Friday, October 24, 2003

Mandatory Preschool in California?...

Have you heard of the California Children and Families Commission? Have you seen the commercials on the tube recently by First5 California? They are the ones that promote the idea that children who attend preschool will be better adjusted socially and do better academically (not only in K-12 but in higher education as well). My initial assessment, based solely on the commercials, was one of skepticism towards the idea that toddlers aged 3 – 5 are better off at a preschool than they are at home. Yet, the idea was purported to be backed up with scientific data, so I decided to take a little closer look. Here’s a statement from the Winter '03 newsletter published by the California Children and Families Commission: “The California Children and Families Commission has adopted “First 5 California” as its new overarching school readiness identity. We believe that the name First 5 California conveys the importance of the first five years of life, the period of time during which a child’s brain develops most dramatically. The new name will be used in all Commission public education efforts, on any printed materials developed and, over time, may become the primary identity of the organization.” The Commission members include: S. Kimberly Belshè, Elizabeth Rice Grossman, Sandra Gutierrez, Karen Hill-Scott, Rob Reiner (yeah… “Meathead”), Louis A. Vismara, Grantland Johnson, and Kerry Mazzoni. Okay, if you read the material on their website and in their brochures it looks pretty good. They are, after all, concerned with a child’s health and well-being – that’s good. They want to insure that underprivileged families get proper medical and nutritional data for their children from pre-natal to kindergarten age – that’s good. But when you sniff out the details you also see that they want to make available universal preschool for all children – that’s not good. The reason why I believe it to be a dangerous move is that it begs the question of mandatory preschool. Is that on the horizon? It’s certainly not dictated as such on their material but, based on their presentation, if it isn’t on the backburner it certainly is in the kitchen. Take, for instance, the article titles in the Winter '03 newsletter: “Going to Scale with Pre-Kindergarten: Moving Toward High-Quality Early Learning Opportunities for All California 3- and 4-Year-Olds,” or “In Large and Small Counties, Plans Underway for Universal Preschool (emphasis added). When addressing the need for “pre-kindergarten” one of the articles states, “As the science of early childhood development tells us, a child’s preparation for school and for life begins not with preschool at age 3, but much earlier, starting with a healthy pregnancy and continuing with nurturing, stimulating experiences through infancy, the toddler years and beyond.” Again, I have nothing against health programs aimed at developing a healthy population from the womb and beyond, but in reading on you find, “…recent research findings and a supportive climate of public opinion in California suggest that the time is right for a phased initiative to dramatically improve the accessibility and quality of pre-kindergarten programs for all 3- and 4- year-olds in California. High-quality pre-kindergarten experiences help reduce performance gaps in the first grade, which in turn have been shown to lay the foundation for observed performance gaps in later grades. Recent longitudinal studies have found that children exposed to high-quality preschool show lasting gains on a variety of educational and other dimensions all the way into adulthood…” The scientific research is footnoted and is reported as, Cunningham, A.E. and Stanovich, K.E. (1997). Early reading acquisition and its relation to reading experience and ability 10 years later. Developmental Psychology, 33(6), 934-945. I have not yet attempted to access that literature, but here's a similar article by Cunningham and Stanovich. It would be interesting to see what parameters and conditions were used in the study. What groups were compared? It is unlikely that toddlers from homeschooled families were part of the study. I wonder (also) if toddlers from stay-at-home moms were part of the dataset? Understand here that I take no issue with the conclusion of the study referenced above. Based on its title it appears to posit that early reading is – good! Bob Dylan also stated the obvious in a song once... “you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows!” It should be intuitive that a mind enhancing activity such as reading will reap benefits later in life – especially if compared with mind deadening activities such as watching 6 hours of videos in one sitting. I can see the results of this just down the hall from where I’m writing this – my 8 year old daughter. She was not brought up on videos and was reading the Little House on the Prairie series when she was 4 (note: that series is considered to be 4th grade level). But here’s the rub – would it have been better for her to have been in a state run preschool, as part of a class of 15 - 20 kids -or- was it better for her to be nurtured at home by her caring, loving mother? So we flashback to the commercial on the tube that shows a young mother picking up her child from preschool. In it, we hear the