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

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Vision, Not Universal 4-Year-Old Kindergarten, Creates Positive Enrollment and Achievement for All

I attended the panel discussion about 4 year old Kindergarten (4K) last Tuesday night (September 17) at Creekside Place. It was a well attended meeting, with the preponderance of attendance by those who believe the district needs this program. The panel representatives were from 6 districts that have implemented 4K, most within the last 7-8 years, including DeForest (2011), Edgerton (2006), Janesville (2008), Marshall (the '90s), Stoughton (2009) and Verona (2012). They discussed a number of concerns raised at the first meeting, including how it impacts local preschools, how they handled transportation, what models worked for each district (in district buildings with district teachers, in preschools with district teachers or in preschools with preschool provided teachers). It was very useful. I asked which of them partnered with Head Start. The woman from DPI acting as moderator insisted on repeating that our Head Start agency is centered in Beloit and has lost funding this year, effectively removing them from the equation. I would love to know why Head Start left our district. My point in asking about that was an interest in using them as a model as opposed partnering with them, but what the heck.

At one point, the proponents of 4K in the audience got a little aggravated. "Why does our community have a million dollar brick Main Street (grant) and a million dollar lake (referendum) but can't invest $350,000 to implement 4K in our district?" Jerry Roth answered that the people in the community just didn't support 4K in its previous lives for a variety of reasons, but that HE sure did support it! Way to take a neutral position on the 4K investigation. As previous 4K investigations have always begun, this one seems to be starting with the premise of "How do we implement 4K?" as opposed to "Does the community support implementing 4K?" It's a pretty important distinction! After Jerry was done ingratiating himself with the 4Kers, I said that I had pertinent information regarding why 4K didn't pass when previously brought before the board. "In every instance, the district was facing a deficit budget situation already and could not even pay for its baseline services much less add a $350,000 program. So my question for you panelists is, what was your initial investment and what is your ongoing expenditure?" Not one of them knew the answer to that question. Two of them shared that they knew vague figures and that they had to go into their fund balance but that after the third year, the revenues out paced the expenditures and often supported programs beyond 4K. How about when the enrollment continues to slide downwards after the initial enrollment bump, I wondered?

In preparation for the meeting, I researched enrollment data for the districts represented. I had recalled seeing that a few years after Janesville first offered 4K, they once again began to experience declining enrollment. I wondered how common this was. I wanted to test my theory that 4K was not a fix for a pervasive enrollment problem which likely lies in the lack of vision of the district administration. First I surveyed total enrollment on the DPI WINNS system and found the following changes in district enrollment since 2006-07.

  • De Forest Area: +6.81%
  • Edgerton: -2.53
  • Janesville: -2.16%
  • Marshall: +1.36%
  • Stoughton: -4.14%
  • Verona: +17.09%
  • Evansville for Reference Only: -3.56

Half of the represented districts have lost overall enrollment from 2-4% in the last seven years.

Then I surveyed elementary school enrollment only in the same districts:

  • De Forest Area: +19.22
  • Edgerton: -0.67
  • Marshall: -2.68
  • Janesville: +5.18
  • Stoughton:+24.81
  • Verona: +30.33
  • Evansville: -0.48

Four of them have gained, some very significantly depending on when the program was implemented, while two are on the downward slope.

Finally, I subtracted the Elementary Enrollment from the Total Enrollment to calculate the Middle School plus High School Enrollment:

  • De Forest Area: -1.0%
  • Edgerton: -4.18%
  • Janesville: -7.86%
  • Marshall: +6.72%
  • Stoughton: -19.56%
  • Verona: +5.05%
  • Evansville: -6.19%

All but two are losing enrollment, some significantly, at the middle and high school levels.

I did this analysis to visualize to what extent, if any, the elementary enrollment in each district was shoring up the district-wide numbers. The results generally confirmed my premise once I did enough research into each district.

