More Pre-K and Choice

Per below, a case in point. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie want more school choice in his state–vouchers and charters. He also hasn’t been the biggest fan of the state’s Abbott Preschool program, which is widely regarded as the nation’s highest-quality state pre-k program and has produced strong evidence that it improves children’s learning through at least the end of second grade. During his gubernatorial campaign, Christie dismissed preschool as “baby-sitting,” and led some to think he’d consider putting it on the chopping block in dealing with the state’s budget crisis. Christie seems to have come around a bit there, but he’s also indicated he won’t carry out his predecessor’s plans to expand preschool statewide. If Christie’s really serious about advancing choice in his state, though, I think he’s making a mistake in not more fully embracing Abbott Preschool as part of his case for school choice. If I were Christie, I’d say something along these lines: (Note: I, Sara, do not actually agree with all these things or think they accurately characterize the situation in New Jersey.)

New Jersey doesn’t have a lot to be proud of when it comes to education. We spend more than any state in the country on our schools, but we’re not getting what we should for it. Many of our urban districts are a chronic and complete mess, squandering our children’s potential. Most of what comes out of Trenton on education does more harm than good. But there’s one thing we do have to be proud of: Our Abbott Preschool programs. Abbott Preschool is the best–possibly the only–good thing to come out of Trenton on education. Research shows that Abbott Preschool programs consistently deliver very high-quality education to our poorest kids–better than any other such program in the country–and that kids who attend these programs learn more for years afterward than those who don’t.

Why is Abbott Preschool such a contrast to our record on K-12 education in Trenton and in our big urban districts? In large part because it bypassed the chronic dysfunction of our urban districts to use outside, community-based providers to deliver high-quality preschool–Organizations like [example high-quality community-based provider]. Abbott Preschool built on the richness and resources that exist in our communities, outside our troubled school districts, to build a new system of quality educational options for our most disadvantaged 3- and 4-year-olds. I want to extend this same model upward into the K-12 system, by opening the doors to allow a wider array of organizations  in our communities–as well as high-quality charter school networks and other education providers from across the country–to educate our children. I want to give children in our most troubled urban districts options to escape from them. The Abbott Preschool program shows that diverse delivery–not school district monopolies on educational delivery–is the best way to get results for our kids.

–by Sara Mead

7 Replies to “More Pre-K and Choice”

  1. This suggests an obvious compromise for progressives. Invest in high-quality pre-school, invest as much in data systems to directly serve kids as systems for adult issues, innovate as much for community schools and socio-emotional investments as with test score driven models, and place a moratorium on using statistical models for purposes for which they are not scientifically valid and/or legally sound.

    I respect your work in pre-school so much that it makes it doubly hard to understand the logic of using models that are unlikely to withstand judicial scrutiny to punish secondary teachers for learning that did not occur earlier. I’m not surprised when conservatives try to take away the due process and contractual rights of workers and teachers. I can’t understand why progressives take the eye off the ball and provoke legal battles when they must have lawyers who can explain why their policies are dubious

  2. Sara-

    I’m curious- how do you square the recent U.S. Department of Education random assignment study showing positive gains for DC vouchers and the recent U.S. Department of Education random assignment study showing no lasting benefit to pre-school with your above statement?

    Correct me if you can, put it seems to me that you are bringing a butter knife to a gun fight.

  3. The Abbott preschool program does not “bypass” the urban districts. The districts operate the program, which includes a mix of public preschool classrooms and classrooms in community providers and Head Strart programs “capable and willing” of participating. Some districts have large numbers of provider and Head Start classrooms, while others have few or none.

    Abbott preschool is not a voucher or “choice” program — children are assigned to classrooms by the district. No funding goes to parents or families, but like the schools within a district, are given a budgetary amount to ensure adequate funding for each child served.

    The Abbott program unifies Head Start, child care and public school programs under a tough set of quality standards, with adequate funding for all children — administered locally by the districts. The program is a real time, systemic, model of where the United States needs to go in the delivery of early education, especially for children in poor communities. Come visit one of our 31 urban districts and see for yourself!

  4. David: You’re absolutely right–I was trying to be clear in the post that parts of it didn’t accurately characterize where NJ is–sorry if that wasn’t clear. I have visited Abbott pre-k programs in Union City, Elizabeth, and expansion pre-k in Red Bank and they are indeed impressive. I agree with you about where the U.S. needs to go in delivery of early education–I just think we need to go there in K-12, as well.

    Matthew: Are you talking about the Head Start Impact Study? Obviously that raises some questions about the medium-term impacts of Head Start and suggests some needs for improvement. But, as noted a few post down, there are a host of rigorous studies, from the APPLES Blossom Abbott pre-k study, the Chicago Child Parent Centers, Oklahoma U-PK, the Rameys’ research on Louisiana Pre-K, and others that demonstrate the medium- and long-term effects of high-quality pre-k. Cumulatively, these stand up to the research that exists on vouchers.

  5. Sara: I wasn’t referring to your post, but rather to the excerpt from our new Governor Christopher Christie who, has you correctly pointed out, referred to the Abbott preschool program during the campaign as “babysitting.” I also wanted to correct the notion in the Governor’s comment that the Abbott preschool program, because it allows districts to use a mixed delivery system, is akin to a private school voucher program. And, as for K-12 in the Abbott districts, numerous studies have underscored the academic gains in many of the Abbott districts that not only faithfully implemented high quality preschool as ordered by the NJ Supreme Court, but also intensive early literacy and other structural reforms. Our problem with the K-12 Abbott reforms, unlike pre-k, has been poor implementation and leadership by the State education agency and officials in the past three administrations.

    As for the Head Start study results, the issue is the one we addressed in the Abbott pre-k program, and one that you correctly point out: current Head Start quality standards and funding are not sufficient to get the level of high quality necessary to get strong results in high poverty communities. That’s why Abbott preschool is so powerful — it provides the extra quality and funding boost needed to achieve better results in Head Start and child care programs.

    This all points up a huge issue that we must tackle: federal policy on early education remains incoherent and disconnected. It’s high time for a new, unified federal approach that drives states to implement high quality preschool, particularly in high poverty communities, that unifies child care, Head Start and public school programs under rigorous quality and accountability standards, directly linked to K-12 standards based reform.

  6. As far from Israel, and as having PhD degree in early childhood I’m interested in the programs for Early children. I’m glad to read the will to let choice of early programs and am ready to help you with a triple proved method in studies for enhancing learning and reading abilities in pre-schoolers and first graders. The innovative enjoying music method integrated computer games at kindergartens (and /or first grade), showed significant findings in reading acquisition and comprehension of verbal language, though children enjoyed music and computer playing. The method is called TMN – Toy Musical Notes.
    Dr. Yehudit Carmon

  7. I am glad to see that people accross the nation are concerned and addressing the pre k issue. I work in the military community and we have an ongoing battle of teach more vs. why do you paly so much. I am constantly having to hold parent and chain of command educational forums to explain the importanc eof learning through play and the impact that quality early childhood educaion will have on early literacy, early schoolperformance, and life long success.

    I totally agree that the problem in many program and states is the lack of financial support and consistancy to ensure that all children receive good care and learning. This is also why it is difficult to demonstrate positive results to the nonbelievers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.