Problems with Perspective

I was reading Carnival of Education and someone said that the head of Home School Legal Defense Association is lying in their Washington op ed piece, because no one is pushing for preschool being made mandatory.

The article mentions some who are and then discounts them. Perhaps the discounting is a bit premature.

Joanne Jacobs put up a discussion of the California initiative to fund preschool for four year olds. The points made are against preschool funding.

It appears that because of this, Jacobs agrees that there is a paranoia over preschool funding.

Jacobs and Meade say only nine states have kindergarten requirements. No one mandates preschool.

When I got on the net, that’s not what I found. Education Week on the Web says that 13 require kindergarten.

“Currently, 13 states—Arkansas, Delaware, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia—and the District of Columbia require children to attend kindergarten. In Rhode Island, Tennessee, and West Virginia, the law requires that youngsters attend kindergarten even though they do not have to start school until they are 6, the age at which children customarily enter 1st grade.”

Apparently nine states require full day kindergarten. Perhaps that is where the number came from. But even if you limited it to full day kindergarten (which was not the statement), I think these folks are missing some of the point. Nine states are nine states too many. What one state has done, another may do. And the more requirements the government enacts, the more requirements become easier to enact.

Yes, school should be available. We are paying for it after all.

But mandatory preschool, mandatory kindergarten… Why are these coming into existence? Are they coming in for the same reason some say public schools did, which was to get kids off the streets during the Industrial revolution?

Someone offering you something and someone forcing you to take it are two different things. I have no problem with offering preschool. Mandating preschool is something else.

These days, in Texas, kindergarten is doing what first grade used to do, teaching kids to read. So if you come to school in first grade without having gone to kindergarten, you are behind.

Will we just keep pushing back the age to start until babies are in school? It is not as outrageous as it sounds. Many people have done studies on babies learning sign language, the effects of classical music and the effects of reading to babies have on the children in the long run. If that makes things better for the child, why wouldn’t we keep pushing it back?

This is the slippery slope that HSDLA is trying to minimize.

Jacobs mentions that she is concerned that

“the poor kids who could benefit from a high-quality preschool will get the watered-down budget version so middle-class parents whose children don’t need preschool can cut their child-care bills.”

Will poor kids take an offered preschool? Perhaps not.

Why do middle-class parents have children who don’t need preschool? Because they don’t keep the gains they made early? Well, according to Jacobs’ article, neither do the Head Start kids, who are disadvantaged.

Others seem to find that there is a great interest in public preschooling.

“At least 40 states offer some type of state-supported pre-kindergarten — often for children from low-income families. All states mandate services for preschool children with disabilities.

No state offers universal preschool for 3-year-olds, but the idea of expanding pre-kindergarten programs to that age has gotten a lot of attention.” says this article.

And some people think there is a lot of support. (from the same source as above)

“In recent years, nothing in the field of public education has been more dramatic than the explosion of state interest and involvement in pre-kindergarten services,” said Walter Gilliam, a research scientist at Yale University.

“Even in these very tight budget times, these officials see it as important to make a down payment on this type of program,” said Amy Wilkins, executive director of The Trust for Early Education. A report by the non-profit, Committee for Economic Development in New York says part day, part-school year preschool costs $4,000 to $5,000 per child per year. The total national bill would be $25 billion to $35 billion, says the group of working and retired CEOs.”

In Georgia, every 4-year-old has been eligible since 1995 for free, voluntary pre-kindergarten. The Georgia pre-kindergarten system began in 1992 as a limited pilot program. It expanded rapidly using state lottery money.

In September 1995, then-Gov. Zell Miller successfully pushed to make all 4-year-olds eligible for the program, adding more than 45,000 children in just two years.

No research has been done comparing the academic achievement or standardized test scores of Georgia students who have been through universal pre-kindergarten with those who have not. However, studies that have surveyed teachers and parents show those groups generally have a positive view of how well the program prepared children for kindergarten.

“There was a high degree of school readiness on the part of these students,” researcher Gary Henry of Georgia State University said.

Several states are trying to catch up with Georgia.

In Illinois and Pennsylvania, the governors have called for phasing in pre-kindergarten programs available to all children.

In New York, the 1997 legislation that created universal pre-kindergarten called for the program to serve all 4-year-olds by 2002. However, budget problems have limited state financial support. Gov. George Pataki’s budget proposal for the coming fiscal year includes no money for the program, and some legislators have responded with calls for a constitutional amendment modeled on one passed in Florida last year.

Florida voters approved an amendment to create a voluntary and free pre-kindergarten program for all 4-year-olds by 2005.

Oklahoma has passed a law making all 4-year-olds eligible for pre-kindergarten. West Virginia is considering legislation that 4-year-olds be offered pre-kindergarten by 2012.

Some municipalities — including Los Angeles County and Washington — have extensive pre-kindergarten programs.

There it is. The more there is of it, the more likely it is to be made mandatory. We want all of our children to have this opportunity, correct? Not just those children whose parents are trying to get out of child care expenses. So if not everyone is taking advantage of the opportunity, many will think we should require it.