Early Childhood Education Discrimination

, Dr. Karen Effrem, Leave a comment

St. Paul, MN~A
frequent justification for preschool programs that you often hear is
brain research.  Yet, you do not often hear this type of information
from Jack Schonkopf, who is Art Rolnick’s favorite expert to quote, in
the famous Neurons to Neighborhoods study:

“Assertions that the die has been cast by the time the child
enters school are not supported by neuroscience evidence and can create
unwarranted pessimism about the potential efficacy of interventions that
are initiated after the preschool years.”

Proponents of universal preschool tell us that 50% of Minnesota
kindergartners enter school not ready to learn.  Yet, the
Commissioner has repeatedly debunked that statistic showing that it is
actually only 11 or 12% that have not met that arbitrary standard of
having none of the skills on the assessment.  That is, of course,
assuming that the assessment and the outcomes upon which it is based are
valid and reliable.  Sadly, that assumption cannot be made, because
the assessment and outcomes are so broad and vague as to be meaningless.
They are extending down to preschoolers a rehash of the failed Profile of
Learning that this legislature wisely rejected.  How does one
accurately, objectively, or fairly evaluate whether a young child:

“Gains meaning by listening”

example that I just read to you is from what is supposed to be the
objective academic area of reading.  When one gets into the
socioemotional area, it is even worse with such items as:

“Shows eagerness and curiosity as a learner.”

Multiple experts and groups, such as the World Health Organization, and
the National Center for Infant and Early Childhood Health Policy admit
the difficulty of accurately assessing young children, especially in the
socioemotional area, due to rapid developmental changes.  In fact, a
2005 National Center for Infant and Early Childhood Health Policy report
on infant mental health that promoted screening, admitted:

  • “Broad parameters for determining socioemotional outcomes are not
    clearly defined”

  • “Diagnostic criteria are still being developed and validated.”
  • “Lack of longitudinal outcome studies”

do I bring this contentious issue up?  First of all, poor and
minority children are over-identified for special education, especially
the emotional behavioral disorders and mental retardation.  The
kindergarten readiness assessment with its incredibly vague and invalid
items, especially for mental health issues will only worsen that problem,
falsely labeling children as academic and or emotional failures at the
beginning of their school careers.  This will lead to increased
special education costs and more over-drugging of those groups than the
significant amount that is already happening.

many older studies, as well as a November, 2005 study indicate academic
and emotional harm resulting for significant numbers of children in
preschool programs.  The 2005 study from UC Berkley, hardly a
conservative bastion, said in part:

“Attendance in preschool centers, even for short periods of time
each week, hinders the rate at which young children develop social skills
and display the motivation to engage classroom tasks, as reported by
their kindergarten teachers…"

This applied to
children who spent more than 6 hours per day in these programs and the
effect worsened with higher family income.
Third, according to the President’s Commission on Special Education, 90%
of children in special education have high incidence disorders like
learning disabilities, emotional disturbances, and ADD.   90%
of those are related to reading problems. 
        You have
heard much about studies that are supposed to justify the expansion of
the early childhood programs – programs like Perry and Chicago and
Abecedarian.  Yet, you never hear that all of these studies have
significant methodological flaws, small sample sizes, are very expensive,
have not been replicated, would be very hard to produce on a large scale,
and either don’t have the impacts advertised or positive results are more
due to parental influence or involvement than on participation in the

[The following examples in blue were provided to committee members as a

Perry – It only included 123 children; the
beneficial results have never been replicated, which means that it would
be hard to reproduce on a large scale; there were significant
methodological flaws admitted by people such as the co-founder of Head
Start; and it required a mother to be at home in the experimental, but
not the control group, which could well account for the gains made. 
In addition, even though program children did better than controls, still
nearly one-third of participating children dropped out of high school,
nearly one-third of the children were arrested, and three of five
participating children received welfare assistance as adults.
Chicago – “It is possible that parental involvement explains more
of the variance in outcome among inner-city children than do structured
programs. . . . If policy makers mistakenly accept the conclusion that
preschool intervention results in less criminal activity later, they may
mistakenly invest in these programs when the money might be better
invested in parenting skill programs and other interventions to increase
parental involvement.” This indicates a need for parents to be
involved.  It also points to the reams of research that children
perform the best academically and socially in parentally involved
families and even better in two parent families.
Abecedarian – It cost $20,000 per
child per year back when it was performed; it took children away from
their mothers for 8 hours per day, five days per week, starting at age 4
months; they had to combine the IQ results from all 4 groups in order to
see any benefit, because they actually had two groups that lost IQ
points; and the mother’s IQ was a more powerful predictor of the child’s
IQ than participation in the progra
preschool program has shown academic benefit beyond the third
grade.  In addition, Georgia has spent over one billion dollars on
universal pre-K and seen no improvement in test scores, and Oklahoma has
lost ground on National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading
test despite universal pre-K. no differences in test scores between those
participating and those not participating, and both Georgia and Oklahoma,
which also has universal pre-K were in the bottom 10 performers on gains
in the fourth grade NAEP reading tests.

        In fact,
Oklahoma was the worst performer of all states in terms of gains in
fourth-grade reading between 1992 and 2005, actually losing 4 percentage
points. And, in international comparisons of reading math and science, US
fourth graders, when the benefits of preschool would be most apparent,
outscored their universally preschooled peers.  It is not until 8th
and 12th grade that they fall to the middle and then the bottom,
respectively of the academic heap.  That indicates a problem in
K-12, not a lack of preschool.
So what do we recommend?

  • 1) We think that given the lack of long-term academic benefit and the
    harm to middle and upper income children, universal preschool programs
    are unnecessary, but that targeted parental support services for those
    most in need would be the most helpful

  • 2) Focus on academic basics, – especially reading and math in K-12,
    not outcomes and assessments in preschool that are scientifically or
    academically controversial and that falsely label especially the poor and

  • 3) Parental choice and direction – if preschool programs are done as
    such, they should be voluntary and funded through tax credits including
    an earned income tax credit.

    A pediatrician who serves on the board of EdWatch, Dr. Effrem delivered the above remarks to two committees of the Minnesota State House of Representatives.