Tuesday, November 26, 2013
The picture below by the Center for American Progress sums up why the pre-k bill before Congress may be one of the most important and no-brainer pieces of legislation it has considered in a while. To be honest, last month, I still thought that Arne Duncan and Nicholas Kristof were delusion when Duncan indicated he would get a bill to Congress this year and both predicted it would pass. After all, nothing more than keeping the lights on has seems to move in the Congress.
Getting a pre-k bill before Congress was a small feat, but now that it is there, passage is looking more likely (although probably not before the end of the year). Thus far, support for the bill has been bipartisan and there has been very little criticism of the substance of the bill. This could be because common core fights are sucking the air out of all other education controversies, but I doubt it. There has been some debate of the bill, but it has been largely focused on cost, not on whether pre-k is a good idea. Cost is no small road block in a Congress determined to avoid any new spending, but this bill is beginning to look like one that Congress could pass and, if necessary, figure out how to fund later, including making cuts to other programs so as to not add to the deficit. Those who follow education funding closely know that with federal education funding it is always a two step process. No Child Left Behind, for instance, promised one level of new funding for schools, but Congress later appropriated something far short of the promise.
Friday, November 8, 2013
A new report by the Altarum Institute and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, The Business Case for Racial Equity, details the economic impact of racial inequality and the benefits of advancing racial equity, particularly given the evolving demography of our nation. It argues, based on economic and social science studies, that increasing racial equity would benefit businesses, government, and the overall economy. It focuses on housing, education, health and criminal justice as the primary areas of inequality that need to be addressed. In education, the report posits that school integration, pre-k education, and high expectations for minority students would produce significant benefits. The arguments and research in regard to each of these education proposals are not new, but the report, unlike most, does bring these three distinct educational reforms together into a single argument about the economy.
Monday, October 28, 2013
President Obama announced his intent to expand pre-k opportunities in his state of the union address earlier this year. Since then, we have seen a lot of good press. A major step was the administrations willingness/ability to convert remaining Race to the Top funds into a pre-k initiative. With that prompting, 16 states have submitted applications detailing their plans to expand pre-k. Those states include Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Vermont. This weekend, the New York Times ran a well timed op-ed by Nicholas Kristof, who argues that, while Obama has not pushed hard enough, there is reason to believe we might see universal pre-k coming to fruition. "One reason is that this is one of those rare initiatives that polls well across the spectrum, with support from 84 percent of Democrats and 60 percent of Republicans in a recent national survey. And even if the program stalls in Washington, states and localities are moving ahead — from San Antonio to Michigan." Arne Duncan told Kristof "'There’s this magical opportunity; now to get a national early education program in America," and Duncan plans to introduce a bipartisan bill before Congress this year.
At the beginning of this year, I had remarked that maybe certain portions of education presented low-hanging fruit that both sides could use to come away feeling good. Maybe, Kristof and Duncan are right. It is hard, however, to put much faith in our current political process in the short term. Then again, as Kristof points out, pre-k is such a no brainer that it may happen with or without the federal government.
Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Marian Wright Edleman recently interviewed Jerry Weast, the former superintendent of Montgomery County Schools in Maryland. Montgomery County is one the highest achieving school districts in the country. Edleman, obviously, wanted Weast's sense of how the district got there. The overall message was that the district focused on early childhood education a lot, and the focus was not limited to the district's own education program. Rather, the district reached out to private pre-school service providers and parents. The goal was to make all of the stakeholders aware of the benchmarks the district expected students to meet when they started kindergarten. Before the district's efforts, only 30% of its incoming kindergartners met the standard. Afterward, 90 percent did. The district also focused on "wrap-around" services for its students once they arrived.
As a strong supporter of pre-k programs and wrap-around services, I applaud the district's efforts. I would note, however, that conspicuously missing from the discussion was Montgomery County's housing integration strategies, which played a huge role in creating integrated and diverse schools and high achievement. In fact, a 2010 study by the Century Foundation, entitled Housing Policy is School Policy: Economically Integrative Housing Promotes Academic Success in Montgomery County, Maryland, confirmed that the District's commitment of extra resources to schools with higher need students paid dividends, but integrative housing policy had a larger effect. In other words, the county got more academic bang for its buck by integrating schools than it did by spending money on segregated ones. This is not to say Montgomery County should abandon any of its wonderful education programs or that we should not look to them as a model, but only that integration matters too. Integrated schools with wrap-around services would appear to be the perfect recipe.
