Today is the day Memphians go to the polls to determine whether a .05 additional tax should be levied on our already sky high sales tax. The money – which is quite a considerable amount at $50 million – supposedly will go to fund pre-K for some 4-6,000 children.
Before the “it’s for the children” argument gets to you, how about the retired people who are owed pensions and other benefits? The city coffers are pretty dry for these future amounts which are substantial and are a life and death matter for many elderly. Are our priorities right here?
Alarm bells also went off for me when Mayor Wharton pre-empted the vote and installed a committee of his hand picked friends to “oversee” the pre-K endeavor. He was trying to influence the vote before it happens. If something’s already a fait accompli, many will just accept it and not even bother voting.
I’m also concerned about the amount of money that has been thrown at this thing. There are ads for it; mailers sent out (I have gotten more than one); editorials and letters to the newspaper for it; a constant pressure to push voters to vote yes. Who will really benefit from the program? Given the level of corruption in government, I don’t think it will be 3 and 4 year olds.
I also don’t buy the supposition that pre-K benefits kids. Politicians want to say them because it garners them another voting block, so they will fund government studies to support that position. Mary Katharine Ham writes at Hot Air that a Congressionally mandated study of the Headstart program, for example, concluded it had “no statistically measurable effect.” A study on Tennessee’s voluntary pre-K programs came to a similar conclusion.
Like HHS’s Head Start Impact study, the study of the TVPK program is a randomized trial, which meets the highest standard for scientifically evaluating programs. The study followed 3,000 4-year-olds starting in 2009. A state lottery system determined which children of the 3,000 who applied for pre-K were admitted to the program. Those who won the lottery became the pre-K group and those who lost, the control group to which they were compared. Three quarters of those in the control group did not end up in a pre-K program, so you’re looking at a pretty close approximation of state pre-K vs. nothing. A subset of 1,100 students were tested as they progressed from pre-K to first grade to determine what gains, if any, stuck around, as pre-K proponents claim they do.
Other countries, particularly those whose kids do score high in achievement tests, put off education til age 7. Their results have been better than others.
Authors at NewScience found:
A long-running debate on this question has been reignited by a letter, signed by about 130 early childhood education experts. It called for an extension of informal, play-based preschool provision and for the start of formal schooling in England to be delayed until the age of 7, from the current effective start at age 4.
This would bring it in line with the overwhelming evidence showing that starting school later is best, and the practice in many countries, such as Sweden and Finland. These countries have better academic achievement and child well-being, despite children not starting school until age 7.
They go on to say that play, as opposed to structured learning, is a major factor in mental development. And, children learn to find things out on their own, further spurring intelligence.
The full account, which is worth reading, is here: http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22029435.000-too-much-too-young-should-schooling-start-at-age-7.html#.Uo305eLC-pO
An issue like taxation to promote pre-K education is a much more nuanced topic than its proponents want us to believe. I hope thoughtful Memphians will bypass the pablum served up by politicians and examine the issue themselves. If they do, this will not pass – and shouldn’t.