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February 7, 2007

Bad Data Justifies Nanny State Expansion


March 2nd report.

HF 585 Authors: Bly; Slawik; Murphy, E.; Wardlow; Morgan.

This bill had many, although not all of the same ugly features as HF 302.  It was heard in the House  Early Childhood Learning Finance Division on Tuesday, February 27th.  Due to the concerns raised by E-12 Committee Members and your work to say NO to the nanny state in all its various forms, the "delete-all" amendment changed the bill considerably.

The amendment removed the implementation of the 0-5 "Profile for Preschoolers" content standards, the kindergarten readiness assessment expansion via "AYP" provisions, and the references to mental health. The bill still contains increased funding for home visiting and ECFE, despite the fact that neither of these programs have been shown in studies to increase the cognitive development of children, and both are expensive and or invasive.  The focus of the bill still seems to be on the state telling parents how to raise children who "may be at risk of not being ready for kindergarten," which is not at all defined.  While EdWatch commended Rep. Bly for his responsiveness, those concerns remain and were stated in testimony. The bill was laid over possible inclusion in the omnibus early childhood finance bill. 

SF 579 Authors: Bonoff; Robling; Clark; Anderson.
Heard Monday, February 19, 2007 in the Senate Education Committee. It passed and was referred to the Senate Finance Committee. Senator Wergin has removed herself as an author of the bill. She is be thanked.
Heard in the Senate Finance Committee on Monday, February 26, 2007.

February 25th Report.

HF 585 was heard in the House E-12 Education Policy Committee on Feb 15th (link to full audio here). Some committee members on both sides of the aisle demonstrated serious reservations and even Chairman Carlos Mariani changed his recommendation from passing to sending it on to the Early Childhood Finance Committee without recommendation. It is scheduled to be heard in the House  Early Childhood Learning Finance Division on Tuesday, February 27th at 4:00 p.m. in Room 200 of the State Office Building.

SF 579 was heard Monday, February 19, 2007 in the Senate Education Committee. It passed and was referred to the Senate Finance Committee. Senator Wergin has removed herself as an author of the bill. She is be thanked.

Versions of the following testimony by Dr. Karen Effrem, pediatrician and Edwatch Board Member, were presented to two Minnesota House Committees on Thursday, February 2, 2007. They summarize the same early childhood issues that are being raised and debated in most states. Legislators rarely, if ever, hear the "rest of the story"  regarding the negative side of the early childhood data. They are being asked by groups that have large vested interests to spend millions, if not billions, of dollars for programs based on studies and assessments of dubious validity and effectiveness. For that reason, the information below may be useful for other states and other groups.

The first meeting (link to full audio here) was the House E-12 Education Committee, chaired by Rep. Carlos Mariani (DFL- St.Paul). (Notice that education, as defined by the legislature, no longer begins with kindergarten.) The second ( link to full audio here) was the House Early Childhood Learning Finance Division, chaired by Rep. Nora Slawik (DFL-Maplewood).

Excerpts from the Q & A at the 2nd meeting are posted below this testimony. Please share this information with your legislators.

[]   Dr. Karen Effrem
        Thank you Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee.  My name is Dr. Karen Effrem, I am a mother of three children, a pediatrician, and a policy analyst for EdWatch.  While we appreciate your concern for children, especially disadvantaged children, we would like to make you aware of other information and some of the potential unintended consequences that may come from that zeal to do good.
        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 Rolnicks 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
        The 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:         Why 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.

        Secondly, 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 Presidents 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 dont have the impacts advertised or positive results are more due to parental influence or involvement than on participation in the program. 

