Tuesday, February 12, 2013

You Won't Hear Me Cheering


































Tonight, President Obama in his State of the Union address is expected to announce that his administration is going to make early childhood eduction a priority in his second term. According to speculation this may mean adopting all or part of a plan by the Center for American Progress to create universal preschool with a price tag that could reach nearly $100 billion in the next decade.

Holy cow! What's not to love about that? I'm guessing this will be met with cheers right across the political spectrum, at least judging by recent efforts by both Democratic and Republican governors to expand preschool access for their citizens. There will be naysayers, of course, but achieving his goals on this will not likely be among Obama's biggest headaches. 

But it has me worried. Despite the exciting prospect of that much money being directed toward early childhood education, and despite how critically important these early years are, this administration doesn't have a particularly inspiring record when I comes to education policy. I've written extensively on this blog about how the education department under the leadership of Secretary Arne Duncan has adopted much of what I call "the corporate education reform agenda" including increased standardized testing, an over-reliance on direct instruction, longer classroom days, larger classes, de-professionalized teachers (e.g., union busting), privatized schools (e.g., charters/vouchers), reduced access to arts, music, humanities, and physical education, and a desire to push increasingly academic and developmentally inappropriate curriculum standards into lower and and lower grades. It's an agenda that is being driven not by data and research -- because if it was the administration's policies would have a vastly different look -- but by the greed of for-profit enterprises pushing policies that will most quickly fill their coffers.

I'm quite certain that with $100 billion on the table, these corporate "reformers" will be the ones clapping the loudest.

Nowhere is this corrupt influence more evident than in what is called the Common Core State Standards, and particularly those being forced upon children in the K-3 early years. According to a critique written by Edward Miller (teacher and co-author of Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in School) and Nancy Carlsson-Paige (professor emerita of early childhood education at Lesley University and author of Taking Back Childhood) that appeared recently in the Washington Post:

Recent critiques of the Common Core Standards . . . (have) noted that the process for creating the new K-12 standards involved too little research, public dialogue, or input from educators . . . Nowhere was this more startlingly true than in the case of the early childhood standards -- those imposed on kindergarten through grade 3. We reviewed the makeup of the committees that wrote and reviewed the Common Core Standards. In all, there were 135 people on those panels. Not a single one of them was a K-3 classroom teacher or early childhood professional.

In other words, it was a committee packed with politicians and business executives, many of whom working for or investing in companies that produce text books, standardized tests, and curricula. This has been this administration's pattern on education policy on every front, listening to the sales pitch from salesmen, while totally ignoring research:

The promoters of the standards claim they are based in research. They are not. There is no convincing research, for example, showing that certain skills or bits of knowledge (such as counting to 100 or being able to read a certain number of words) if mastered in kindergarten will lead to later success in school. Two recent studies show that direct instruction can actually limit young children's learning. At best, the standards reflect guesswork, not cognitive or developmental science.

I will go farther. I don't think it's guesswork at all. It looks to me like these people are quite certain that these standards will redirect large chunks of our education budgets into their own pockets. And now it appears there will an additional $100 billion pot into which they cannot wait to get their greasy hands. Rest assured, if states are going to see a penny of this money, like with "Race To The Top" funds, it will only be if they agree to spend it on what these guys are selling. And what they're selling is bad for children even while it's good for profits.

So you won't hear me cheering when the president speaks of universal preschool tonight, even while I support the concept in principle. I will, instead, be digging in for what will most certainly be a fight to prevent corporations from using our own money to turn our children into a drill and kill labor force in the service of profit over education.

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12 comments:

Shelley @Little Explorers said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who feels this way. I have been lucky enough to be in preschool and child care facility that values play and encourages children's interests and creativity. But, I only have two more year until my little one, who thrives in this environment, goes to kindergarten. I have no idea what I am going to then with our limited choices.

Nancy Flanagan said...

Bravo. Sharing widely.

Christi said...

Very well spoken. You won't hear me cheering either, but for somewhat different reasons - as a homeschooling family I am concerned about what this means for us overall. I fear that an end to homeschooling is coming - because if children aren't in the system, how are they to be programmed? And I don't mean that in a creepy, over-the-top, they're-out-to-get-me kind of way. But homeschoolers are known, whether always accurate or not, for being "free thinkers" and that is DEFINITELY not something this administration values.

Faigie said...

When I hear about that I just think "get ready for more workbooks and worksheets for the preschool classrooms"

Cathy Fuentes-Rohwer said...

Fantastic post, Teacher Tom. Your fears are very substantiated. When the same administration who supports Arne Duncan's Race to the Top of the Test Score Mountain and privatize public schools as you go agenda begins to tout preschool.. be afraid. Be very afraid. This "race" is affecting all of our children. Hardest hit are our inner city children whose education has never been fully supported financially in order to address the myriad of ways that their poverty and situation affects their learning. But even in the rest of the schools, like the kids in my college town, the race is affecting our kids' experience. I have four children and I have spent the last two years here in Indiana trying to raise awareness around this attempt to turn our system of public education into for-profit venture, not the place where children from different cultures and backgrounds come together to find their passions and potentials--and learn to be citizens. I recently blogged about this "race" and its effects hoping to further the conversation. What is the purpose of public schools? : http://icpe-mcsci.blogspot.com/2013/02/choosing-public-schools.html And I want to thank you so much for raising awareness around this BIG picture of the education of our children. We need to work together to fight for their childhood in so many ways, it's reaffirming to read your child-centered thoughtful blog. Thank you!

Rebekah P said...

Uggghhh.. as someone who has a child in a public preschool program, I can say that I think that the way it is run is a big, fat waste of money. It's just another guise to basically erase kindergarten as it should be since public preK has become what kindergarten once was, and now kindergarten is not preparation for elementary for social skills at all. Kindergarten is now ALL academics.

You know what I would be for is having qualified child minders at all local parks for preschool children to play. At least in my area, the parks are void of children over the age of 3, and that really saddens me.

Tina said...

As disheartening as it is, I'm comforted by the fact that I'm not the only one who recognizes this "reform" for what it is.

francifularts said...

This post is spot on! Love the comments too! Heard a great line today. Education is supposed to be lighting a fire not filling a pot. Those of us supporting children as individuals that thrive on play, creative activities, movement, singing, dancing, and the outdoors have to step up to the plate before there is no plate!

Anonymous said...

This proposal has the potential to benefit the children who currently are enrolled in poor quality care - however ,the benefits very much depend upon HOW quality is defined, WHO defines it and HOW it is evaluated - all very important questions.....

Rocco Versaci said...

Thanks for this post. I'm so disappointed that with all of the changes President Obama is making to his cabinet, he sees Arne Duncan as a keeper. Such a misstep for progressive educational reform.

BPF said...

I totally agree about the Obama administration -- he may go down as the drone president who killed public education.

Still, I think universal pre-K is necessary. I'm a guy who wrote a book on how research is ignored, misrepresented and misused, but you have to at least set up the system. The quality of day care for most working parents is so low at this point.

But your warning is a good one -- I feel that President Obama and the democrats have betrayed perhaps the greatest trust we have and our greatest accomplishment as a nation, creating schools that are free and, while not without flaws, work.

Laura said...

It is so frustrating, because high quality universal preschool would be so great. Yet I fear the exact same thing. I was discussing this with friends, and when the conversation was over I felt deflated. Should we say that universal preschool shouldn't be a goal, because we know it will turn out poorly?

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