What it takes: integration, funding, preschool

Research shows what it takes to make our public schools work, labor economist Rucker C. Johnson writes in his recent book “Children of the Dream.” It takes racial and socioeconomic integration. Funding that is abundant and equitably distributed. And a focus on high-quality preschool.

Children of the Dream book coverBut just one of these strategies won’t get the job done – it takes all of them working in concert. “The synergy of policies working together plays an enormous role in their success,” Johnson writes.

Children of the Dream: Why School Integration Works” is an unusual book, written for a general audience but packed with original and eye-opening research findings. It conveys a hopeful message: We can make education work and we don’t need to look for alternatives to public schools.

Johnson is a highly regarded economist who holds the title Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley. He wrote the book with journalist Alexander Nazaryan.

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Head Start works – and keeps working

Head Start has been around since the 1960s, and debating its effectiveness has become a sort of litmus test on how people feel about the role of government. Democrats tend to support the preschool program. Republicans are bound by conservative orthodoxy to claim it doesn’t work.

But new research finds that, not only does Head Start work, it produces benefits that compound for generations. The analysis, by Lauren Bauer and Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach of the Hamilton Project, was published this month. Findings include:

  • Head Start increases the likelihood that children will go on to graduate from high school, attend college and earn postsecondary degrees or certificates.
  • The program improves social, emotional and behavioral development, resulting in better self-control and improved self-esteem when the children grow up.
  • Head Start kids are more likely as adults to engage in positive parenting practices like reading to their children, teaching them letters and numbers, and showing them affection.

Some of the gains were especially pronounced for African-American and Latino children who attended Head Start, the Hamilton Project researchers found.

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Preschool bill is one baby step for Hoosier-kind

It’s a start. A tiny one, for sure. But to use a cliché that for once is totally appropriate, you’ve got to walk before you can run. And in Indiana, we’re barely crawling when it comes to early childhood education.

House Bill 1004, which establishes a state-funded pilot program to help low-income parents send their children to preschool, was approved Thursday by the state House and Senate. The measure limits the program to five counties in its first year. It can be expanded later if lawmakers agree.

Best of all, the legislature dropped a provision that would have made participating preschoolers eligible for vouchers to attend private K-12 schools as they get older. As initially approved by the House, the bill had the potential to eventually make nearly half of Indiana students eligible for private-school vouchers.

Votes for the final version of the bill were 92-8 in the House and 40-8 in the Senate, with all the no votes by Republicans. It now goes to Gov. Mike Pence, who can sign it and claim the legislature approved one of his signature initiatives. Continue reading

Indiana’s pre-K bill smells of politics

There’s bipartisan support for making Indiana the 42nd state in the nation to fund pre-kindergarten. Wouldn’t it be nice if legislators produced a bipartisan bill to make it happen? Apparently that’s too much to ask, at least for now.

House Bill 1004, approved last week by the House Education Committee, creates a pilot program to help fund preschool for 4-year-olds from low-income families. But it also opens another gateway to Indiana’s K-12 private school voucher program, already one of the most expansive in the country.

Under the legislation, sponsored by Rep. Bob Behning of Indianapolis, children who take part in the state preschool program would qualify for vouchers once they hit kindergarten. Until now, vouchers have gone to students who transfer from public schools or who live in an attendance area for a public school that gets an F on the state grading system.

As the Indiana State Teachers Association said, there are questions about the pre-K proposal, but “one thing is clear in the bill and that is it will become a ‘feeder system’ for the K-12 private school voucher schools.” Continue reading

Pence should reach across aisle for preschool support

Gov. Mike Pence’s support for state-funded preschool could turn out to be a breakthrough for Indiana. It would be nice if he didn’t call his proposal a voucher plan. But its name matters less than its content, and we’re still waiting to see what that will be.

Here’s a suggestion: If the governor is serious about preschool, he should craft a plan that Democrats and public education advocates, not just voucher proponents, can support.

A lot of Indiana Republicans are from the old school that thinks government has no business spending money on early childhood education. They don’t buy into the many studies that show high-quality preschool makes a difference for kids. They’d prefer for every 4-year-old to be at home with Mommy while Daddy goes to work.

It took the state’s GOP leaders five years to approve funding for full-day kindergarten. And they still haven’t agreed that children need to be in school before age 7.

These folks can’t be counted on to support a state preschool program, even if it’s called a voucher program and even if parents can spend the money at private or church-based preschools as well as public preschools. Continue reading

Indiana and preschool: Here we go again

Signs are good that Indiana could make progress on state-funded preschool in the 2014 session of the state legislature. But signs have been good before, and there’s been little progress to date.

House Speaker Brian Bosma, in his organization day remarks Tuesday, listed early childhood education as one of four issues that “must be our top priorities this session.” And the influential state Chamber of Commerce, in its legislative playbook, cited Indiana’s “critical need for improved preschool opportunities, especially for low-income children whose families may not have the means to provide a high-quality preschool experience or to provide needed learning opportunities in the home.”

But it’s not like the chamber is going whole hog for state-funded preschool. It supports “a framework for the future development of publicly funded preschool initiatives for low-income families.” The programs need to be “focused on those families with greatest need, limited to initiatives that maintain parental choice, focused on concrete learning outcomes and integrated with reforms at the elementary school level …” Lots of caveats there.

Some might argue the legislature created such a framework last spring when it authorized a matching-grant program to help low-income families pay for preschool. But it budgeted only $2 million a year – enough, according to the Family and Social Service Administration, to help about 2 percent of the nearly 22,000 4-year-olds living in poverty in the state. Continue reading

Study provides strong support for state-funded preschool

A new study of preschool programs in Georgia and Oklahoma provides some of the strongest evidence yet that it’s past time for Indiana to join the move to state-supported early childhood education. The study, presented at a conference of the Brookings Institution, found the programs produced a range of benefits for children and families:

  • Academic gains that continued into the eighth grade.
  • Increased enrollment in preschool, especially for children from low-income families.
  • More time spent by low-income parents reading, talking and playing with their kids.
  • Less money spent on child care, leaving more for other activities.

Co-author Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach discussed the study last week in Bloomington as part of Indiana University’s Economics of Education Seminar series. She said it provides solid support for President Barack Obama’s Preschool for All proposal. “It makes so much sense from a policy perspective,” she said.

Previous studies, including analysis by Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman, have found significant benefits from preschool. But skeptics argue that much of the research is based on small, short-lived and relatively expensive programs like Michigan’s Perry Preschool. The new study focuses on large-scale programs that any state could replicate. Georgia and Oklahoma are unusual in having provided nearly universal access to free, high-quality preschool since the 1990s.

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