"High Achievement always takes place in the framework of high expectation." - Charles Kettering

Thursday, August 8, 2013

4K Investigative Meeting Report

The meeting to kick off the fourth 4K investigation in 6 years was a great disappointment for me. I keep going to these meetings hoping to see new and exciting data that indicate great strides have been made in preschool education. I continue to be disabused of this notion. Last night, they had a woman from the DPI whose specialty is to implement a community based 4K program. Having somebody from the DPI present is a new aspect of community presentation that hasn't been tried before and she was pretty informative. Community based 4K is a program in which the preschools in the community are used to help deliver the 4K program to the district. There are essentially three models of 4K delivery. The first is entirely through the district: in district schools and using district teachers. The second is using area preschools to provide classroom space with teachers provided by the district. The third is to use area preschools for space and they employ the teachers. All teachers are certified preschool instructors with the DPI. The revenue associated with the students would be distributed to the preschools and district in various percentages depending on the model or combination of models implemented. All of this I was aware of through my own research, but it was clear others had never heard of it, so her presence was useful.

The disappointing part of this investigative meeting was the materials used to convince the audience (preaching to the choir last night) that 4K was the best thing since sliced bread. To give you an idea of how dismal it was, "Governor Doyle" (not since 2010) and "State Superintendent Elizabeth Burmeister" (not since 2008) were featured in the videos. Statistics used were not referenced as to the source and looked suspiciously like those from the High Scope Perry Preschool project from the sixties. Upon looking this up, I determined that these data are from that study but an older 1992 iteration of the study from when the participants were age 27. The newest report was released in 2005 and were based on data through age 40. We were all assured that providing universal 4K reduces achievement gaps, increases graduation rates, decreases special ed participation, decreases failure to promote to the next grades, decreases prison time down the road, etc. etc. etc., inferring that anybody against this program is simply a dolt because they don't UNDERSTAND the societal benefits incurred by simply educating 4 year olds.

The High Scope Perry Preschool program was a social experiment that was conducted at Perry Preschool in Kalamazoo Michigan in the sixties. It is unlikely to be purposefully replicated again because, who wants their kid in the control group? But that is what was done back in the unenlightened sixties. A group of kids living in poverty were selected to participate in a 2 year program of intensive preschool beginning at age 3. Another group of kids went on their merry, regular way. The teachers all had at least a bachelors degree in early childhood education and the student teacher ratio ranged from 5-6 to 1. The main scientific criticism of the experiment is that the sample sizes were so small. These people continue to be part of a longitudinal study every several years, the most recent one being in 2005 at age 40. Click on the link below to see the details of that study.  This is a quote from the conclusions section of the report. "The most basic implication of this study is that all young children living in low-income families should have access to preschool programs that have features that are reasonably similar to those of the High/Scope Perry Preschool program." 4K delivery in Wisconsin and every other state of the union doesn't come close to meeting these requirements. Especially the 5-6 to one student child ratio. And yet, these programs continue to promote their societal value based on a study that specifically states that programs provided for these kids must be "reasonably similar" to the High-Scopes program. Wisconsin recommends a 12 to 1 ratio, double the recommendation in the study. Practice is more like 15 to 1. It is already compromised at the outset. Now consider that in most areas in Wisconsin, the children living in poverty comprise about 20-30% (it's higher since the recession, not surprisingly) and the full social value being touted ($7.16 return on every dollar invested) won't be realized.

I was the lone person to state they were against universal 4K at the meeting last night. I stated that, unlike one woman who stated she had been previously against 4K and was now for it, I would probably never change my mind for a variety of reasons. I will add a caveat to that. If I ever see recent data that indicates that the current model of 4K delivery gives the same social improvements that the Perry Preschool project implies, I'd consider changing my mind. Even if somebody would take to heart the criticism that they quote data from a model they can't hope to use in order to sell politicians on the value of the program, and stop doing it, I'd begin to soften a little. The truth of the matter is that the sneaky underhanded way in which the former administrator tried to implement 4K at the expense of half-day five year old kindergarten polluted the entire subject for me and a lot of people. I noted that a primary reason people oppose 4K in Evansville is that our tax levy and low equalized property values result in the highest mill rate in the area, and among the highest statewide. If there were a referendum to initially finance 4K, that debt would go on top of the current debt, making the problem even worse. I noted that I could not speak for all of those against 4K, but that this is a recurring theme when I discuss it with a variety of people who oppose it for many reasons. I also noted that I and others opposed to 4K generally are in favor of every child having a preschool opportunity. We just are opposed to providing it as yet another subsidized service to all when all do not need it. That's when I was attacked by a father in the audience who asked me "How can you claim to be for education but against the building blocks?" I felt like, but didn't say, "How can you be so gullible as to believe all the tripe the DPI spokeswoman just fed you without questioning the source and validity?" I simply answered that I believed that many such as myself could afford to provide for our kids a preschool experience and I believe the statewide focus should rather be on funding services for those in need.

When I asked the woman from the DPI a question about 4K's lack of success in Milwaukee, she gave me the runaround. I stated that "Milwaukee County Schools have offered 4K for over 20 years. Milwaukee County Schools remain the worst in the state in both achievement level and achievement gaps. If the most experienced district in the state (that nearly universally meets the poverty criteria in the High Scopes study) cannot reach the societal improvements touted by 4K, how can Evansville hope to be successful with a new program?" Her answer to me noted that there was over 90% poverty in Milwaukee and she "truly believed that Milwaukee would be a lot worse off without 4K." OK, that is a supposition for which you have not provided any data and which simply refutes your claim that 4K will ultimately promote world peace.  I don't think "treading water" is a good recommendation for any program. What it means is that community outreach programs that engage the whole family in a genuine and useful way would be money better spent. Go figure.

I have told more than one person that I would like to be on the committee to investigate 4K. I stated to my friend last night that I have probably done more research on 4K than the entire room put together last night (except maybe the DPI woman as she was a preschool provider). I think I have information pertinent to the conversation at this point and provide a respectful yet informed op-positional viewpoint. Who knows? Maybe along the way somebody will provide data that states a realistic view of the situation and I'll be stunned into compliance!


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