mother tell her mother how thankful she was that she was sent to preschool. Fade to white and listen to a voiceover inform us that scientific data indicates those children who attend preschool are more likely to… [you get the idea] Now tell me… how big a step is it from: a) having preschool available to all 3 and 4 year olds?, to b) requiring all 3 and 4 year olds to attend preschool? (after all, isn’t it scientifically proven to be better?) Think I’m an alarmist? Check a USAToday article by John Merrow titled, European preschools should embarrass USA. Here are a few clips, “Today in France, essentially all children ages 3 through 5 attend preschool, most in public programs. It's the same across Europe. Almost all 4-year-olds in England, Luxembourg and the Netherlands go to public school. So do more than 70% of Greek children of preschool age, more than 80% of Spanish children and more than 90% of those in Germany, Denmark and Italy. Virtually every industrialized country in the world provides free, high-quality preschool for children regardless of family income. “Georgia… is at the head of the preschool class. It requires all school districts to offer preschool classes to all students… Overall, 70% of Georgia's 4-year-olds are now in some form of publicly subsidized preschool. The program was the brainchild of former Georgia governor Zell Miller, now a U.S. senator, who has said he believes that "preschool is more important than the 12th grade in high school." (emphasis added) Merrow produced a PBS documentary titled, “THE PROMISE OF PRESCHOOL.” From the intro, “For parents, educators, and lawmakers, the promise of preschool is that children will enter school ready to learn, but, in reality, the results are mixed.” Make no mistake about it, the children in California are being targeted for inclusion in preschool. In “Free Preschool for All?,” an article that originally appeared in the May-June 1998 Children's Advocate newsmagazine, Leslie Weiss stated in the first line, “Today, half of California's 1.1 million three- and four-year-olds attend child care or preschool. Within 10 years, all of them could be in publicly financed preschool.” (emphasis added) The question is: are there any ulterior motives behind this type of action? Read on (and California homeschoolers - look for a familiar name), “In March, a task force of educators, parents, and child care professionals released a far-reaching report calling for "universal preschool" in California. Convened by state schools Superintendent Delaine Eastin, the task force set the goal of providing a half-day of high-quality preschool for every three- and four-year-old in California by 2008.” That’s right – former Superintendent Delaine Eastin – for those of you outside of California, she is known as every homeschooler’s nightmare. Now, to be fair, this quick expose has not proved ulterior motives. Consider the description of The School Readiness Bill AB 56, “AB 56 calls for preparing a child to start his/her education in good health with appropriate learning support for individual needs. This preparation includes access to preschool for all families who desire it and the access to community services from infancy through preschool that identify developmental concerns before they become a barrier to learning. Panelists: Lynn Daucher, Karen Hill-Scott, Carol Liu, Rob Reiner, Darrell Steinberg” (emphasis added) And the task force mentioned above had to convene at some time right?, and Delaine Eastin happened to be the Superintendent when they convened… but still, it’s got to make you wonder. Who’s to say that, after they corral all the 3 and 4 year olds, they won’t go after newborns to 2 years? (based on some scientific study, of course) You will note that, when reading the articles promoting universal preschool, you find it pretty much expected that children have to go to preschool. Our society has become accustomed to the two-income family as being the norm. The stay-at-home mom is considered an oddity. Shockingly, she is thought to be depriving her child if she doesn’t expose the child to the social activities of a preschool. Have we drifted that far from our roots? Do we now really consider the state to have a better handle on how our children should be nurtured? I excuse all those single mothers or families that, for financial reasons, really do need to have their children in preschool. But, to be honest, there are a lot of families out there that could exist on one income. There are a lot of mothers out there that are splitting their time between a career and their children – and the children are getting the short end of the stick. What can you do? 1) Link or e-mail this blog post and / or the links I’ve posted to your homeschool web forums. If you’re in California, stay aware of First5 California’s activities. If you’re out of California, find out what is going on in your state. 2) Let your representatives know that you don’t want more government intervention, but less; that you don’t want more taxes to force you into two incomes, but less; and that you welcome health-care assistance, but the educational nurturing of your preschool children is strictly your business. 3) e-mail me at: newcovenantblog@yahoo.com if you have comments and advice.

1 comment:

Jonathan Murray said...

George Orwell tried to warn us.