Pre-K won’t close achievement gap

Universal pre-K won’t solve the vocabulary gap (or inequality), writes Kay Hymowitz in Time. There’s no substitute for stable, nurturing families.

Two-year-olds from high-income families know many more words than two-year-olds from low-income families, according to a new study that confirms earlier research. Language Gap Study Bolsters a Push for Pre-K, reported the New York Times on the front page.

The idea that pre-K can compensate for family break down is “the preschool fairy tale,” writes Hymowitz.

It’s true that good preschools raise the math and reading scores of disadvantaged kids. The problem is that the gains are almost always temporary.  Study after study of every kind of program since Head Start first came on line in the 1960’s to recent state wide programs in Georgia and Oklahoma has concluded that, with the lonely exception of third grade boys’ math scores in Tulsa, cognitive gains “fade out” by third grade, probably because subpar schools and an unsupportive environment at home were unable to help pre-K kids take advantage of those gain.

Researchers now argue that preschool has the potential to create lasting benefits in students’ “soft skills” such as  attentiveness and self-control.

Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman, one of early childhood education’s most prominent advocates, has argued that because soft skills are vital to labor market and life success, under some conditions preschools have actually been able to reduce welfare dependency, teen pregnancy, and crime rates, while also improving educational outcomes and earnings. At least one study has estimated that the resulting higher tax revenues, lower imprisonment and welfare costs have created a return of nearly 13 dollars for every preschool dollar spent.

. . . Heckman’s findings are based on several small, model programs from the 1960’s. The most famous and influential of them, the Perry Preschool in Ypsalanti, Michigan, involved only 58 children.  It takes a heavy dose of wishful thinking to assume that states are any more capable of creating a large system of Perry quality preschools than they have been of designing networks of high quality K-12 schools.

Even if that were possible, it would close the achievement gap, she writes. Perry graduates did better than the control group, but much worse than children from middle or working-class families.  And “these mediocre gains were not passed on to the next generation.”

The first two children of Perry grads (there’s no data on later siblings) were just as likely as the children of non Perry-ites to go on welfare, drop out of school, and to get arrested; their earnings were also similarly anemic.

In other words, the graduates of the best preschool designed for low income kids we’ve ever had in the United States  grew up to become low skilled, low income single parents, less costly to society than others without their early educational advantage, but equally likely to raise children who would cycle back into poverty.

“It’s parents, not formal education, that makes the difference for young children’s readiness for school and success once they get there,” Hymowitz concludes.

If Mama ain’t functional, ain’t nobody functional.

‘College isn’t for us’

“College isn’t for us,” Skylar Myers’ friend Randall told her in seventh grade when she talked about her private school’s College Day. In eighth grade, while she was applying for high school scholarships, Randall was arrested for the first time, Myers writes in the Hechinger Report.
Skylar Myers
Her other friends from the block — Miguel, Malik, Shaquencia and Jonathan — never made it to college. Their future held teen pregnancies, arrests, dropping out of school.

Myers’ parents weren’t college educated, but they made their only child’s education a priority. Her father taught her to read at 2 and started multiplication at 4. And they sent her to private school.

“I just thought you were some type of special case,” Randall said years later. “Your daddy was around and caring [about your educational needs]… if any of us had to go it would be you.”

Randall went to inner-city schools. He joined a gang, so he’d feel safe. He dropped out of high school and earned a GED. After three stints in jail, he was sent to prison. “I’ve always been just as smart as you, but . . . outside the understanding of what’s normally accepted as ‘smart’ or ‘intelligent,’” he told his “homie.”

Myers earned a film studies degree from the University of California in San Diego.

Poor kids, good teachers

Teachers can make a difference for low-income students, writes Eric Jensen in Ed Week.

Jensen, the author of Engaging Students with Poverty in Mind, just finished a study of 12 high-poverty schools. Half scored in the top quartile in their state; the other half were in the lowest quartile. The demographics were the same for the high and low performers. The values were similar.