Friday, October 18, 2013
New Pre-K Study Emphasizes Long-term Positive Effects on Graduation, Employment and Criminal Behavior
The Society for Research in Child Development just released its new report, Investing in Our Future: The Evidence Base on Preschool Education. The report does not offer any striking new findings, but it does an excellent job of presenting pre-k research in a very reader-friendly manner. Reader-friendliness, however, was not the enemy of nuance. The report focuses on specific studies and specific limitations. For instance, it indicates that, while pre-k produces impressive short-term academic improvements in math, literacy and language, studies often find the gains fading across time in later grades, at least as measured by standardized tests. This problem has been used by opponents to argue that pre-k is not a good investment. The report provides a powerful rejoinder.
First, the fact that initial gains do not always show up on later tests does not mean that the gains are lost. It may mean that the gains are not being properly measured. Later standardized tests may be testing student knowledge differently or later schools have moved to a different method of instruction and curriculum. Even if the tests were valid measures of learning, which many question, I would say that different methodologies and tests are both are highly possible explanations for the purported "fading of pre-k gains," particularly given the constant churn in tests and standards in recent decades.
Second, the hypothesis of the first point is strongly supported by the fact that students who were in pre-k programs do show significant educational and life outcomes on measures other than standardized tests:
We do not fully understand why the gains of pre-k appear to fade in later grades, but it programs also produced striking results for criminal behavior; fully 60-70% of the dollar-value of the benefits to society generated by Perry Preschool come from impacts in reducing criminal behavior. In Abecedarian, the Investing in Our Future: The Evidence Base on Preschool Education treatment group’s rate of felony convictions or incarceration by age 21 is fully one-third below that of the control group. Other effects included reductions in teen pregnancy in both studies for treatment group members and reductions in tobacco use for treatment group members in Abecedarian.
Added to this impressive criminal justice, pregnancy, and tobacco results are positive effects on high school graduation and employment after high school. The study also points out that, whatever might be said of pre-k in general, it has the strongest impact on the neediest students.
Friday, September 6, 2013
A national law enforcement organization just released a report titled, “I’m the guy you pay later,” finding that President Obama’s proposed pre-kindergarten program would “reduce the number of people who are incarcerated nationwide by 200,000 every year and lead to $75 billion in cost savings over 10 years.” More than 1,000 police chiefs, sheriffs, and prosecutors also signed a letter urging Congress to enact the President’s program.
"[T]he federal cost of the preschool element of the proposal, $75 billion over 10 years, is only one-tenth of the $75 billion that is spent every year to incarcerate adults in federal and state prisons and local jails. The report also shows that implementing the proposal could save $75 billion over the next 10 years as a result of lowered costs for incarceration, thereby paying for the proposal’s federal costs."
Wednesday, August 14, 2013
Earlier this summer, I posted on Goldman Sachs' investment in Salt Lake City's new pre-k program (here and here) and posited that it was a pretty sweet deal for Goldman. Now, other investors are seeing the sweet deal as well. Ed Week reports that the Pritzker Group is also investing in Salt Lake City's pre-k program. My earlier post had questioned the appropriateness of permitting Wall Street to profit from public education, particularly when pre-k is a proven product. In later conversations with a colleague, he posited that school officials may be firmly committed to pre-k and may not even be looking for financial help for its own sake. Rather, they may be looking to Wall Street to help them sell pre-k to the broader public, particularly in more conservative leaning communities. Regardless, now that more investors see the attractive, more voices are joining me in their skepticism of the the partnership.
For more on these developments, see the block quote and link to the Ed Week story after the jump.
Monday, August 5, 2013
Arne Duncan seems to see the current headlines on ESEA reauthorization the same way I do. In an interview with Ed Week, he explained that he has not been publically commenting on the current ESEA reathorizations in Congress because "You want to spend time where people are serious" and the current House Republican version of ESEA reauthorization is not "serious."
Duncan, however, has continued to push President Obama's state of the union address proposal to expand pre-k education. Even though there is no specific bill to push in either house, he belives passing legislation to expand pre-k is still possible. Again in his comments to Ed Week, he said there is "extraordinary bipartisan investment and support across the country that we're seeing from governors, Republican and Democrat. . . .And while it is not public yet, we have had many, many conversations with Republican leaders in the House and Senate that are frankly encouraging."
Let's hope he is right. I wouldn't place bets on the passage of a pre-k bill, as this current Congress doesn't seem interested in working with the President, even it agrees with him. But I do believe Duncan is right about bi-partisan support for pre-k. For instance, as noted on this blog, states like South Carolina and Utah have taken or are mulling steps to expand pre-k at the local and state level. Of course, they are not the only ones.
Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Putting aside whether Wall Street has something up its sleeve, is looking for publicity, or the state is getting a bum deal, the story I posted on Monday regarding Goldman Sachs' investment in Salt Lake City's pre-k program indicates that it sees pre-k as a good investment. In fact, the investment is predicated on the expectation that pre-k will save the district money in the long term, as special education and other special service needs decline.
Congress, however, apparently sees things differently. In his State of the Union Address earlier this year, President Obama announced his intention to drastically expand pre-k education by giving states grants to do so themselves. Since then, the Department of Education has reallocated $370 million in Race to the Top funds toward funding pre-k. But fully funding the initiative will require far more money (full initiative here). Congress, for the moment, is balking. Not that we should take education advice from Wall Street, but if its economists and analysts are correct--and on this point I am pretty sure they are--the federal and state governments would save money by ponying up the initial investment in pre-k. By investing in one or two years of high quality pre-k, Congress would stand to save money on the next 13 years of education in which a student needs fewer special education and other services.
Monday, June 17, 2013
Does pre-k save schools money in the long run? The research says the easy answer is yes. Now private fund managers are getting in on the "action." Last week, the New York Times posted an interesting article about Goldman Sachs lending 4.6 million dollars to Salt Lake City's school district for it to fund new pre-k services. The article is short on details, but it suggests the investment is a gamble by Goldman Sachs. Goldman Sachs will lose money if the program is unsuccessful and make money if it is successful. Success is defined by whether the school will save money by offering pre-k, due to lowered special education and other service costs as students progress through later grades. The NY Times article does not specifically indicate what losing money means for Goldman Sachs' investment: the loan doesn't have to be paid back, the loan doesn't have to be paid back with interest, or something else. By making money, it means Goldman will get 5% interest plus some other success fees.
Yesterday, even more facts came out. An AP story reports that Goldman Sachs stands to get 5% interest plus 40% of any savings the district reaps. Currently, Salt Lake City spends an additional $2600 per pupil per year on students enrolled in special education. Based on the most recent data I could find, Salt Lake City enrolls 2991 students in special education. Of course, a substantial portion of these students are likely in special education for a very good reason and better pre-k services would not have affected their eligibility. But for the sake of argument, let's assume that with better early education opportunities, 30% would have avoided special education (at least during the first 6 years of schools, which is the relevant period for Goldman Sachs). This means the potential pot of savings is roughly $2.33 million, 40% of which is $933,000 (Goldman's cut). Not bad for an initial loan of $4.6 million, although it is not clear whether this is the per year loan amount, a one year loan, or something else. The deal could be even sweeter for Goldman Sachs if the loan is to cover multiple years of pre-K, thus giving them a cut of the savings on more cohorts of students. If this were the case, their payout would multiply.
I find it hard to criticize the expansion of pre-k, regardless of the circumstances. The benefits are priceless for the students and families receiving it; who cares if Wall Street is picking up the tab. But I am still ambivalent/concerned. First, pre-k is not a gamble. We know it works, so why don't we--the government--fund it on our own dime and reap all the savings? If this is a state or district that can't or won't fund pre-k on its own and Wall Streets puts them on the right track with seed money, I suppose it is a win-win situation. But I am skeptical that Salt Lake can't do this on its own. Second, while Wall Street is not in the business of losing money, it is in the business of taking risks. Is it possible that the availability of Wall Street money might incentivize risky educational programs outside of pre-k? Wall Street can afford losses in one district so long as other districts pay out. Can the districts and communities who lose afford these losses? Maybe so, if the payback terms are favorable; maybe not, if the districts go just further into debt and receive no benefit for doing so. On the other hand, if districts are savvy and stick to pre-K, I suppose there is very little risk for them or wall street.
Wednesday, June 5, 2013
As a sign of the times, South Carolina is debating the continued expansion of pre-kindergarten education. For those who follow school finance litigation, pre-k has been a consistent remedial focus in several states, most notably New Jersey, which has the longest running school finance litigation in the nation and now the highest quality pre-k program.
Research has consistently shown that high quality pre-k is the most cost-effective measure for closing achievement gaps. South Carolina expanded its pre-k program a few years ago in response to a trial court's finding that the education system was constitutionally inadequate. The case is currently before the state supreme court and, thus, the legislature's consideration of further expansion makes sense. It is also consistent with the President's Obama's focus on pre-k during his last state of the union address.
So what is the dispute about now? The dispute is over who will deliver pre-k and receive the resource influx. The initial proposal in South Carolina called for 85% of new pre-k dollars to go to public schools. Republican legislators are now calling for 85% of the funds to go to private schools in the form of vouchers and tax credits.
For more on the story, see here.