Pre-K fails in Tennessee

The benefits of Tennessee’s pre-K program for at-risk children disappeared by the end of kindergarten, concludes the TN-VPK Effectiveness Study. By the end of second grade, children who attended TN-VPK did worse on many achievement measures compared to the control group, Vanderbilt researchers found. The pre-K group did no better on non-academic measures.

All the children came from low-income families. The control group was made up of children whose parents applied for pre-K but didn’t get a slot.


Many of the pre-K grads and the controls attended low-performing schools. Most fell behind in reading and math in the early grades, the study found.

Tennessee rolled out pre-K quickly, said Dale Farran, co-principal investigator. Quality varies. “What might you get from the same pre-K program if you had a common vision and could push the quality up?”

On paper — if not in reality –TN-VPK is a high-quality program, writes Abbie Lieberman on EdCentral.

TN-VPK meets nine out of 10 of the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) quality benchmarks. The state requires teachers to have a bachelor’s degree with specialized training in pre-K, classes are small and have low student-teacher ratios, and the state has comprehensive early learning standards in place.

However, Tennessee spends only $5,895 per pre-K student. Oklahoma’s pre-K program, which spends $7,8678, “has been shown to have a positive impact on student achievement.”

Effective preschool programs don’t come cheap,  writes David Kirp, a professor of public policy at Berkeley, in the New York Times.

Consider what’s happening in Boston. A randomized study showed that prekindergartners there gained between four and seven months’ progress in reading and math, and those gains persisted: 27 percent more of Boston’s preschool children scored “proficient” or better on the state’s rigorous third-grade exams.

Boston spends $10,000 for each preschooler, according to Kirp. “You get what you pay for,” he concludes.

The kind of early childhood education that changes disadvantaged children’s learning trajectories is intensive and expensive. We might be able to afford it for the neediest kids, the ones who are not developing language skills and a base of knowledge at home. But, if it’s not going to be done well, why do it at all?

Universal pre-k may widen achievement gap

“Universal” pre-k could widen New York City’s achievement gap, writes Robert Pondiscio.

Mayor Bill de Blasio visited a prekindergarten class at Public School 130 in Lower Manhattan

Mayor Bill de Blasio visited a prekindergarten class at Public School 130 in Lower Manhattan

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s $300 million program to provide free, full-time pre-K to all children is not reaching the neediest children, reports Bruce Fuller, a Berkeley professor of education and public policy.

Mayor de Blasio’s pre-K program added only 195 kids from the bottom 20 percent of ZIP codes this fall, according to Fuller’s data. “Middle-income neighborhoods are showing the greatest gains in registration, while enrollments have actually fallen in nineteen of the city’s thirty-four poorest zip codes,” notes Pondiscio.

“We just don’t have the evidence to back why we would heavily finance pre-K in middle class and upper class communities,” Fuller told ProPublica. Children from low-income families need early education the most, he wrote earlier, but the city’s program advantages well-off communities.

38% of new grads: College was worth the cost

Half of college graduates — 38 percent of recent graduates — strongly believe their college education was worth the cost, according to the Gallup-Purdue Index.

Alumni of for-profit colleges were the most dissatisfied: Only 26 percent strongly agreed their postsecondary education was worth the cost.


Earnings of former for-profit college enrollees (not necessarily graduates) show wide variability, notes Clive Belfield’s analysis of College Scoreboard data. Top for-profit students earn more than the average four-year student, but low-percentile students earn much less.

The boxes show the middle 50 percent of colleges; the “whiskers” show the 10th and 90th percentiles.

There’s less variability for students who enrolled in community colleges, he writes. “Median earnings at community colleges are significantly below those of four-year colleges, but the top 25 percent of community colleges have median earnings that exceed the average four-year public college.”

Where will Malia go to college?

President Obama has told his 17-year-old daughter, Malia, “not to stress too much about having to get into one particular college,” he said last month. “Just because it’s not some name-brand, famous, fancy school doesn’t mean that you’re not going to get a great education there.”

Malia Obama wore a Stanford T-shirt last summer while biking with her father at Martha's Vineyard. Photo:  Nicholas Kamm, AFP

First Daughter Malia Obama wore a Stanford T-shirt while biking with her father at Martha’s Vineyard last summer. Photo: Nicholas Kamm, AFP

Malia Obama, a senior at the elite Sidwell Friends School, may be “the nation’s most eligible 2016 college applicant,” notes the New York Times.

So far, she’s “toured six of the eight Ivies — Brown, Columbia, Harvard, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania and Yale — as well as Stanford and the University of California, Berkeley. She has also visited New York University, Tufts, Barnard and Wesleyan.”

They’re all “name-brand, famous, fancy” schools. But she doesn’t really need a safety school.

Why I’ve stopped doing interviews for Yale

Ben Orlin at “Math With Bad Drawings” explains — with bad drawings — why he’s stopped doing alumni interviews with Yale applicants.

“In the last 15 to 20 years, Yale’s applicant pool has gone from ‘hypercompetitive’ to ‘a Darwinian dystopia so cutthroat you’d feel guilty even simulating it on a computer, just in case the simulations had emotions’,” writes Orlin.

The Common App’s demands are endless: “Write me a confessional essay. Document your leisure activities in meticulous detail. Muse on a philosophical question. Tell me what you love about my school. Give me testimonials from your teachers.”

Yale is either “peering into your very soul” or “gathering the data to build your robot doppelgänger,” he writes.

After all that, 94 percent of applicants are rejected, writes Orlin. “We’ve got a random process, disguised as a deliberative one.”