VERONA: The only district to achieve positive enrollment changes for all three of the categories I evaluated was Verona. They have successfully navigated implementation of the many ways public schools express themselves these days. They first implemented a K-8 Core Knowledge Charter School way back in 1998 before anybody else in Wisconsin had Common Core on their radar. Then three years ago, they implemented an International School, which I presume is a language immersion program. Last year was year one of 4K for them, but they had been gaining elementary enrollment all along with their other initiatives. Their district report card score of 74.4 (low B) is the second highest of the group. They had a 25% poverty level last year, increased from 19.4% in 2006.

DE FOREST: Their 4K program is the only thing contributing to their overall increase in enrollment. They are still in the three year window of full funding for 4K (begun in 2011) and could see a reversal beginning in 2014 if they don't energize their secondary school enrollments in some way. Their district report card score was 73.8, a low B. De Forest has the lowest poverty level of the 6 at 21.9%, increased from 16.3% in 2006.

EDGERTON: They have had decreasing enrollments at every level since 2006, the year Edgerton implemented 4K. To be precise, they experienced a bump at the elementary level for the first two years after implementation and have decreased every year since, so they are now slightly below the first year of 4K in elementary enrollment. The secondary levels have decreased consistently since 2006. It has always bugged me that Evansville compared their statistical information with Edgerton simply because they have like enrollments. Edgerton earned the lowest report card score of 68.1, a solid mid-range C , which is really not something to which we should aspire. They scored lower than the state average in three out of the four metrics. They clearly fell into the category of "if we build it they will come" and have discovered this is not true. Edgerton's poverty level has increased from 17.6 % in 2006 to 34.9% last year.

JANESVILLE: Janesville has passed their three year window (implemented in 2008) and have continued to lose significant secondary enrollment despite programs that should increase enrollment in this age group, like charter schools and alternative programs. The 5% gain in elementary enrollment was achieved the first two years after implementation and the enrollment has stagnated since then. To be fair, the loss of the GM plant has likely contributed to this as people have relocated out of Janesville for work. The elementary gains do not off-set the secondary losses in this district. Janesville's district report card score was the highest of the six at the forum, at 74.8 (low B). Incidently, they also beat Evansville's score of 74.2. Janesville had the highest poverty level last year of the six surveyed at 52.2 %, double the rate of 26.2 % in 2006.

MARSHALL: They are the "odd district out" in this analysis in that they have offered universal preschool for nearly 20 years. They have experienced slight gains in overall enrollment since 2006, losses in elementary enrollment and gains in secondary enrollments, likely because there are virtual and charter options there too. They are the smallest district evaluated, with only 1263 students last year. Small doesn't necessarily mean lack of vision. Marshall has experienced a large increase in poverty level, from 20% to nearly 39%. They seem to have a better than average math program and worse than average reading program. They have fair to middling 3rd grade achievement data, so 20 years of preschool haven't transformed them into a bunch of Einsteins either. Marshall scored a 71.9 on their district report card, a high C. Marshall's poverty level has nearly doubled since 2006 from 20 to nearly 39 %.

STOUGHTON: Stoughton is the poster child for how not to implement 4K. They got their bump in enrollment the first year (2009) and have decreased enrollment every year since, not even getting the 2-3 year rolling average improvement. They have complicated the enrollment data by changing from a 5-6 grade model in 2007 to a middle school model in 2008, bumping the elementary enrollments and reducing the secondary enrollments. Overall enrollment has still decreased by over 4% in 7 years. Their district score of 71.9 puts them at a high C in my grading scale. Their 26.3 % poverty level is slightly less than Evansville (26.4 %) and is the median value of the seven districts. It has increased from 11.3 % in 2006.

EVANSVILLE: Edgerton and Evansville are the only two districts of the seven losing enrollment at all levels since 2006. Again, being placed in the same category as Edgerton isn't a positive for our district. The elementary enrollments could be more accurately described as flat, with less than a percent loss for both of these districts, but knowing this year's Evanville kindergarten class is the lowest in years (104) predicts that the enrollments will only continue to decline here. Evansville's report card score of 74.2 puts them slightly above De Forest's median value of 73.8. Evansville's poverty level has increased from 16.6 % to 26.4% since 2006.

