- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 24, 2005

There is a widespread, misguided movement for universal preschool and full-day kindergarten. The purpose is said to be to improve the children’s readiness for school. But evidence suggests there are no long-term benefits to requiring this of our 3- to 5-year-olds.

“Without exception, little children are better off around their parents on a full-time basis than they would be placed in early, formal public schooling.” (See “Assessing Proposals for Preschool and Kindergarten: Essential Information for Parents, Taxpayers, and Policymakers” at https://www.sjlpp.org/documents/proposals.pdf)

So why have government-funded early intervention programs such as Head Start? Who benefits from such a program? “Children from substandard or dysfunctional homes do better in early, formal public schooling.” It has been proved, “Early, formal public schooling for other little children is “educationally insignificant.” Whether a disadvantaged child benefits from Head Start depends on a particular program’s quality.

Head start was developed to close the “readiness gap between Head Start children and their more advantaged peers when they enter kindergarten.” But on balance, many children who go through the program remain below the national average. This has been allowed because of multibillion-dollar financial abuses recently discovered in Head Start programs across the country.

What can be done? The Education & the Workforce Committee unanimously approved a bill, the School Readiness Act (H.R. 2123), authored by Rep. Mike Castle, Delaware Republican, which would alleviate financial misuse of funds and improve the quality of the Head Start program. To begin with, the School Readiness Act would foster competition for grants within the Head Start system by requiring local operators to compete for funding unless they are a priority grantee. Grants could be ended at any time during a five-year grant cycle.

This “bill would strengthen Head Start’s academic standards by emphasizing cognitive development and the results of scientifically based research in topics critical to children’s school readiness (including language, pre-reading, pre-mathematics, and English language acquisition).”

It would require that Head Start operators document they have hired well-qualified financial personnel and that their administrative costs do not exceed 15 percent of program costs. An annual report would have to publicly available, and they would have to submit to an independent financial audit.

Head Start objectives would have to align with state-developed K-12 academic content standards. Organizations entrusted with federal Head Start funds would have to demonstrate partnerships with local educational agencies and school districts. Head Start teachers would be required to have adequate training; teachers must have an associate’s degree in early childhood education or a related field and 50 percent of must earn a BA within three years.

Parents will be trained to support their children’s educational development. Children in migrant or Indian Head Start programs must make enough progress in the English language as well as other skills. There will more emphasis on physical activity and healthy habits. Centers will be evaluated every three years on children’s progress in key school readiness areas.

On doing what is right for them, parents usually have their children’s best interests at heart. But under certain circumstances, basic parenting skills may not be available for children who must rely on those who are addictive, perhaps inadequately educated or whose deficient safety concerns can negatively affect basic care-giving.

Barring exceptional circumstances, most parents have the wherewithal and skills necessary to prepare their children for formal schooling. But when basic needs are not met at home, programs such as Head Start can give disadvantaged youngsters a needed edge. It is critical to pass the School Readiness Act to ensure all children enter formal education with the necessary skills and preparation to succeed.

For the School Readiness Act (H.R. 2123) see: https://edworkforce.house.gov/issues/109th/education/headstart/2123billsummary.htm

NANCY SALVATO

President.

The Basics Project

[See www.Basicsproject.org, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research and educational project to education the American public on basic political, legal and social issues.]

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