Psychologist Barry Schwartz proposes college admissions by lottery. “Every selective school should establish criteria [for admission],” writes Schwartz. “Then, the names of all applicants who meet these criteria would be put into a hat and the winners would be drawn at random.”

Orlin calls it “so crazy it’s gotta be right.”

Wouldn’t it work just as well — with a lot less angst?

Longer year boosts learning, widens gaps

Extending the school year would improve learning significantly — and widen achievement gaps, writes Seth Gershenson on Brookings’ Chalkboard.

That’s because high achievers benefit more than low achievers from additional learning time. His research is discussed in this IZA paper.

For kindergarteners in the 10th percentile of achievement, the effect of a 250-day school year is  about 0.75 of a standard deviation in math, while the average effect is 1.75 SD for those in the 90th percentile, he writes. Results are similar for reading.

This raises an intriguing question. Is equality (or less inequality) more important than boosting the performance of low achievers?

How videos build better readers

Games, videos and other digital media can improve children’s reading argues Tap, Click, Read, a new book by Lisa Guernsey and Michael Levine. Their work is funded by Campaign for Grade-Level Reading

“An alarming number of children in the United States never become good readers,” Guernsey tells NPR. More than two-thirds of fourth graders — 80 percent of children in low-income families — are not “proficient” readers.

Reading isn’t just about decoding skills, says Guernsey.  Children “need to be able to understand the words they read and have a base of knowledge (in art, science, social studies and beyond) to help them make inferences and connect the dots.”

Children can “build background knowledge at the tap of a screen,” says Levine. A child who’s reading about penguins in Antarctica, can watch a video to make sense of the words she’s decoding.

In Beyond “Turn It Off,” the American Academy of Pediatrics revises its advice to parents on media use.

Silent reading — a good use of class time?

Can We Talk About Sustained Silent Reading? asks Amber Rain Chandler, an eighth-grade teacher, writing on MiddleWeb.

She gives students “30 minutes of no-strings-attached reading”  once a week. Chandler wants students to enjoy reading — and they don’t enjoy writing about it.

But she worries that she’s wasting instructional time, as Mark Pennington argues in Why Sustained Silent Reading Doesn’t Work.

Chandler also worries that SSR is “solitary.” It’s not connected to what she’s teaching in class or to what other students are reading.

She believes “social reading” is important. (Does everything have to be social?)

So, each quarter her students will do “a project to share with the class” on one of the books they’ve read.  This will be an “enticement for others to read the book and perhaps a chance to connect with fellow students who’ve already read it.”

We used to call those “oral book reports.”

Many schools abandoned SSR 15 years ago  after the National Reading Panel found “insufficient evidence to indicate that silent, independent reading without feedback and guidance had a positive effect on fluency,” Ed Week reports. However, “many teachers are fiercely dedicated to giving students uninterrupted time for pleasure reading, saying it builds a lifelong love for books.”

I built my lifelong love for books by reading at home. OK, I read in school too, under my desk, when class was boring.

Poets’ kid takes an English exam

You’ve got a big English test coming up and two of the poets on the syllabus are your parents. Interviewed for a BBC program, Frieda Hughes, daughter of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, recalled telling her father that both parents’ works were in her O Level exam syllabus.

Ted and Frieda Hughes

Ted and Frieda Hughes

“I can tell you what I meant!” he said. He also offered to explain her late mother’s poetry.

Frieda feared the examiners would disagree with her father’s interpretation, even if she said, “I got it straight from the horse’s mouth. In fact I live with the horse.”

In the interview, she blasted “outsiders” for using her mother’s suicide to accuse her father of abusing women. (Six years after his wife’s death, Hughes’ mistress, Assia Wevill, killed herself and their child.)

Where kindergarten is the new preschool


In Finland, kindergarten is known as “preschool,” writes Tim Walker, an American who’s taught there. Children start school at six and learn by playing.

Once, Morning Circle—a communal  time of songs and chants—wrapped up, the children disbanded and flocked to the station of their choice: There was one involving fort-making with bed sheets, one for arts and crafts, and one where kids could run a pretend ice-cream shop.

“I’ll take two scoops of pear and two scoops of strawberry—in a waffle cone,” I told the two kindergarten girls who had positioned themselves at the ice-cream table; I had a (fake) 10€ bill to spend, courtesy of one of the teachers. As one of the girls served me—using blue tack to stick laminated cutouts of scoops together—I handed the money to her classmate.

. . . After a long pause, one of her teachers—perhaps sensing a good opportunity to step in—helped her calculate the difference between the price of my order and the 10€.

Once I received my change (a few plastic coins), the girls giggled as I pretended to lick my ice cream.

Many of her 15 students will learn to read by the end of the year, Anni-Kaisa Osei Ntiamoah told Walker. “We don’t push them but they learn just because they are ready for it.”

Kindergarten is “the new first grade” in the U.S., according to a University of Virginia study. As more time is spent on literacy, children spend less time on arts, music and child-selected activities, such as rotating between “stations.”

“The changes to kindergarten make me sick,” a veteran teacher in Arkansas told Walker in an e-mail.

(She described) three and a half hours of daily literacy instruction, an hour and a half of daily math instruction, 20 minutes of daily “physical activity time” (officially banned from being called “recess”) and two 56-question standardized tests in literacy and math — on the fourth week of school.

. . . (She) has fought to integrate 30 minutes of “station time” into the literacy block, which includes  “blocks, science, magnetic letters, play dough with letter stamps to practice words, books, and storytelling.”

Last year, the district tried to remove the “house station with dolls and toy food” from the classroom.