Saturday, June 20, 2009

fury (warning- soapbox moment)

I'm studying for the comprehensive exam I have to take to earn my masters degree and I started googling around to fact-check some of the information I am studying. One article I read last summer mentioned the High Scope Perry Project from the mid 1960s. I wanted to have more exact dates than "the 1960s" so I looked it up.

The article I read said good things about it- what I have found on the Internet says even better things. The project (which took place between 1962 and 1967) studied two groups of African-American 3 and 4 year olds from low-income families. One group attended a comprehensive preschool program that included education, health, and family support. The other group did not. The researchers have tracked the participants over their life times- the most recent study done when the participants reached the age of 40. The results (to me) are astounding. At age 5 the students who participated in the preschool program had a higher IQ than those who did not. At 14 they were far more likely to have reached basic achievements, at 15 they were far more likely to turn in their homework. At 40 they were 20% more likely to earn 20k a year, and had less arrests than those who did not attend preschool.

The website links to a juvenile justice report where the courts look at this study as an answer to juvenile crimes.

A 1993 study states that the program saved the taxpayers $88,433 per participant. This savings came from a reduced amount of students in the special education program, higher taxes paid by the participants because they had higher earnings, savings in welfare assistance, and savings in the juvenile and general courts. The original cost per participant was $12,356 over the 2 years. The study states this provided the tax payers with a return of $7.16 on the dollar.

But I can't read this and feel joy. This study has been in the works for YEARS now. And where are we? Most of the kindergarten students who will walk in my door on August 5th will not have any preschool experience. We know it works, we know how to help these children and save money, but we've done nothing about it.

This is not the only study out there that shows early interventions save the tax payers money and increase the outcomes of student achievement. The Carolina Abecedarian Project is another study which found that early intervention saved $100,00 per child through less money spent on special education, welfare, and juvenile crime. This study was written up in 1994.

And there are others. We KNOW early intervention works. We KNOW it not only saves money in the long run, but it helps children come out of poverty, reduces the dependency on welfare, and improves academic growth. In fact, it probably does more to close the achievement gap and leave no child behind than any assessment measured curriculum we teach in elementary schools.

So WHY will the students that come to my school on August 5th not have any preschool experience?

I personally blame the delayed gratification. Any politician who puts an early intervention program in place will be long out of office by the time we see the savings. Even a young governor who is hoping to one day run for president isn't going to jump at starting a full scale early intervention program. Right when he's ready to run for higher office the tax payers will be upset about the money spent on preschool for the poor because no one will have seen the results yet. And how do you convince a politician to spend money now so that years and years down the line we'll see the results?

now that I'm all good and angry I will go back to studying....


Mrs. R said...

First, let me say that, having taught children from birth through eighth grade, I agree that preschool works wonders. I have no intention of barging into your blog and arguing with you about your posts; in fact, I stumbled upon your blog through another that I read and I have thoroughly enjoyed reading about your adventures. It makes me want to go back to teaching elementary school. Sixth graders never say anything as cute as your little ones do.

However, there is one thing that bothers me about this. You say: "One group attended a comprehensive preschool program that included education, health, and family support." But no politician in the world can legislate family support! Isn't it highly likely that the loving support and encouragement of family members has just as much, if not more, influence than a comprehensive preschool program?

From my year of teaching a group of extremely troubled young people in a three-stoplight town in Eastern NC, I would say that if I could have given those kids one thing, it would have been involved parents. If their parents had had even the slightest clue, those poor children would have been so much better off, preschool or no preschool.

On the other hand, the preschool program where I spent my summers in college is likely to produce the next generation of local politicians, business leaders, and people of enlightenment in my hometown.

Preschool is vital. But I get a little scared when we start to expect the government to do so much for us. The government already controls what children learn from age 5 to 18. Why would we want them to further control what our babies are learning? Should that responsibility, which is huge, be placed squarely on the (sometimes reluctant) shoulders of the PARENTS? I don't understand why parents are not held more accountable. So much is expected of teachers, and in some ways more is expected of children, yet nothing at all is expected of parents in many parts of this country. Why do they not carry some of the weight of this task of educating our children?

carey said...

have you read the sandbox investment? i started reading it as i was preparing for my own comps last month. lots to think about.

organized chaos said...

Thanks for your comment! I love a good debate, especially when someone provides good, thoughtful points.

I agree that legislating family support is not the government's business. But being able to offer families support and guidance is something we can do. At my school we do a lot of out-reach with parents. We spend a lot of time explaining why children need to go to bed early, why children need breakfast, and even teach them how talk and read with their child. So many parents are thankful for our help. Sure there are some that don't listen, or feel our insights just aren't what they want to do at this point with their children. But other parents take what we say to heart. So I think programs that encourage families to talk with their children, play with their children, explain aspects of child development, talk through the bus system and how to get a library card- those are programs that aren't legislating family support- but are providing education to these families so they can provide the support on their own.

We can't make parents do the right thing- and we can't do the right thing in place of parents. But I've found that many parents are more than willing to learn from us so they can help their children.

My school has a parent center where parents can come, drink coffee, get parenting advice, help with projects, learn more about the school, learn English, and make connections in the community. Sure, it's not our job to have this open. But it's done a world of good for our families, which in turn means it has done a world of good for our school, students, and test scores. If people are ready to learn- why can't we be there to teach them?

organized chaos said...

haven't read the sandbox investment- will put it on my list! Thanks :)

Mrs. R said...

That's a very cool thing that your school does. I think that if the little three-stoplight town I mentioned had had something like that, they might not have needed the class for troubled young teens. Maybe.

I am all for offering programs to people who want, need, and appreciate them. That is the way to actually make change happen! Beyond the scarier parts of legislating certain programs, it seems that they really only help the people who take full advantage of them anyway.

I too love to discuss, especially things in the education world. As much as I enjoyed my undergrad years, I sometimes feel woefully unprepared for this job we do. Thanks!

The Science Goddess said...

My understanding of "family support" is simply making sure that they are getting connected with services that they are eligible for---it's not an intervention in the home.

This level of engagement is something that Obama supports---that it is the community's responsibility to help one another, including getting kids ready for school.

The town just south of here always has ~20 kindergarten kids who show up 4 - 6 weeks after school has started. The kids have had no preschool, rarely have seen a book (let alone been read to), and are pretty "feral" in terms of behavior. Kindergarten is not mandatory in this some parents finally notice the yellow school buses and look at their 5-year old and make the connection with school. These kids make amazing progress during the year, but what else might have been accomplished if we could have just gotten their families better connected with the community?

mary said...

I don't know about this particular project but I do know that for Headstart in Monroe County Indiana in the 1980s (where my mother was a social worker) family support meant that the program supported the parents in trying to become better at helping their kids learn. It meant classes about nutrition, classes about how to encourage early literacy at home, etc. While not all of the parents lacked advanced formal education many did and the classes (for which there was babysitting and refreshments) plus social worker visits provided the families with strategies that those of us who are perhaps better educated employ without even thinking about them. True the parents had to have some level in interest in learning about becoming better at helping their kids but the support was beneficial for the vast majority of parents because they were interested but needed some suggestions.