Bartik vs. Whitehurst on Universal Government Pre-K

By Andrew J. Coulson, Director of Cato’s Center for Educational Freedom

Advocates and critics of universal government Pre-K strongly disagree about what the research shows. Upjohn Institute economist and government Pre-K advocate Tim Bartik, for instance, has a very different view of that research from Russ Whitehurst, an early education expert at the Brookings Institution who is critical of the case for universal government Pre-K.

At least some of that disagreement is illusory, because Bartik and Whitehurst are asking different questions. Bartik argues that a few high-quality early education programs have shown lasting success. Whitehurst wants to know about the long term effects of large scale Pre-K programs, particularly government programs. Bartik is right that there are two early education programs in particular, High Scope/Perry and Abecedarian, that showed substantial long term benefits. But these were tiny programs operated by the people who had designed them and serving only a few dozen or a few score children. Since it is difficult to massively replicate any service without compromising its quality, the results of these programs cannot be confidently generalized to large scale government Pre-K programs.

USA Science & Engineering Festival

Lockheed Martin is sponsoring a free expo this year that has over 3000 hands-on activities, 150 entertainment shows, college/career fair and book fair. The expo takes place at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center on April 26 & 27 in Washington D.C.

Some of the hands-on exhibits at the USA Science & Engineering Festival include:

2014 Private School Choice Programs

The 2014 edition of The ABCs of School Choice: The Comprehensive Guide to Every Private School Choice Program in America is the latest analysis of all existing private school choice programs by the Friedman Foundation.

Student Engagement Numbers Point to School Choice

My school is committed to building the strengths of each student. 

I have at least one teacher who makes me excited about the future.

These are key statements from the 2013 Gallup Student Poll. According to the Gallup scientists, students who strongly agreed with both of the above statements were 30 times more likely to be emotionally engaged at school than those who strongly disagreed.

The poll also reported that:

  • 66 percent of students feel stuck or discouraged by their ability to succeed at school and beyond.
  • 45 percent of students are not engaged or — even worse — are actively disengaged while at school.
  • Only 33 percent of students in grades five through 12 are “success ready,” meaning they scored highly on measures of hope, engagement, and well-being.

The Gallup poll presents these statistics as something to be excited about, enthusiastically reporting that over half of students feel engaged. Yet we are leaving 45 percent of our students feeling disengaged, 66 percent with bleak outlooks on their future, and failing to ensure that 67 percent of our students are prepared to succeed. Somehow, I am not seeing a lot to celebrate.

Faced with these statistics, let us look at the phrases again: one focuses on individualized education, while the other is pleading for effective, exciting teachers.

Private school choice could be the answer to both, considering that:

  • School choice allows students to connect with schools and teachers that best fit their learning styles.
  • When students can choose their schools, schools work harder to bring new students in, creating effective, engaging lesson plans.

If we are truly interested in engaging our students in the education process, we must foster an environment conducive to learning. Allowing students to choose the school that makes them the most comfortable and best fits their needs could be a good way to ensure that happens.

What methods would you suggest to make sure students stay engaged? Did you have an exciting experience or teacher that inspired you in school?

One of the Many Diminsions of ‘the Blob’

Context is everything. Whether a program improves student learning very likely depends on the system it is embedded in; it’s context. It may be that a lot of efforts to improve student learning have failed because of the U.S. system’s key elements, especially the Roots of the Problem of low performance; Nation at Risk outcomes. Many of those efforts might have worked in a different system; that is, with a different set of funding and governance policies. But little, if anything, survives “the blob;” a popular, derogatory metaphor for the anti-reform education establishment initially dubbed the blob by Reagan Administration Education Secretary William Bennett.

The April 3 blog post by the Cato Institute’s Andrew Coulson described two such efforts, pre-K and Head Start. In theory, programs like Head Start and Pre-K — at least Pre-K targeted at children with poor home environments — should produce measurable benefits. But no large scale efforts (more in the April 15 blog post) have, which can be the result of politically correct design or implementation flaws; that is, government-run pre-K will suffer the same kinds of debilitating political imperatives that have increasingly crippled the K-12 system. But with such a near-universal failure to detect positive effects “downstream,” apparent Head Start and Pre-K ineffectiveness is more likely the result of the low-performing school system that enroll most Pre-K and Head Start graduates. Pre-K and Head Start may create 5-year-olds better prepared for Kindergarten, but the K-12 system’s shortcomings prevent the improvement in some 5-year-olds from being seen in better educated 18-year-olds.  Measurable program effects often dissipate in much less than 13 years.

Some of the other policies and programs that seem like they should produce positive measurable effects, but haven’t (like increased spending), have been discussed previously, and others like teacher merit pay will arise in future blog posts.

School Choice Increases Property Values

A recent study concludes that school choice increases local property values in New York City by $37 billion, says Ashley Bateman of the Heartland Institute.

Looking at New York City, the study by Robert J. Shapiro and Kevin A. Hassett showed that student performance increased with the expansion of charter schools. Not only did graduation rates rise, but net income and housing demand in those neighborhoods also increased.

