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. Continue reading

Republican support for early-childhood education lacks specifics

It’s good news that Indiana House Republicans mentioned early-childhood education when they unveiled their 2013 legislative priorities this week – but not such good news that they provided absolutely no details about what they plan to do about it.

In fact, when Speaker Brian Bosma was questioned about how the caucus would pay to promote more access to preschool, he apparently segued into an argument for expanding Indiana’s school voucher program, which is already one of the most generous in the country.

“He recounted a meeting with a group of low-income families who had ‘very tearfully’ explained how they had scraped together funds to pay for private school only to find that blocked them from getting a voucher,” the Indianapolis Star reported. “‘Unless they send their child back to the classroom that failed them in the first place, they have no opportunity to access what other Hoosiers are accessing through our voucher program,’ Bosma said. ‘Perhaps it’s time to take a look at that.’”

So instead of talking seriously about expanding access to high-quality early-childhood education, we’re looking at turning taxpayer funding for private and religious education into an entitlement?

OK, let’s cut the speaker some slack and assume he wants to do … something. Continue reading

Pre-kindergarten report: Another year, another black eye for Indiana

A report this week from the National Institute for Early Education Research laments the recent decline in funding for state pre-kindergarten programs. Declining funding isn’t a problem here in Indiana, though. As Bob Dylan put it: When you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose.

The State of Preschool 2011: State Preschool Yearbook shows Indiana is one of 11 states where 3- and 4-year olds had no access to state-funded preschool in 2010-2011,” NIEER says in a news release.

The report says it would cost $4,130 per child for Indiana to establish a state-funded pre-K program to NIEER standards. A 2006 policy brief from the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University put the cost of a statewide program at between $68.2 million and $96.1 million a year.

Currently about 15 percent of Indiana 4-year-olds and 10 percent of 3-year-olds attend free preschool through federally funded Head Start or locally funded special education programs, NIEER says.

National enrollment in state-funded pre-K has doubled over the past decade, it adds, despite recent funding cuts. Florida, which Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett often cites as a model for education reform, ranks No. 1 in providing access to free pre-K programs, according to NIEER.

Kyle Stokes at NPR State Impact Indiana has had a series of good stories on Indiana and pre-kindergarten. As he notes, there was some talk that the state might consider funding pre-K after the Daniels administration discovered the state had $320 million more in the bank than anyone realized. But lawmakers opted to complete funding for full-day kindergarten instead — although some evidence suggests pre-K is a better investment.

The legislature did pass a law instructing the state Education Roundtable to create an advisory committee on early childhood education, which could conceivably advocate for state-funded pre-K. But lawmakers would still have to be persuaded to pay for it.

Who knows? Maybe the administration will find $100 million under a mattress and we can finally start catching up with states like Kentucky and West Virginia in this area.

For evidence of the societal benefits of early childhood education, see this site on the work of James Heckman, a University of Chicago professor and Nobel laureate in economics.

Community conversation on testing

A public forum titled “IREAD-3 and High Stakes Testing: A Community Conversation” will take place this Saturday, April 14, in Bloomington at the Monroe County YMCA. It’s sponsored by the Indiana Coalition for Public Education-Monroe County South Central.

Phil Harris, co-author of the book The Myths of Standardized Tests: Why They Don’t Tell You What You Think They Do, will present information about testing in Indiana. Parents and teachers of children who are facing the state’s new high-stakes, third-grade reading test are also expected to speak.

Indiana’s $320 million mistake is an opportunity

Indiana Democrats were absolutely right to call for an investigation of how the Daniels administration managed to misplace $320 million in tax revenue. As the Indianapolis Star editorialized, without a reliable audit, how do we know that other funding streams are being accounted for properly? Republicans on the State Budget Committee didn’t seem too concerned, though — they rejected the idea on a party-line vote.

But going forward, the situation should be about more than finger-pointing. A report by Tom Lobianco of the Associated Press makes clear that this isn’t just the “bank error in your favor” that Gov. Mitch Daniels joked about. It’s a gift that keeps giving, to the tune of $120 million a year that the state wasn’t expecting.

What should we do with the money? Republicans seem enamored of two options: padding the state’s bank account or triggering automatic tax refunds that kick in if state budget reserves top 10 percent of expenditures – maybe $50 per taxpayer.

Here’s another idea: Let’s at least consider using the money to establish a state-funded pre-kindergarten program, something that 40 other states already have.

Democrats were pushing this idea before the accounting error was revealed. House Democrats, in their “Helping Hoosiers Now” agenda, called for a voucher program to help low-income Hoosiers pay for pre-school. Senate Democrats proposed creating an Office of Child Development and Early Learning and providing preschool grants to middle-income families.

