"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Universal, State-Provided Pre-K—Pah!

The discussion of my post on how California's high tax rates and regulatory mania are chasing the best and brightest out of the state has evolved into a fascinatingly fatuous debate over whether it makes sense for the government to pay for preschool for all children. Matt Huisman's astute criticism of the "logic" (and it really does need quotation marks in this case) behind this proposal reminds me of a phrase I've written before and think worth reviving here:

The American K-12 education system is so bad that every effort to fix it only manages to make it worse.

As Matt's comment makes clear, the movement for universal, state-provided pre-K is another evidence of the truth of this principle.

12 comments:

James Elliott said...

You or one of your proxies should really justify the use of the word "fatuous." Speaking as someone keenly involved in early childhood education, calling something fatuous doesn't make it so, especially universal preschool.

What, precisely, is "devoid of intelligence" here?

James Elliott said...

Allow me to insert a caveat:

If you're referring to the proposed ballot initiative in particular, then indeed, it is rather fatuous. If you are referring to the scholastic trend in early childhood education, then there is likewise a case to be made. If you are referring to the utility of preschool education in general, then there's a problem.

Matt Huisman said...

Don't sweat it James. The only thing worse then being fascinatingly fatuous is not being fascinatingly fatuous at all.

Or something like that.

James Elliott said...

on't sweat it James. The only thing worse then being fascinatingly fatuous is not being fascinatingly fatuous at all.

No, I think the only worse thing is people who don't know anything about pre-K education deciding that all contrary information is fatuous.

Or something like that.

The Classic Liberal Anonymous said...

It was the debate that was called fatuous ... sheesh!

James Elliott said...

Yeah, I was rather picking a fight with that. I gotta knock that stuff off.

Matt Huisman said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Tlaloc said...

Matt:
I was on my long weekend so I didn't get back to you in the last thread. To be clear I absolutely agree with you that letting the grades slip is silly and potentially harmful. If you want to fix that I am totally behind you. But... In the mean time we have kids who aren't getting the benefit of what should be kindergarten. That needs to be addressed quickly. I suspect that you aren't going to be able to reverse the flow of time regarding the changing nature of knidergarten before, say, september. So in the meantime we need preschool to pick up the slack.


Tom: you made a comment about "teaching to the test" and you said life is a test. 2+2=4 or it doesn't.

Well yeah but there are two important points that glosses over:
1) most fields are not like mathematics. They don't have right answers. There are no solvable equations in english, or history, or psychology, ad infinitum
2) even in math and the physical sciences it's much more important to learn how to think than to memorize specific answers to problems. Most of what a science degree teaches you is how to think about problems, how to break them up into managable chunks, tricks like perturbation theory that allows you to create successively more accurate answers, and so on. It is not about learning the "2+2=4" details beyond a basic grounding. That is simply not as important as being able to think for yourself.

That is what teachers should be trying to promote, and it is not something any standardized test can measure.

Matt Huisman said...

Why is it that they are not getting Kindergarten? If it’s so important, why not just start there rather than spend billions of dollars creating a whole new grade level?

No matter where you start in the logic you've put forward, it all leads back to the same conclusion:

Educators can't cover all the material they'd like to in 13 years (K-12) anymore.

There can be only two reasons for this:

1) Educators have lost their way
2) Kids are different

I could make great arguments for both, but I believe the answer is probably #2. The disparity in family structures and levels of parental engagement are so great now that no amount of improvement in #1 will be able to overcome it. At bottom, educators are merely hired hands - they can only be part of the solution to someone else's problem.

Pre-school is, at best, a way to push the signs of an achievement gap back a year or two.

Tlaloc said...

"Why is it that they are not getting Kindergarten?"

Because Kindergatren has begun teaching 1st grade instead of normal Kindergarten. I thought we were all on the same page up to that point?



"If it’s so important, why not just start there rather than spend billions of dollars creating a whole new grade level?"

Like I said, I doubt your ability to get it fixed before the kids start school in september. If you could then great. But I'm looking at the contingencies so that we don't have at least one year of kids ill prepred for grade school.



"Educators can't cover all the material they'd like to in 13 years (K-12) anymore.

There can be only two reasons for this:

1) Educators have lost their way
2) Kids are different"

Well there is also the fact that the field of human knowledge has expanded geometrically. In the 50s not many kids had to know anything about computer theory now did they? Today they damn well better get a decent grip on it by 5th grade or they are in trouble.

I'm certain there have also been significant changes in student demographics and educator capabilities (especially when you consider class size issues), but at the same time we are unarguably asking these kids to learn far more far faster than you or I had to.



"Pre-school is, at best, a way to push the signs of an achievement gap back a year or two."

Sure but we NEED that year or two of leeway since any fix is going to take a while to implement, no?

Matt Huisman said...

Because Kindergatren has begun teaching 1st grade instead of normal Kindergarten.

But why did they do that in the first place? Kindergarten is the most important thing ever, and the people that care about kids more than life itself just dropped it?

But I'm looking at the contingencies so that we don't have at least one year of kids ill prepred for grade school.

You think it would be easier to add a whole new grade level? By September? I suggested a curriculum addition/modification...you want to build classrooms, hire addt'l teachers and change the curriculum.

Well there is also the fact that the field of human knowledge has expanded geometrically.

A very fine point. If there really is more we wan't to teach, I don't have a problem with it taking longer. But why does it always sound like the rest of the world is (far) ahead of us all the time?

Sure but we NEED that year or two of leeway since any fix is going to take a while to implement, no?

So we're going to build classrooms, hire teachers and design temporary curriculums in order to take it away in a couple of years once we've figured it all out?

Pre-school just doesn't cut it as a realistic solution to anything. If it was a component of some broader reform it might be more believable, but right now it looks more like a patch (I'm being charitable here).

Tlaloc said...

"But why did they do that in the first place? Kindergarten is the most important thing ever, and the people that care about kids more than life itself just dropped it?"

My guess (and it's only a guess) is that over the course of several years there was more and more push to incorporate more advanced topics in Kindergarten to give kids a boost for their first year of grade school. Eventually the Kindergarten curricula became virtually indistinguishable from the first grade curricula. At the same time parents started being encouraged to send kids to Kindergarten a year later than usual (maybe because they figured out that 5 year olds weren't on average ready for 1st grade).

Thats the way these things work. It's not that somebody one day decided to make kindergarten a clone of first grade. They just said "Hey maybe if we cover counting to 20 in kindergarten it will help the kids learn numbers better." And it worked so more and more concepts got pulled in.



"You think it would be easier to add a whole new grade level? By September?"

New? Preschool already exists and is quite popular. All I'm saying is make it available to the poor as well.



"I suggested a curriculum addition/modification...you want to build classrooms, hire addt'l teachers and change the curriculum."

The classrooms already exist. They may need to hire some more teachers sure.



"But why does it always sound like the rest of the world is (far) ahead of us all the time?"

Ironically because they never seem to have these fights over money for schools. Cultures that put a big emphasis on schooling have other problems of course (Japan for instance has an atrocious rate of youth suicide connected with their scholastic pressures).



"So we're going to build classrooms, hire teachers and design temporary curriculums in order to take it away in a couple of years once we've figured it all out?"

I'd suggest funding Preschool at least for the moment. Right now it helps fill as a stop gap. If we fix kindergarten/1st grade then we could think about defunding the preschool but honestly it'd be better to leave it in place. We need it now, we'd be Better off with it later too (for different reasons).