The above shows that school districts that haphazardly approach their declining enrollment issues by jumping on the bandwagon to be able to say they offer a variety of programs have not fared well in the open enrollment war. Choice has enabled parents to seek an education that enables their children to reach for their dreams. Districts that fail to transform themselves into the educational institutions that serve the many needs of their constituents will continue to lose enrollment. They can't just provide the program, they must commit to it with outstanding curriculum and instruction that transforms. They must know their community and its needs.

A case in point is Janesville. They have absorbed a huge loss in enrollment with the loss of the GM plant. The percent of their students living in poverty has increased from 26% to 52%, by far the most of all the 4K schools at the forum. Yet their district report card score was the best of the six at the forum. If you had really listened to how they approached implementation of their 4K program, you could get a sense of why this must be happening for them. It was the first time I had heard a 4K representative speak eloquently and knowledgeably regarding child development and brain science. Janesville, like most of those at the forum, run their 4K program out of licensed child care providers who hire the DPI licensed staff for the program. As partners of the 4K providers, the Janesville School District offers professional development to ALL daycare staff, not just 4K staff, and the topics are not limited. So if somebody at the center wants to learn Spanish in a professional development program offered by the Janesville School District, any day care provider in that center can access that program. The same goes for the 4K curriculum items. They are made available to all classrooms in the center. The goal is to have wraparound enrichment in all of that center's classrooms, birth to age 5. That WILL be a transformative approach because brain science tells us the developing brain is most served ages birth to three. We must begin stimulation of those little brains as soon as they exit the womb and the Janesville model provides ways to access best practices for all childcare center staff. They might be having problems, but their plan is a good one.

A few years ago, Evansville School District took great pains to survey the community on their priorities in order to create a vision that could transform the district. There has been a lot of water under the bridge since then and now the CAC is going to do the same thing.  I'm thinking the priorities haven't changed that much in 3 years and this is one great waste of time and 11 grand. Add to that the 4K committee whose premise is not "Does the district support 4K?" but "How do we implement 4K?" And they're supposed to be working at the same time as the CAC, before the CAC even has a chance to do their community survey to find out if the community supports this program.

Why am I so opposed to Universal 4K (Universal is the key word here)?

1-ACHIEVEMENT LEVEL: There has been no proof offered for increased achievement level as a result of 4K participation, which has always been a big selling point for the program. Exhibit A: Milwaukee, which has had 4K for nearly 20 years. Exhibit B: Look at the detailed district report cards for each district, available on the DPI WINSS system website. There has been no big improvement in grade 3 reading scores for districts that have had 4K long enough to have this data. At least the ones at the forum. There are plenty of districts in Wisconsin that have implemented 4K. If huge improvements in achievement levels coincident with the implementation of 4K existed, I presume they would be shouting it from the rooftops to illustrate this basic premise of the program. Similarly, last year was the first year the Milwaukee voucher schools were required to test the MPS kids for achievement and lo there was no improvement for participants in that program either. 4K is just another government program incapable of delivering on a promise primarily because they weren't held accountable for over a decade. Also see #2 below for a complete explanation of why 4K can't deliver on its promises.

2-ESTABLISHMENT OF 4K UNDER FALSE PRETENSES: 4K has been foisted on the United States under false pretenses based on the High Scopes Perry Preschool project, the model of which no public school is able to deliver (5-6:1 student to teacher ratio, interventions beginning at age 3). I give great nods to Head Start having been formed back in the sixties based on the results of this study, but it seems like the feds are under the impression that 4K is the answer to getting the expense of Head Start off their books. No government representatives have bothered to do the research about this because nobody wants to be depicted as the scrooge who doesn't support early learning models for all. If they have done the research and still support this flawed model, then they are bigger idiots than I thought.