These are modest proposals, but Democrats are minorities in both houses; they can’t do anything without Republican support. Continue reading

Research: Investing in pre-kindergarten pays dividends

A new report from the Center for Public Education suggests that Indiana is failing its youngest citizens by refusing to develop high-quality, public pre-kindergarten programs.

The research report, “Starting Out Right: Pre-K and Kindergarten,” says students who attend both pre-k and kindergarten fare significantly better than those who don’t on third-grade reading tests, an important predictor of future academic success. It also finds that, facing a choice between providing pre-k and full-day kindergarten, states would do better to expand access to pre-kindergarten programs.

Students who attend both pre-k and half-day kindergarten do better than those who attend full-day kindergarten but not pre-k, the report says. The gains from pre-k are especially strong for children from low-income families, blacks, Hispanics and English language learners.

The report draws on a federal data base that tracked more than 21,000 children from kindergarten through eighth grade. The Center for Public Education is an initiative of the National School Boards Association.

The author of the report, senior policy analyst Jim Hull, says the paper shouldn’t be read to endorse a move away from full-day kindergarten.

“Especially for traditional disadvantaged groups, pre-kindergarten and kindergarten are investments that pay remarkable dividends not only for schools, but for communities,” Hull writes. “We should strive to give all children access to both high-quality pre-kindergarten and full-day kindergarten. The research is clear that this is the best option.”

The Indiana legislature this year boosted funding for full-day kindergarten with the intent of making it available in all public school districts. However, the state doesn’t fully fund full-day kindergarten, with the result that parents often have to pay for the program.

And Indiana is one of only 10 states that don’t provide public pre-k programs, according to data from the National Institute for Early Education Research. Florida, the supposed model for the education reforms championed by Indiana Superintendent of Public Education Tony Bennett, provides public pre-k for 68 percent of its 4-year-olds, according to NIEER.

Bennett told a Bloomington audience last month that Indiana really ought to expand access to pre-k, but there’s no money right now to do so. But as Kara Kenney of WRTV in Indianapolis reported, Indiana was one of only 15 states that chose not to apply this fall for federal Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge grants ranging from $50 million to $100 million to expand early-learning opportunities.

Indiana Department of Education spokesman Alex Damron told Kenney it would have been a waste of effort to apply, because Indiana wasn’t going to win. But if Indiana isn’t in a position to compete for funding to expand early-learning programs, the question is: Why not?

Pre-kindergarten: the missing piece in Indiana education reform

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and state Superintendent Tony Bennett have proposed varied and aggressive education reforms for the state legislature to consider. One thing that’s missing: Any mention of early childhood education.

As the Indianapolis Star reported last week, Indiana trails most other states when it comes to including young children in its education system. It’s one of only eight states that provide zero funding for public pre-kindergarten programs, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research.

“Of all the things you could do, preschool probably has the largest impact on school success,” Steve Barnett, co-director of the Rutgers University-based NIEER, told the Star’s Scott Elliott.

The advocacy group Pre-K Now cites studies that have found high-quality pre-kindergarten programs increase high-school graduation rates, improve scores on standardized tests, reduce crime rates and produce more productive adults. Every dollar invested in high-quality pre-K, it says, saves taxpayers $7.

The problem, of course, is finding that $1 to invest now, when the economy is struggling and state leaders are focused on keeping taxes low. “I think we as a state must do it,” Superintendent Bennett told the Star, referring to investing in early education. “But it is going to be very challenging to have it become part of this legislative agenda on the basis of money.”

The Star article also notes that Indiana doesn’t require kids to start school until the fall term of the school year in which they will turn 7 — later than two-thirds of the states. Schools have to offer kindergarten, but children aren’t required to attend.

Legislation has been introduced that would require students to start school in the year during which they will turn 6. But the bill may not go anywhere if lawmakers determine it will cost the state money.

Indy Star on pre-K, Daniels on education, Duncan on charters

Some interesting reading on education topics …

Sunday’s Indianapolis Star featured a front-page story about Indiana’s lack of support for early childhood education. The paper followed up with a Wednesday editorial. The Star reports that Pre-K Now, a national advocacy group, rates Indiana as one of the eight worst states for public pre-kindergarten programs. “It’s one of the few states where leadership has not made the smart investments other states have thought were important,” says Pre-K Now director Marci Young.

Karen Francisco, in the Learning Curve blog at the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, writes about the attitudes toward public education expressed by Gov. Mitch Daniels in his recent Weekly Standard profile. The profile got national attention for Daniels’ comment that Republicans should strike a “truce” on social issues if they want to win elections. Francisco’s headline: “No truce with public education.”

The U.S. Department of Education website posts U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s remarks on July 1 to the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools. Duncan offers a bit of tough love but makes clear he speaks as a member of the family. “There are a couple of things that I think we have to do much better, frankly, as a movement,” he says. That’s right, “we,” not “you.”