I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Alternative Facts?

Claims of the benefits of high-quality pre-K programs have been presented to the BCC a couple of times now.  We're told VPK improves high school graduation rates and also improves test scores measured after grade 3.  I am waiting for the proof.....

A few weeks back Achieve Escambia visited the BCC to give us an update on their work in the community.  I appreciated the update and the discussion.

The subject of VPK came up at that time and I briefly discussed my thoughts on this with the presenters that day.  One of the discussion points that I took issue with at that time was simply the efficacy of high-priced VPK and Pre-K programs when looked at from an academic standpoint.

My overall opinion:  These are expensive programs that are beneficial socially, like entitlements, but that are not effective (or minimally effective) long-term from a strictly academic standpoint.

This is not popular because there is a lot of money pumped into these programs and a lot of profit to be made by companies that promote the academic benefits of such programs.

But with great claims come the expectation of clear and convincing evidence of effectiveness--otherwise I will not be convinced.

The research studies I have read ( the high-quality research studies, not the anecdotal, topical ones that look at Abecadarian and Perry High-Scope from the 1960's and 1970) point to a fade-out of academic gains by third grade among Pre-K completers.  This wash-out that occurs renders the casual observer unable to differentiate those students from similar economic backgrounds and cohorts who did/did not attend Pre-K when all students are measured academically upon completion of third grade.

This sort of blows up the notion that Pre-K is this academic panacea that helps students from challenged home lives do better in school long-term.  Trouble is-- Early Childhood Education, VPK, Pre-K and similar programs are popular program because they bring money and jobs to areas and these programs are among those academic ideas (like smaller class sizes for better academic outcomes) that seem like they ought to be beneficial-- but the benefits of which are hard if not impossible to quantify.

The other gem I heard that day was that somehow a good Pre-K program improves High School Graduation percentages.  What??  Says who?  Where is the proof?  I have never heard of any reputable research that shows this, so I asked for the studies when Achieve Escambia appeared before the board.  Never heard back from them.

Fast forward to yesterday evening, and the early learing coalition was presenting to the board.  Executive Director Walter Watson was looking for $300K for his group--an expenditure I support by the way.  

He takes money from the county and other sources and leverages it to provide day-care services to families in poverty so the parents can work.  His paperwork shows that this group has been very successful at multiplying these local government monies to accomplish this mission.  I also like the fact that his salary is among the lowest of the Executive Directors that have pitched before the board--so when the discussion came around to the quality of the day-care/pre-school, Watson threw out the anecdote that the "Florida Department of Education has a study that shows that Pre-K graduates score 15 points higher on standardized testing than their non-Pre-K graduate peers when measured at grade 3."  I asked him to clarify that statement because I couldn't believe my ears.

I don't believe such a study exists.  I don't believe there are any strictly-controlled, scientifically valid

 studies anywhere that show this--let alone with the FDOE.  So, I voiced my skepticism and requested a copy of the study.  We will see if I hear back, I'm doubtful I will because I don't believe there is a study that shows this and if there is I would be very interested in devouring it because it runs counter to the well controlled studies on this same subject that I have dissected over the years.

Like many issues, it is easy to fall victim to falsehoods, exaggerations, and outright incorrect information.  Some would say these are "Alternative Facts."  I'll simply say that I'll believe them when I see them.

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