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Preschool programs help close the income inequality gap, giving an equal chance to rich kids and poor kids. Photo by Bernie Hunhoff.
Preschool programs help close the income inequality gap, giving an equal chance to rich kids and poor kids. Photo by Bernie Hunhoff.

Closing South Dakota Preschools

May 1, 2013

 

I didn't attend preschool. Neither did my daughter. But I see why South Dakota needs preschool... and I see how we are shooting ourselves in the foot at the state and national level by not investing in preschool.

An article by Stanford professor Sean F. Reardon says that family income now explains more of the differences in student achievement than race. Our public schools are helping poor kids improve their academic performance, but rich kids are boosting their test scores even more, thanks to their parents' ability to invest more resources in their learning. A working family may be able to save up for piano lessons or dance lessons; a rich family can afford both, plus a good summer camp and a private writing tutor.

That education gap comes from the income gap, and as income inequality increases (it's not as bad in South Dakota as nationwide, but it's happening), ever-richer families can give their rich children ever more opportunities that give them an ever-greater edge when they grow up to compete for the spots in colleges and companies. The rich thus stay rich, and the poor stay poor. That's not the American dream of equal opportunity for all.

Reardon says restoring that equal opportunity starts with investing in good childcare and preschool programs that poor and middle-class families can afford. South Dakota is already behind that curve: we are one of eleven states that do not fund preschool, thanks in part to some strange conservative recalcitrance that seems to fear public preschool will give those darn public school teachers a chance to indoctrinate kids into godless Communism earlier.

The states that do fund preschool dropped that investment half a billion dollars during the last school year. Given the widespread and well-attested benefits of preschool, these budget cuts seem short-sighted.

The Obama Administration wants to spend more on preschool, which will be nice if the plan can get through Congress. But Congress and the President have, via sequester (the game of budget chicken where everyone loses), cut Head Start 5%. Here in South Dakota, 200 children will lose those preschool services. Deadwood loses Head Start completely; I hear from friends that Lennox and Worthing will also have to shut down their Head Start programs. Nationwide, the sequester will throw 70,000 kids out of Head Start.

South Dakota Congresswoman Kristi Noem rushed with her colleagues to undo the sequester cuts that threatened to delay their flights to and from Washington. Perhaps they can find similar political will to undo the preschool cuts that threaten our kids' equal opportunity and social mobility.

 

Editor's Note: Cory Heidelberger is our political columnist from the left. For a right-wing perspective on politics, please look for columns by Dr. Ken Blanchard every other Monday on this site.

Cory Allen Heidelberger writes the Madville Times political blog. He grew up on the shores of Lake Herman. He studied math and history at SDSU and information systems at DSU, and is currently teaching French at Spearfish High School. A longtime country dweller, Cory is enjoying "urban" living with his family in Spearfish.


Comments

05:08 pm - Wed, May 1 2013
dave tunge said:
My initial thought on investing in preschooling is that it is nothing more than a public funded babysitting service. Most young families now seem to have both parents in the workforce and I can't see the discussion to put their 3-4 year olds in preschool revolving around education.
Sure there is income inequity. The hard workers and the lucky ( maybe the latter comes from the first) will always have more than the less ambitious among us. Only makes sense. There is also appearance inequity from which I suffer. But I don't think any sit-ins or parades or whining about my lot in life will make me tall and handsome, but it still is not fair.
Your article though Cory is food for thought, just not at the preschool level. Why not adopt your concerns at the university level? On this I would agree that no one in this country that had the desire to attend college should be turned away for lack of money. If we funded tuition for those who could not attend otherwise and required a certain GPA in order to continue their education it would separate the workers from the non-workers.
The American dream of equal opportunity for all is the dream of those who don't want to work for it.
09:16 pm - Wed, May 1 2013
Dave, France offers dirt cheap tuition for all with the desire and the skills to get into university. But to get in, kids have to pass the bac, a 40-plus-hour test that they spend their entire senior year reviewing and studying for.

Plenty of people are willing to work for the dream of equal opportunity. Some luck comes from work. But some luck trumps work. The recession wiping out folks' savings, kicking them out of their jobs, and leaving them working two or three shifts at much worse jobs to cover their bills was not some divine judgment that those people weren't working hard enough for the last 20-30 years.