When I offered statements such as, “I believe in my kids,” both school staffs said, “I strongly agree.” So, what was different?

It’s not poverty that makes the difference; it was the teachers. The difference was that the high-performing teachers actually “walked the walk.” First, the classroom and school climate was MUCH better at the high-performers. Secondly, the teachers at the high-performing schools didn’t complain about kids not “being smart” or being unmotivated. They made it a priority and built engagement, learning, thinking and memory skills every day. In short, they didn’t make excuses; they just rolled up their sleeves and built better student brains.

His list of “what we have learned (so far) to boost student achievement in high-poverty schools” includes:

High expectations are not enough. Help students set crazy high goals, and then actively point out to them how their daily actions connect to their long-term goals.

The most important cognitive skills to build are: 1) reasoning, 2) working memory, and 3) vocabulary usage.

Increase feedback on the learning and zero it in on the specifics of effort used, strategies applied or attitude engaged.

A positive attitude is “priceless,” if it leads to action, Jensen adds. If it doesn’t, it’s “useless.”

Milwaukee is worse than Mississippi

Milwaukee is worse for black kids than Mississippi, writes Michael Holzman in Dropout Nation.

Thirteen percent of black men 18 to 64  in Wisconsin are in prison, the highest rate in any state, according to a BBC video, Why does Wisconsin send so many black people to jail?  “Over half the black men in Milwaukee County are now or have been in prison, Holzman writes.

Black families in Milwaukee are no better off financially than in Mississippi, according to Holzman.”If an average black family moved from Milwaukee to Mississippi, their children would probably have a slightly better chance of learning to read by the time they left school,” he writes. They’d be more likely to graduate from high school. In Mississippi, a black family’s young men are “less than half as likely to spend time in prison” compared to young black men in Milwaukee.

Job 1: Educating for self-sufficient citizenship

Education young people to be self-sufficient citizens is Job 1 for public education, writes Mike Petrilli on Ed Week‘s Bridging Differences.

“College and career” readiness isn’t enough,he writes. We need citizenship readiness. (Citizenship First suggests that every high school graduate should be able to pass the U.S. Naturalization Exam. See how you do here.)

The most basic requirement of citizenship is self-sufficiency, Petrilli argues.

If we haven’t prepared our young people to be financially self-sufficient once they finish their educations, we have failed our most fundamental duty. And the “we” is meant to be inclusive: our education system, our social service agencies, our families, our churches, all of us.

There are two ways to help children, writes Derek Thompson in The Atlantic. We can try to “make bad parents less relevant” or “make bad parents less bad.”  He puts preschool and education reform in the first category; home visits and parent training — which smack of “Big Mother” — are in the second.

These programs “help at the margins but they aren’t breaking the cycle of poverty,” writes Petrilli.

Let me float a third option: A renewed effort to encourage young, uneducated, unemployed women to delay childbearing until they are ready–emotionally, financially–to start a family. Let’s promote a simple rule: Don’t have babies until you can afford them. If everybody in America followed this rule, most long-term child poverty would disappear, and parenting would improve dramatically.

. . . Social scientists have long known about the “success sequence”: Finish your education, get a job, get married, start a family. Stick to that sequence and you avoid poverty, and so do your kids.

Petrilli asks Deborah Meier, the other half of the Bridging Differences dialogue, if schools can encourage students to follow the “success sequence.” Offer effective pregnancy prevention programs?

Should we consider paying low-income individuals to put off childrearing? Mayor Bloomberg is already experimenting with cash incentives to encourage all manner of positive behaviors. Maybe offer “25 by 25″: All young men and women who graduate from high school get a post-secondary credential, get a job, and avoid a pregnancy and a prison record get $25,000 in cash at the age of twenty-five. Is that worth trying?

Or is the best way for schools to tackle this issue simply to provide a top-grade education to their charges? To instill in them the “hope in the unseen” that they, too, can aspire to college, to a good career, to an early adulthood full of intellectual and social and emotional challenges and experiences, not to include parenthood (yet)?

