The New America Foundation urges California in a new report to spend more on training and paying pre-kindergarten teachers.
“Our bottom line is that California is not doing enough to educate early childhood educators so that kids don’t fall way behind in school,” the report’s author, Sarah Jackson, told EdSource, an online educational news site.
The operative phrase is “so that kids don’t fall way behind in school.”
It reflects a strong consensus among educators and politicians that early childhood intervention is needed to close the oft-mentioned “achievement gap” separating poor and English-learner students – Latino and black, mostly – from their more affluent white and Asian American classmates.
Half of the state’s million-plus pre-kindergarten age children are Latino or low-income and the state has been slowly ramping up educational programs for them, including “transitional kindergarten.” Another expansion bill is sitting on Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.
It should be noted, too, that school unions are pushing politicians hard on the issue, because they anticipate gaining members among child care workers and pre-K teachers.
So the die is cast, right? California will someday join a few other states in offering virtually universal early childhood education and reap the benefits in a narrowing, or even closure, of the achievement gap.
The former may occur, but the latter may not, a disturbing new study out of Tennessee’s Vanderbilt University indicates.
Tennessee has one of the nation’s more extensive early childhood education programs for low-income children. And Vanderbilt’s Peabody Research Institute was given a federal grant to gauge its impacts.
The exhaustive study compared youngsters receiving early childhood attention to a control group that didn’t. It found that initially, the kids included in the program had “significantly higher achievement scores on all six of the subtests, with the largest effects on the two literacy outcomes.”
However, the study team’s report added, “By the end of kindergarten, the control children had caught up to the (early education) children and there were no longer significant differences between them on any achievement measures. The same result was obtained at the end of first grade using both composite achievement measures.
“In second grade, however, the groups began to diverge with the (early childhood education) children scoring lower than the control children on most of the measures. The differences were significant on both achievement composite measures and on the math subtests.”
Tragically, in other words, the efforts devoted to raising the academic achievement of low-income children went for naught. Other factors, such as poverty and familial and peer influences, prevailed.
Before California spends billions on pre-kindergarten, perhaps the Capitol’s politicians should read the Vanderbilt study and consider whether the money would be better used elsewhere.