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Sunday, August 10, 2008

Preschool Takes Center Stage Again in South Dakota

It seems the debate over preschool and universal pre-k are getting started even earlier this year.

Today the Argus Leader from Sioux Falls has two articles on the subject, one examining efforts in the legislature for the past two years to set standards for private preschools, and another examining a new behavior-based preschool being started by Avera Health.

The article on official standards features a quote from South Dakota War College blogger Pat Powers:

Pat Powers of Brookings, an unsuccessful legislative candidate in June who frequently blogs on the topic of the "nanny state," says preschool standards don't concern him as much as more heavy-handed state actions.

"My argument has always been that if you're going to have preschool, it's not inappropriate for the state to set some minimum standards," Powers says. "It should always be up to the parent to decide if the child will participate."

Chris Hupke of the South Dakota Family Policy council, however, more closely reflects my concerns:
Where we get concerned is when the government starts pushing into an area that is already being serviced by private groups, and preschool is being served," says Chris Hupke, president of the South Dakota Family Policy Council. "That's our concern. Businesses, churches and private enterprise are providing the service already."

When government starts getting involved in something, it isn't long before that something becomes mandatory...and starts taking even more money out of your wallet. As Senator Bill Napoli pointed out last year at a cracker barrel meeting, the headstart program went from voluntary to mandatory within a few years.

The other article from the Argus today also echoes those concerns:
Pilot projects sometimes are a first step in establishing new policy, says Chris Hupke of the South Dakota Family Policy Council, which has successfully opposed bills aimed at establishing preschool standards.

"Having government at any level get involved in 3- and 4-year-old preschool, we don't see the need," Hupke said. "I sort of live in the world that says if government can see a need, they're going to try to fill it. Pilot programs sometimes exist exactly to create a case for having the program."

The article says that one of the things this pilot program wants to do is help eliminate harmful stress in children so that they can learn better.

Ironically, daycare and preschool can be triggers of such stress. Researchers have found higher levels of the stress-sensitive hormone cortisol in daycare children.

A study from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in 2003
found 17% of daycare children more aggressive, disobedient and more engaged in conflict, regardless of family background, quality or type of care and temperament.

ABC also ran a story on behavioral problems:
Janine Butler, a 28-year-old New Jersey teacher, knows something about out-of-control students.

One girl threw objects, threatened Butler with knives and tried to bite her. Another boy was "just rude, rude, rude," pulling down his pants and swearing at her. The final straw came when another student scratched and hit her.

Butler's students were barely out of diapers — 3- and 4-year-olds — and their public preschool in Trenton was not allowed to expel them.

"No one would do anything," said Butler, who eventually quit. "I felt alone."

Tantrums, aggression, biting and kicking are becoming increasingly common in preschool, according to child development specialists.

Other reports indicate there is no lasting academic benefit to preschool. One of the studies most often cited in support of preschool has never been replicated.

Stanford professor Erik Hanushek also isn't a big fan of preschool programs:
Erik Hanushek, a Stanford University researcher hired by the state as a witness in the upcoming school-aid trial, says that while studies show preschool reduces crime and prison populations, it has little effect on education.

He said the research in the area doesn't yet support public policy changes.

Today's article also quotes Cindy Flakoll of Concerned Women for America - South Dakota:
Cindy Flakoll, a lobbyist for Concerned Women for America, has argued that some research suggests long periods of time in preschool actually hinder social development. She also said some research indicated that the academic benefits of preschool might not be long lasting.

And a legislator from Sioux Falls is also quoted and seems reluctant about proceeding with a large-scale preschool program:
Republican Rep. Hal Wick of Sioux Falls, who opposed the bills, says he doesn't know details of the Avera program, but he generally thinks government serves people best when it chooses its priorities carefully. He isn't sure preschool should take priority over programs such as an early screening process to identify children with autism.

I grew up on a rural farm and didn't even get to go to headstart. When I started the first grade, I was years ahead of my peers because my parents taught me at home.

My children are homeschooled and haven't spent a day inside a group education facility. They could both read and count by the time they were four.

Parental involvement is the key to good learning and well-behaved children. Instead of moving our children farther away from a connection with their parents, as preschool would do, we should be encouraging more parental involvement with their children.

Parental involvement in children's academic development is not only more efficient, it also fosters a better-behaved child, and creates a stronger bond between parents and children.

This bond is something we desperately need to encourage and promote in a time when the American family seems to be disintegrating.

In addition to all these benefits, greater parental involvement doesn't cost the taxpayers anything for programs that do little good and may actually be to children's detriment.


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