I wish schools would teach this statistic: Ninety percent of children born to an unmarried teen-ager who hasn’t finished high school will grow up in poverty. If the mother waits to have her first child till she finishes high school, turns 20 and marries, the risk her children will be poor is 9 percent. They could add the stats on the percentage of unmarried fathers are supporting or visiting their children after the first few years.

There needs to be more focus on showing young men from low-income single-parent families how to qualify for a decent job with or without a college degree. One path to success– a bachelor’s degree or bust — isn’t enough.

Update: When parents have conversations with their children, it makes a huge difference, writes Annie Murphy Paul. Robert Pondiscio responds:  ”On my bucket list of ed projects: a PSA campaign to inform low-income parents on the benefits of reading to kids and engaging them in conversation. Cognitive development classes in inner-city hospitals can teach inner city parents the habits that more affluent parents do reflexively. And if the Gates Foundation wants to help, let’s get low-cost books — say 25 cents apiece — into inner city bodegas.”

Where the poor go to college

“Higher education is divided into high-poverty and low-poverty colleges,” an analysis finds. Low-income students are concentrated in community colleges and for-profit four-year colleges. Graduation rates are low.

A free lunch for college students?

Give low-income college students a free or reduced-price breakfast and lunch to raise their odds of success,  proposes a University of Wisconsin professor.

A school that puts physical education first

Physical education comes first at Urban Dove Team Charter School in a low-income Brooklyn neighborhood, reports CBS News. High school students spend the first three hours of every day working out with their team mates and coaches.

They play basketball, lift weights, jump rope, use punching bags, ride bikes, and do yoga. Students rotate sports depending on the season.

. . . When kids go to Social Studies, English and Math, their coaches go with them . . . sitting in class, helping with homework, and sorting out problems.

If a student walks out of class, coach Alana Arthurs follows to ask “What’s wrong?” She wants to know “how can I get you back in the classroom so you can continue to learn.”

Ninety-three percent of students come from low-income families; one third are in special education. The school recruits “overage/under-credited students” with poor attendance records.

Jai Nanda developed the school after running an after-school sports program for inner-city kids, Urban Dove. He saw teens who’d attend school only if they were playing on a sports team. When the season ended, they stopped showing up.

Three hours a day for sports is an awful lot, but nothing else has worked for these kids.

ABC’s by Halloween for all kindergarteners

Should All Kindergartners Know Their Letters by Halloween? asks Peter DeWitt in Education Week. ”Even children from high-poverty and limited literacy homes” can do it, if properly taught, says Dick Allington, a University of Tennessee education professor.

What struggling readers need is more and better reading instruction not a different sort of reading lesson. In my view schools need to adopt a curriculum framework that everyone will use with all students. This includes remedial, special education and ELL teachers.

Learning disabilities are a myth, Allington believes.

I think what we have learned in the past two decades is that there are some kids teachers give up on and then largely ignore. These kids get labeled LD. So for a total of how many students have an actual disability, I’ll go with 3%. That pretty much covers all the severe disabilities (blindness, deafness, severe mental impairment, etc.).

Here’s Allington’s take on effective reading instruction.

Study: Waivers leave behind at-risk students

“At-risk students could fall through the cracks” as federal waivers let states ignore No Child Left Behind’s accountability rules, according to an analysis by the Campaign for High School Equity.

Forty states, the District of Columbia and a group of California districts have received Education Department waivers.

. . . students who are at the highest risk of dropping out – those from poor families, students whose native language is not English, those with learning disabilities and minority students – are often no longer tracked as carefully as they were before (Arne) Duncan began exempting states from some requirements if they promised to better prepare their students for college or careers.

“It appears to us that waivers could lead to fewer students of color receiving the support they need,” said Rufina Hernandez, executive director for the campaign, a coalition of civil rights groups.