small, experimental programs, which served a handful of students with severe mental retardation and disadvantaged students, and provided not only preschool, but years of intervention. These programs offer little insight into state-funded "universal" or large scale preschool programs.

However, there have been studies of similar programs that are applicable. Millions of students have been served by Federal Head Start, yet all results point to the conclusion that academic gains fade after a few years. Some states have implemented universal preschool--Oklahoma was the first to do so, but has not only seen no improvement in academic performance, has actually declined relative to the rest of the country.

Large scale government-run preschool is problematic. It is a costly program, which has little or no benefit. It crowds out private options, taking choices away from parents. And it gives a public school system which is not adequately serving students from 1st grade through high school more responsibility, rather than reforming that system.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Since 2005, we are spending hundreds of millions of state taxpayer dollars on top of federal spending on preschool programs like: Pre K Counts, Head Start, Stars, subsidized child care and Early Intervention. Add preschool reading programs offered through Penn State's Cooperative Extension, and the public libraries. The United Way has also increased preschool support. Many churches offer preschool, as well as, many private companies.

Education leaders and advocates promised great results in the growth of knowledge and skills for all children.

Pre K Counts started in 2005. Those children have reached 3rd grade and were just tested in the PA 3rd grades for Reading and Math.

In 2005 (without Pre K Counts or All Day Kindergarten) the PSSA Math score for 3rd grade was 81% on grade level.

In 2009 (with All Day K, small class size in K-3 and Pre K Counts programs in place) the math score for 3rd grade is 81.9% on grade level.

With the hundreds of millions we have invested in these special programs, I expected a much better result for 3rd grade math in 2009.

Reading PSSA 2009 for 3rd grade is only 77% on grade level.

ED. Sec. Zahorchak has repeatedly promised this enormous increase in spending would mean our children would be academically successful.

The 8th graders in 2009 did not have the state’s special programs: All Day K, Pre K Counts or smaller class sizes in elementary school. Their reading result is 80.9% on grade level in 2009. That score is higher than the 2009 3rd grade’s score.

Clearly, higher spending on smaller class size and early childhood training is not the key to good education.

Our children can reach a high level of academic achievement with good teachers who focus squarely on their student's achievement and high expectations for everyone.