Home > Uncategorized > What Pre-School SHOULD Be… AND we can fund it!

What Pre-School SHOULD Be… AND we can fund it!

February 16, 2013

Yesterday I posted my reaction to David Brooks’ Friday column “When Families Fail”, including a quote that I believe captures the breadth of the problem schools face when educating children raised in poverty:

This is rude to say, but here’s what this is about: Millions of parents don’t have the means, the skill or, in some cases, the interest in building their children’s future. Early childhood education is about building structures so both parents and children learn practical life skills. It’s about getting kids from disorganized homes into rooms with kids from organized homes so good habits will rub off. It’s about instilling achievement values where they are absent.

Here’s what is frustrating: we have several model programs that work, programs that justifiably cost more than typical K-12 programs because they intervene early and comprehensively. Because these programs have a huge price tag and involve the “government intervening into the life of the nuclear family”, they are never presented as solutions because “more study is needed”.

Thursday’s Advancing New Hampshire Public Education blog posted a nine-minute PBS News Hour video from 2011  describing one early intervention program in Chicago that works. The video, put together by John Merrow, opens with a visual illustration of the difference between a middle class family’s resource rich environment, dominated by verbal interaction between the mother and father and their child, and a lower class family’s spartan environment, dominated by a large screen television where one child plays a video game while two others watch. After presenting data on the school-to-prison pipeline, noting that prison costs $30,000/year per inmate, the video cuts to Diana Rauner’s Ounce of Prevention “Educare” program for children. Educare is offered beginning at six weeks of age because “the first 1000 days are the most important”  and is offered 11 hours per day every day of the year because that schedule accommodates parents who work. It costs $19,000 per year. This comprehensive wraparound program is then contrasted with a Head Start program, currently funded by ARRA. The Head Start program costs $4,000/year for 3 and 4 year old children and is offered 180 days per year.

Which program gets the best results? You guessed it: Educare… hands down. The students who have completed the program are indistinguishable from students from middle income homes on the Kindergarten screenings in Chicago. Which program is presented as an example of a “failed federal initiative”? You guessed it: Head Start, because there is no solid evidence that it makes a difference based on years of conflicting results from studies.

What would is cost to provide an Educare-like to all of the children in Chicago who need it? According to the data presented in the video, 9,000 children would meet the criteria of children who would benefit from the intensive intervention Educare provides. 9,000 students times $19,000 per year yields an annual cost of $171,000,000… and that’s for 2.5% of the children in one region: Chicago. A broad-brush estimate of the cost to provide an Educare program for all pre-school children who are being raised in poverty in the US would be 11,400,000,000 per year for 600,000 of the neediest children in our country. This seems affordable since this is one tenth of the annual cost of the war in Afghanistan, our latest nation building effort. So we CAN fund a quality pre-school starting at birth for all children born into poverty.

%d bloggers like this: