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If you want a race to the top, make sure kids start at the same place

Submitted by on Monday, 7 February 2011 One Comment

How can we promise to leave no child behind when we’re abandoning so many of them at the start?

And how can we hope to have a race to the top when some kids are a lap down before the race begins?

The answer is as simple as it is obvious: We can’t, unless we commit to helping children before they fall behind.

We’ve known that for years, ever since a group of kids at a Michigan preschool was studied to see if a high-quality preschool program would make a difference in their futures. It did, and that difference endures today even though the “kids” are in their 40s.

The benefits were proven again in a study released last week. This research, involving a group of children who were tracked for 26 years, shows that a program featuring a quality preschool and emphasizing parent involvement resulted in adults who were more likely to go to college, work full-time and have health insurance.

It’s unfortunate that U.S. Education Secretary Arne “Never Met A Corporate Education Plan I Didn’t Like” Duncan and his Race to the Top calculus have blown away common sense. We’re too busy getting hot and bothered about value-added teaching, testing and “common core standards” to talk about what really matters.

The irony in the research released last week is that the subject was a Chicago program established in 1967 – maybe Duncan was too starry-eyed over charter schools to notice it when he was head of schools in that very city. The study, conducted through a National Institutes of Health grant, found that every dollar spent in the Child-Parent Centers generated $4 to $11 in economic benefits in the child’s lifetime through age 26.

The program has two components: Services for children from certified instructors, and parenting and jobs-skills training for parents. The adults also are encouraged to volunteer in their children’s classes.

“These findings suggest that high-quality education programs focused on preschool through the elementary grades may produce long-term benefits not only for the children enrolled, but for society as well,” said Alan E. Guttmacher, M.D., director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

So why do we continue to invest billions in reading programs that don’t work rather than investing money in programs that have decades of proven success?

Because spending money on preschool too often is dismissed as a freebie to middle-class parents who otherwise would have to pay for day care and an expansion of the welfare state. How it could be both at the same time is beyond me. Others argue that school before kindergarten is actually harmful and that we should focus first on fixing K-12 schools.

I’m baffled as to how such a fix is going to be possible when so many kids start the race to the top so far behind. I’m confused as to why some people think that testing ourselves silly will some day produce miracles when it hasn’t in the past nine  years.

And I’m sad that so few with any authority are willing to take a stand for quality preschool such as the programs in Chicago and Michigan.

Copyright 2011 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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