California is set to introduce “transitional kindergarten,” something in between pre-K and kindergarten for four-year-olds who might otherwise enroll in kindergarten. The bill has passed the legislature and is waiting to be signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Over at Flypaper, Chester Finn, an ardent critic of universal pre-K, is lambasting the plan. He’s worried the state is introducing universal pre-K “by stealth,” something he opposes in favor of programs targeted at disadvantaged children. He questions whether the program, which is billed as a money saver, won’t actually end up costing more and also seems worried that private providers could be hurt by the plan.
Finn suggests the plan could be part of a “grand conspiracy to enlarge the public education monopoly and employ more teachers.” Meanwhile, however, the California Teachers Association is neutral on the bill, according to the LA Times story, saying they want more flexibility for school districts and parents.
The program is projected to serve 120,000 kids. Supporters are saying it will be particularly helpful to low-income parents, who can’t afford to pay for an extra year of preschool if their children aren’t ready for kindergarten. Often, these are the parents whose incomes are too high for Head Start, but too low to afford private preschool. It also could give a boost to English language learners, one official said.
In a related item, a survey by Preschool California (which is in favor of expanding public preschool access) found that two thirds of Latino voters “think the state is doing too little to ensure all children have access to affordable high-quality preschool.”
As EarlyStories anticipated, it didn’t take long for opposition to Chester Finn’s opinions on universal pre-kindergarten to emerge. Finn’s op-ed, “Slow the Preschool Bandwagon,” appeared on May 15 in the Washington Post, introducing some of the arguments against universal pre-k that appear in his new book, “Reroute the Preschool Juggernaut.’‘
Finn, a former assistant secretary of education who is president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation,has already generated two letters of objection, and Sara Mead of Early Ed Watch questioned some of his assertions this week as “just plain wrong.”
Finn responded here.
Finn’s views are not expected to be popular at a time when politicians and President Barack Obama are pushing government to fund pre-school, but they must be considered by journalists who are exploring pre-k issues and need to understand the arguments against expansion.
Susan Urahn, managing director of the Pew Center on the States, said Finn had “inaccurately assessed the effort to secure high-quality, voluntary pre-kindergarten education,” noting that it would be wrong to focus such programs only on low-income students.
And W. Steven Barnett of the National Institute for Early Education Research weighed in, noting that Finn’s approach is not one the U.S. can afford at a time when 1 in 10 children are dropping out of high school. “….good state pre-K programs improve the readiness of all students,” Barnett wrote.
Universal Pre-K for all? Not so fast, says Chester E Finn Jr., a former assistant secretary of education and president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.
At a time when politicians from President Barack Obama to governments are pushing the concept that all American children should receive at least a year of government funded pre-school and being applauded for their position, Finn is urging skepticism in a new book, entitled: “Reroute the Preschool Juggernaut.”
“For all its surface appeal, universal preschool is an unwise use of tax dollars,” Finn writes this week in the Washington Post. “In a time of ballooning deficits, expansion of preschool programs would use large sums on behalf of families that don’t need this subsidy while not providing nearly enough help to the smaller number of children who need it most. It fails to overhaul expensive but woefully ineffectual efforts such as Head Start.”
Finn’s views are likely to be challenged and questioned in the coming weeks — as they almost always are. Yet it’s important for journalists covering pre-kindergarten to be aware of arguments against universal pre-kindergarten when reporting on both the new federal and state push for early childhood education expansion. The story of pre-k should not be told entirely from the viewpoint of advocates and politicians.
As EarlyStories often points out, there is no substitute for visiting existing programs and looking for research on their impact. If none is available, journalists can ask kindergarten and educators in early grades what they’ve noticed about students who have been enrolled in pre-kindergarten programs vs. those who have not. Also, what are the costs associated with universal pre-k and who is monitoring the quality? Who benefits the most? And given the financial bind many states are in, what will other education programs have to be sacrificed to expand pre-K?