Babysitting? Sure, that's a factor in pre-school and in what primary and secondary school does. It's inevtiable when 70-80% of South Dakota families have to send both parents out to work to pay the bills. (Again, where are all these lazy people you say aren't working hard enough?) We've got to have some kind of daycare; we might as well make sure everyone can access really good daycare that will nurture the kids brains rather than just keeping them sedated with pop-tarts and Sponge Bob. Some families can't afford more than bare-bones babysitting, and, generally speaking, that puts their kids at an educational disadvantage compared to kids whose parents can afford higher-quality daycare. That's not the kids' fault. Why punish those kids by leaving them hamstrung from the first day of kindergarten?
11:38 am - Thu, May 2 2013
John Gale said:
EQUAL OPPORTUNITY! Maybe successful people have successful kids. Why is it about money? You can be very successful and pass the work ethic and desire to succeed onto the next generation without being rich!

I came from a single parent home that was dirt poor and I managed to make it through college, get a great job and live comfortably. My mother was successful without being rich and she worked her butt off to give us the OPPORTUNITY to succeed!

We were taught that nothing worth having is easy. Maybe success is a learned behavior and maybe the desire to be successful is a greater motivator for some people.

We did without or had a lot less than other kids, but we were taught that all the material things didn't make us who we are. We had clean clothes, food on the table and were never late for school or allowed to skip. Once we were in that building we had the same OPPORTUNITY!

I told myself "I am going to get good grades, get a college degree and make a life for myself and my kids that I am proud of". That includes the desire to give my kids OPPORTUNITIES that I never had.

Not being able to go to a basketball camp is a excuse. Not getting piano lessons is a excuse. Work hard, get a little better everyday, make the most of what God gave you, be accountable for your own actions and don't make excuses!

Give me a school full of "poor" kids with desire to succeed and we will out learn, out play, and out succeed a school full of "rich" kids any day. There is nothing better on this planet than working your tail off for something and succeeding when nobody thinks you can do it!

So, lets get past the "poor me" stuff and start teaching the importance of hard work and accountablility. It doesn't matter if it is a silver spoon or a plastic one, if we don't teach them to feed themselves, they all will starve.


08:42 am - Fri, May 3 2013
Bernie said:
Because South Dakota is the ONLY state (where have you heard that before) that doesn't help fund Head Start, I went to a local Head Start classroom a few years bsck to see what it was all about. Here's what I saw ....

Several kids who would not speak a word. Another one who would not quit talking. Many who wanted to crawl into the arms of any adult who would have them. A little boy who seemed to be describing to his friends a porn movie he'd watched with his dad.

The teachers were angels, handling all of that like Michael Jordan might handle a high school basketball team. Flawlessly and patiently. I was impressed, but of course saddened by the challenges they faced.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis has studied how governments can best invest a tax dollar. They decided that you get the best return by funding good pre-school programs for kids from at-risk family settings.

After an hour or two of watching a Head Start program, I could have come to the same conclusion without a study.
06:35 am - Mon, May 6 2013
John, I agree that money doesn't have to be a controlling factor in any individual's achievement. If you want to succeed, the right combo of hard work and luck can bring you success. And some rich kids can throw waste their talent and resources and turn out complete failures.

But we must govern by data, not anecdote. In general, money means opportunities. More money means more opportunities. And the research shows that wealth explains more of the gap in academic achievement than other factors. That's not "poor me" stuff; that's a concern for making sure the rich don't have a permanent institutional advantage that keeps the poor from having a fair shot at rising from humble beginnings to participate fully in education, economy, and democracy.
09:50 pm - Mon, May 6 2013
Cory: It would be a very bad idea to be governed by data, but if we were we might ask how South Dakota ranks against other states in reading a math scores for high schoolers. I seem to recall that we do pretty well. As for Head Start, etc., the results of long term studies seem rather mixed.

I am not opposed to funding universal preschool education. I do, however, notice other data. The sequester cut a miniscule amount from the growth of federal spending. If you think that this is a tragedy, just wait a bit. Discretionary federal spending will be increasingly squeezed by entitlement spending and interest on the federal debt in years to come. You are fooling yourself if you think that taxes on the rich can catch up or even that taxes on everyone will close the gap.

If you really care about the little ones, you will sooner or later have to speak truth to the older ones. You aren't ever going to do that, are you?
05:49 am - Tue, May 7 2013
Ken, the fact that we do well on reading and math scores hardly seems to justify doing less to help children learn.
05:54 am - Tue, May 7 2013
...and the data on Head Start is not as mixed as critics want us to believe. If Head Start's results are more modest than the efforts of public schools, the proper policy response to to make Head Start work better, not deny kids the current benefits:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/03/05/does-head-start-work-for-kids-the-bottom-line/
12:14 am - Wed, May 8 2013
Cory: if you claim that data is important, you might want to pay attention to the data. If preschool has lasting effects, and so its bad that SD doesn't adequately fund preschool, then you might think it relevant that our high school test scores put us near the top.