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

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 mothers IQ was a more powerful predictor of the childs IQ than participation in the program.
        No 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? Question and answer excerpts:
Q. Rep. Rob Eastlund [] (R-Cambridge), addressing Karen Carlson, Assistant Commissioner for Early Childhood with the Minnesota Dept. of Education and Tracy Wallace, a kindergarten teacher who trains teachers to give the Minnesota kindergarten readiness assessment:
"...This is a concern that I have.  And I am kind of going back to the chart that I mentioned earlier.  We see in this assessment that boys are labeled as less ready for kindergarten than girls.  If you look at our educational system as it moves along, you see that boys are labeled at about a 4:1 rate as having a learning disability  over girls.  When you look at children that are under some kind of medication, which is quite common, boys are almost always the ones that are on Ritalin when you look at the comparisons.  And just one more observation, and this is not a scientific observation, just an observation.  When I was in college, there was about a 60:40 split - male to female.  Today, it is about a 60:40 split female to male.  What we're seeing all the way along the process in the educational system, is we're seeing boys - young men - achieving less and less and less. And here at the earliest entry point, we're identifying boys as not being ready.  And my question is, and it's just a philosophical question, are we recognizing the differences that exist between boys and girls when we do these kinds of assessments or are we starting boys on a track for failure right out of the chute?...I have looked at the research.  I guess what I'm looking at is what we're doing.  There's nothing in what we do that even acknowledges that difference that research shows to exist...I don't see anything here that shows that we are trying to deal with it at all or even recognize it.  As we go into the system, the boys are being penalized because of it.
Asst. Commissioner Carlson did not give a response.

A: Ms. Wallace -
I guess I can only speak from my own personal perspective and the involvement that I've had.  I know that there is an awareness that boys and girls learn differently, and I know that there has been lots of training for teachers.  I think probably the best resolution for that is how that gets brought into the classroom and how teachers utilize that learning that was provided for them, and you know, reflect on that and figure out how they are going to respond to boys maybe in a different way than they respond to girls or provide different opportunities so that they can show their learning in ways that are appropriate to the two genders. That's my only response.
[EdWatch NOTE: The assessments and outcomes are skewed toward feminized characteristics that falsely over-identify boys as problem learners.This has profoundly deleterious consequences throughout the educational system as eloquently outlined by Rep. Eastlund.  The educational system is doing little or nothing to address this very serious issue as evidenced by the thoroughly inadequate response of Ms. Wallace.  Later, in her testimony Dr. Effrem spoke specifically of this problem in the assessment.]

Q. Rep. Ryan Winkler [] (DFL-Golden Valley), addressing Dr. Effrem:
Is it your position that these assessments can't be improved and need to be thrown out? Or they can be revamped or modified or improved in some way? And if neither of these is true, at what ages is it that we look for an assessment of development, another way of saying academic progress?
A. Dr. Effrem:
Representative Winkler, there are groups in the state that are saying that 50% of our children are not ready to learn. They are asking the legislature to spend millions and millions of dollars to expand programs, to expand testing, to expand outcomes that don't have a great deal of validity or effectiveness. All I'm suggesting is that, yes, we can use those kinds of assessments as a baseline for individual situations and that kind of thing. But to label 50% of our children as not ready is an exaggeration that should not be exploited to expand vested financial, policy, or power interests.
Q. Rep. Winkler:
This is really the only data that we have, so, the implication is that we shouldn't do anything to expand early childhood until we have a better measurement? I guess I just don't follow. Either we should take the best information we have and act accordingly, or we should basically say we don't have good information, so we should not do anything.
A. Dr. Effrem:
Maybe at another time I'd like to talk about the effectiveness of various early childhood programs. The incidences of concern by experts of actual harm to academic development and socioemotional development by spending too much time at too young an age away from one parent, and the long term situation that basically -- one statistic at 9th grade in international comparisons of reading, math and science. The United States 4th graders out scored their universally preschooled peers in those tests. It is not until 8th grade and then 12th grade when they fall to the middle and then the bottom of the international academic heap. So it speaks more to perhaps not a need for more preschool, as much as making some significant repairs to K-12. And the number of children in preschool programs has increased significantly since 1965. And yet, our standardized test scores, like the National Assessment of Educational Progress has essentially remained flat. So if preschool is that wonderful, why hasn't there been an improvement in the test scores? That's what I'll leave you with, and I'd be happy to talk more about this in detail, and I have lots of quotes and references if you're interested.
For more information, see also:
  Response to Ready4K's Misinformation  4/27/05  (pdf)
 Kids as Investments
 Commentary on Baby Ed

 Child Care Credentialing and NAEYC's Anti-Bias Curriculum
DVD, "Shrinks in the Nursery: The Merging of Mental Health and Preschool

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952-361-4931 www.edwatch.org - edwatch@lakes.com

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