  • In all, the authors found that the opening of a new charter school led to a 3.7 percent increase in home prices in the same zip code, just a year later.
  • From 2006 to 2012, graduation rates increased 11.3 percent, leading to a $37.1 billion increase in residential housing values.
  • The addition of charter schools created more than $22 billion in housing value increases.

Government Pre-K Advocates, Please Mingle Reason with your Passion

By Andrew J. Coulson, Director of Cato’s Center for Educational Freedom:

A New York Times story touts growing nationwide support for expanded government Pre-K, from the Obama Administration at the federal level to state legislators and governors of both parties. The passion of government Pre-K advocates is evident, and no doubt they truly wish to help children, but their proposed solutions are based on a non-sequitur.

The central premises of government Pre-K advocates are that:

  1. Modern neuroscience shows that early learning is important.
  2. One or two highly intensive 1960s early-education programs serving a few dozen or a few score children (particularly one called “High Scope/Perry”), had significant and lasting benefits.

From these premises, advocates jump to the conclusion that expanding federal and state government provision of Pre-K will yield significant, lasting benefits for the children served and society at large. That conclusion simply does not follow. In order for it to follow from the above premises, it would also be necessary to show that large-scale government Pre-K programs will effectively harness the opportunities neuroscience has identified, substantially replicating the benefits attributed to, say, High Scope/Perry.

Clearing the Air: Vouchers and ESAs

Last month, the Arizona Supreme Court upheld the state’s Education Savings Account (ESA) program, which Arizona calls the Empowerment Scholarship Accounts. While many celebrated, others stewed; some seem to feel that Arizona’s ESAs are just another voucher program.

Let me assure you: They are not. But it is easy to see where the confusion is coming from. The differences between vouchers and ESAs can be confusing. So let’s clear it up.

What are vouchers?

Vouchers are grants meant to go towards the cost of a child’s tuition. Vouchers are highly regulated and come with a lot of strings attached. Once a student has applied to a school, they can apply for a voucher. The voucher is generally tied to tuition and tuition only:

tuition tube

The Separate Realities Smoking Gun

On March 13, I speculated that Charles Glenn’s wariness of market accountability for schooling could be the result of a distorted view of markets in action for schooling; a result of relying on lousy experiments, especially the price controlled, low-income-targeted Milwaukee tuition voucher program. Reaching the same conclusion for Mike Petrilli’s assertion that market forces have done the job was a little less speculative. Now we have the “Smoking Gun” in the hands of Petrilli’s colleague, Kathleen Porter-Magee. She wrote:

Take, for instance, the experience in Milwaukee, where the nation’s first voucher program demonstrated that market forces alone weren’t enough to drive quality, particularly in urban areas that serve predominantly poor and minority students.

But Milwaukee’s schooling “markets” are severely distorted by the absence of nearly all of the key characteristics of high performing markets; scarcity-driven price change, profit potential, no entry barriers. Eligibility is capped at low income and for a long time participation was capped at a small fraction of the eligible. If we keep giving school system reform opponents quotes from school system reform supporters saying that markets have disappointed, we will make the most promising reform strategy, true market accountability, politically infeasible.

One of the things we need to do is give up on the things that have not budged the school system off of persistent failure, including things that could work in a different system. True market accountability is not one of the things that have been tried and failed. Primary and secondary education with true market accountability has yet to be tried in modern times, anywhere, even as an experiment; something difficult to do as an official experiment because the aura of possible cancellation will stifle many of the entrepreneurial responses to real market conditions. We learned that from the Edgewood experience. We saw some market entry and rivalry at first, but with low capital commitments, when permanence was perceived as a possibility. Then when termination of the Edgewood vouchers was seen on the horizon, outcomes gradually lapsed back to the low performance, one-size-for-all school system norm.

Latest CDC Report Shows Need for Education Reform

In 2010, 1 in 68 children were identified as having an autism spectrum disorder, according to a Center for Disease Control report released Friday. This represents a whopping increase from 2000, when the number was only 1 in 150. Additionally, boys were found to be 5 times more likely to have an autism spectrum disorder than girls.

Autism numbers aren’t the only thing on the rise: K-12 total expendituresper student have risen 20 percent, from $9,292 in 2000 to $11,184 per student by 2010.

The 2003 Special Education Expenditure Project analyzed the total expenditures for students with disabilities and by category in 2000. Special education services added $11,543 per students with autism with a total of $12,773 per student with autism in 2000.

If we did a projection for the total expenditures per student with autism in 2010, we could expect:

These projections give us an estimated total of $9,196,560,000 in special education spending solely for students with autism.

A study by the Thomas Fordham Institute calculated that $10 billion a year could be saved if the spending for special education staff dropped to align with the national median.

Real reforms in education can really alleviate public school districts from many problems and funding issues. A well-structured universal private school choice option for students identified with autism and reforms to the funding structure of special education spending are both good starts to real reforms.