On a larger scale, the total spent on K-12 education since 1970 has increased by about 180%. The number of people employed in K-12 has increased by about 80%. Yet national math, reading, and science scores have barely budged. That's data. Your belief that more money equals better outcomes is faith based policy making.
09:21 am - Wed, May 8 2013
Bernie said:
The Yankees are spending way more on players' salaries and travel than they did in 1970 but a .300 batting average is still about as good as it gets 60 or 61 home runs is still the standard.
11:06 am - Wed, May 8 2013
dave tunge said:
True Bernie, but it still only requires 9 employees to get the job done and it
goes to show that money can't improve performance.
12:28 pm - Wed, May 8 2013
Bernie said:
You got me there Dave.

But I think we're asking a lot more of the schools today. Students need more credits to graduate, wasn't long ago when we had few sports for girls, Special ed is educating students that were once institutionalized. The schools of today aren't the schools of even the 1970s.

And how about the schools with numerous kids who can't speak English? We spent millions this year to help school districts deal with that issue.
07:12 pm - Wed, May 8 2013
Note what the Washington Post article says about fading long-term effects: if differences between Head Start kids and other kids do decline over time, it may well be because we public school teachers make "extensive compensatory efforts" to bring along the kids who are farthest behind. If that's the case, Head Start saves us time and effort from kindergarten on by reducing the number of kids requiring such compensatory effort.

"More money equals better outcomes" -- sure, on face, that seems like horsehockey. But we're not talking about just throwing a bunch of money in a mayonnaise jar and watching it abiogenesize into smarter children. Let's be concrete. Deadwood has Head Start. 33 kids get preschool services. We take away the money, we take away the useful services that Bernie describes. Some parents will be able to afford an alternative, but some will not... and that's the big point of my post. Why take opportunities away from low-income folks when they need those opportunities more than ever?

More money may not one-to-one correlate with better outcomes, but zero money correlates pretty strongly with no services, which correlates pretty strongly with no outcomes for folks who can't afford substitutes.

It's like French: Paying me $1000 more this year doesn't guarantee that I taught better this year than last. But spending no money on a French teacher would guarantee that fewer kids would learn French.

Let me back Bernie's suggestion on the cost of educating kids with an analogy to Bakken oil. Spending more on that oil doesn't make that oil produce more energy per barrel. It's just more expensive to pull that oil out of the ground. Sometimes conditions change, and you do have to spend more to get the same results as before.
07:47 am - Thu, May 9 2013
dave tunge said:
Sounds like we all agree that more money does not equal greater production. The topic seems to be more about "equality" or "fairness". Those words are the MO of liberal thinkers, but life is not equal or fair.........never will be.
Hard work, ambition, and attributes learned from parents are the motivation to put your lifestyle on an "unequal" level with those who want to rely on the government for their subsistence. Google "how to catch a wild pig" for an interesting analogy.
07:56 am - Thu, May 9 2013
Bernie said:
Dave, you're a good buddy and I agree with you AGAIN. Equality and fairness ARE values of liberal thinkers. Is the opposite true of conservative thinkers?

I will google how to catch a wild pig but I actually had quite a lot of experience with that 50 years ago.
08:11 am - Thu, May 9 2013
Bernie said:
I googled "how to catch a wild pig" and that's pretty much exactly how we did it on the farm.

As far as whether it translates to American society, I don't really disagree with it as a parable. I've often quoted Woodrow Wilson, who said "educate one generation of healthy, happy children and a hundred other problems of government will disapper."

And that returns us to Cory's original point. A smart investment in children makes them self-reliant and successful adults.

I pretty much agree that government should stay out of the way after that, except in the health care arena where the private sector just isn't getting it done. All the corporate subsidies are a total waste.
01:39 pm - Thu, May 9 2013
dave tunge said:
Just so you know..........I don't have anything against magazine people.
08:36 am - Mon, May 13 2013
Robert said:
It's rather clear that the purpose of this author's columns is to create a platform to spread his propaganda. Apparently, columns after columns are not enough to communicate his views--he needs to "engage" his readers in order to harangue them into submission. The endless post-column beratings might be indicators that the columns are not communicating what is desired.

Nothing original--only the shape of the bland cookie changes.

08:15 pm - Tue, May 14 2013
Dave, more money does not guarantee better production.. but it often provides an advantage.

("Robert" doesn't understand how the Internet works. The post is not a final, authoritative statement. It is the beginning of a learning conversation. We test ideas, discuss them further, provide additional viewpoints and evidence. We can disagree, but we can also build understanding together.)

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