3-STEREOTYPICAL PUBLIC EDUCATION MATH: Most of all, I'm opposed to 4K because it embodies public school budgetary math at its worst. I recently read that some school districts across the nation with greater than 40% of the students on federal assistance (food stamps) now give free breakfast and lunch to everyone.  There are plans to promote this policy across the country. Actual quotes in the paper included, "You see, with the economy of scale, we can get the food cheaper and don't have to do all that paperwork to document income status." Where on the planet is it cheaper to feed 100 people than 40 people? Of course, no data was provided to show that this is true and I am cynical that it is possible. I might buy that for districts with 85-90% of their students enrolled in food stamps programs, but no "economy of scale" enables you to buy 2.5X the food for less money.

The same thing applies to 4K. There are certainly children in our district whose parents cannot provide an adequate preschool opportunity for them for a variety of reasons. I estimate that this figure is probably close to the economically disadvantaged population in the district, which last year was 26.2%. The incoming kindergarten classes vary from 100 to 150 in Evansville, so let's say the average class is 125.  If the entire group of economically disadvantaged kids was offered 4K, that would be 33 kids, or two classes, meaning one teacher, one teaching assistant, one classroom and all the kids whose parents can't provide preschool opportunities would get needed services. "Universal 4K" offered to all students regardless of need means seven classes, four teachers, four assistants and four classrooms. I'm confident that the parents who can afford it will provide this for their kids. If they don't they are criminally negligent in the care of their children. I object to providing rich or middle class Susie with a preschool education. I am happy to provide preschool tax dollars for kids who need them. It's as simple as that. The hundreds of thousands of dollars spent to provide five more classes placating the entitled majority when they complain that "the poor kids get free preschool, why can't my kid get that?" would be better spent shoring up other district programs. The analysis above clearly shows that Vision, not 4K, will solve district enrollment woes. No "shoring up" is required in visionary districts. Unless the district is holistically applying best practices at all levels, the above data shows that that inexorable decline in enrollment will return with a vengeance and you'll have one more program you can't afford to provide with the budget you have.

4-THE COMMITTEE SHOULD BE FORMED ONCE THE QUESTION OF WHETHER OR NOT THE COMMUNITY SUPPORTS 4K HAS BEEN ANSWERED BY THE CAC SURVEY. The district is putting the cart before the horse on this one, beginning with "How do we implement 4K?" instead of "Does the community as a whole (not just parents of preschoolers) support implementing 4K?"

I am not an ogre opposed to preschool opportunities for all. I am tired of half-truths and downright lies being propagated in the name of education. I have done extensive research on this topic and would venture to say I am an expert on 4K and its predecessor Head Start. The reason Wisconsin kids needed 4K was because Wisconsin is one of the most miserly states when it came to the income level requirements to access Head Start (125% of the Federal Poverty Level, or FPL vs. 250-300% in neighboring Michigan, for example). This policy left a vast number of kids whose parents were too poor to afford pre-school but too "rich" to send their kids to Head Start. Instead of fixing a bad policy, they proposed a much more expensive solution to the problem: Universal 4K. I know how tight education budgets are and that they will likely remain that way for the foreseeable future. I cannot for the life of me understand why everybody in the legislature seems to think a more expensive model is better, especially since Head Start has a much higher quality rating than Wisconsin 4K does.

4K proponents cite shaming of students accessing services well known to serve students living in poverty as a primary reason for making the program universal. Most of the superficial people who judge a person's value by the content of their wallet are not worth a microsecond of concern. Teaching these kids that they should try to fly under those fools' radar is wrong. The message that this sends is that there is something inherently wrong with being poor, that their parent's hard work to make ends meet is somehow dishonorable because society doesn't consider their employment a worthwhile endeavor. If two parents hold down four jobs to feed and care for their family, they deserve a medal of valor for providing as much as they can for their kids. They honorably do what they can and society's materialistic obsession is the shameful factor in this equation.

If you can either pay for your kids preschool opportunity or provide it yourself in some way, then do it. It's a parent's privilege to give their children every opportunity. If you can afford it and you have to fork over $$ to educate your kid then do it and do it with a smile. Save limited resources for those who really need it.

These are the reasons I oppose Universal 4K. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent article!