More on Indiana and pre-K; more on Bennett and Florida

A new study from Texas adds weight to the argument that Indiana should find a way to provide state support for pre-kindergarten programs. The study finds that children who attended state-funded preschools scored better on standardized tests and were less likely to be retained in grade.

Researchers at the University of Texas at Dallas, Rutgers-Camden and the Communities Foundation of Texas carried out the study, which was posted as a working paper by the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Educational Research, or CALDER.

This is hardly the first research to find benefits from preschool programs. (See Nobel laureate James Heckman’s site for a bunch of information). But the authors note that many previous studies examined small, intensive programs, such as Perry Preschool in Michigan and the Carolina Abcedarian Project. The CALDER study looks instead at the state preschool program for at-risk children that Texas started in the 1980s. It finds that taking part in the program was associated with increased scores on the math and reading sections of the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills and with a decreased likelihood of being retained or being identified as needing special education.

This is just one study, but a key point is that Texas’ program is far from a model program. The National Institute for Early Education Research gives it low marks for funding, class size and staffing ratios.

Indiana is one of 11 states that don’t provide any funding for pre-K programs. So far, Gov.-elect Mike Pence and state legislative leaders, all Republicans, have sounded ambivalent about the issue. Democrats generally support pre-K but may not trust Republicans to get it right. The CALDER study is one more piece of evidence that it’s time to try.

Bennett to Florida? Now it’s serious

Two newspapers have reported that Florida may want to hire Tony Bennett as commissioner of education now that he has lost his bid to be re-elected superintendent of public instruction in Indiana.

Pam Stewart, Florida’s interim education commissioner, spoke highly of Bennett to the Miami Herald. “He’s very focused, very driven and I think that serves, or has served, the state of Indiana very well. I think his skills are certainly transferrable and we’ll see what happens,” she said.

Right after the Nov. 6 election, Roberto Martinez, chair of the Florida Board of Education, told the Tampa Bay Times that he hoped Bennett would apply for the job.

Florida has been looking for a new education commissioner since Gerard Robinson resigned this summer. The board has said it expects to pick someone Dec. 12. Bennett chairs former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change organization and seems to have lots of boosters in the state.

As School Matters noted in August, Bennett could more than triple his salary by moving to Florida. Of course, starting in January his Indiana salary will be zero, so Florida could look even more tempting.

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4 thoughts on “More on Indiana and pre-K; more on Bennett and Florida

  1. Thank you, Steve! I would love to see you post about the different ways that states implement pre-K education. We desperately need Indiana journalists to be writing about what a high-quality preschool education looks like. I was lucky to discover a wonderful preschool shortly after moving to Bloomington. It is accredited by the NAEYC and every five years (I think) goes through another lengthy accreditation process. This covers the physical facilities and accommodations of the school, the developmentally appropriate curriculum, the effectiveness of the school’s communications with parents/caregivers, and the training and ongoing professional development of the school’s teachers. Accreditation is a very different way of promoting quality than testing (and standardized tests of preschoolers are by definition not valid); it is effective and useful. Does Indiana have a similar effort underway with the Paths to Quality program? I am so glad that many of our business leaders are supporting the idea of publicly funded preschool. It is vital that they, and our legislators, learn specifically what the characteristics of high-quality pre-K are.

    • Thanks, Jenny. You’re right, this would be a good topic to explore in some depth. I think NIEER is a good place to start for state-by-state comparisons (http://nieer.org/). Paths to Quality looks to me to be a helpful tool for some parents. I think the problem is that so few parents can afford the handful of preschools that are accredited or highly rated. I’m not an expert but it seems to me that good preschools, or even high-quality child care, can’t/shouldn’t be done on the cheap. But if parents are making $10 an hour or less, what can they really afford? I know that state funding for pre-K won’t help everyone who needs help, but maybe it would be a start.

  2. I taught first grade here in Indiana for six years and the disparity between the students who have had pre-K vs. those who have not is a chasm that takes a few years of school to breach if it in fact can be. How can you expect better results on a shaky foundation? How about a tax credit for that?

    Personally I don’t dislike Tony Bennett I disagree with him on his philosophy of education and how he approached reform. If he goes to FL I wish him well, he isn’t here anymore.

    • Thanks, Suzi. I don’t dislike Bennett either, and I think he’s mistaken to claim the election was a referendum on his personality and his approach. It was about his policies. Thanks for commenting.

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