Early Childhood Ed: Throwing Money Down A Rat Hole

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money-black-holeI testified in a hearing on Utah’s capitol hill last week to oppose a costly “early childhood education” program (SB 71) proposed for Utah’s schools to help children who are in poor families get ahead. Because of the failure rate of such programs, I stated that taxpayers would be “throwing money down a rat hole.”

An opinion published in the Salt Lake Tribune said my “shortsightedness” and “lack of compassion” was “alarming.”

Let’s examine this commentary coming from the paper that endorsed Barack Obama and that is Salt Lake City’s more liberal news outlet.

dollar-signCosts
The real alarm is that Utah is in a debt crisis, and little is discussed on capitol hill these days in the the largest committee rooms – education and social services, almost as if the legislature and the governor are in a state of denial of the Medicaid expansion already taking place in these committees. The world debt clock shows Utah is nearing $20 billion in debt.

This new education program would cost Utah another $10 million – for starters, to pay off the investors (now called “entities”).  Who are these entities?  This measure lacks transparency on the funding side.

But as all new programs go, it would then grow, if successful. That’s how most government programs start – pilot programs or privately-funded programs that need government assistance. But once entrenched, it won’t be long before other parents feel the heat and will want their children to not be left behind, and it will be early childhood education for all.

For example:

In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a War on Poverty with the introduction of Head Start.  That program now costs $23,000 per student and American taxpayers $150 billion annually, however it has fallen short of the empty promises.  The Department of Health and Human Services conducted an impact study that showed 3-4 year old programs have little to no effect on students beyond the third grade.

This entire course is unsustainable. That’s the backdrop I laid at the committee hearing when describing the proposal as “throwing money down a rat hole.”

More About That HHS Study: Learning Levels Out Around 3rd Grade

I also pointed out that children are all different. They learn at different rates, ages and paces. My daughter didn’t experience a public school setting until 3rd grade, and yet she tested at the 10th grade level in reading. Her first complaint was, “Mom, the kids are all reading baby books with pictures in them.”

Home school scoresThat’s what the studies show about children who are educated in the home for the early years, and it pays off throughout school.

In contrast, I raised a son who went to public school, majored in football in high school and didn’t pay much attention to reading books or learning in general outside of his passion for sports. In spite of that, he went on to serve a 2-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and became an assistant to the president, demonstrating excellent communication and leadership skills. I always knew he was very bright anyway.

My starting him out at age 3 in a pre-school would not have made much difference in the long term scope of his education. Kids are resilient and tend to do very well at catch-up.

Studies have also shown that no matter how early education begins, it levels out around 3rd grade. The Department of Health and Human Services released its final report on the effectiveness of Head Start – a failed program that costs around $23,000 per child. It shows that there is little to no difference in the learning process after third grade.

Now, about the lack of compassion.

Here’s the real rat hole:

head startWe’ve had years of experience with Head Start, a program intended to take children out of their bad home environments and to help them get ahead, as the name implies. However, the program has a dismal track record to show it has significantly helped young children stay ahead long-term, especially when they get to the 4th grade and beyond, where learning tends to level out.

Additionally Congress conducted an evaluation in 1998 and found that early childhood education had no lasting results beyond first grade. More than 5,000 three and four-year-old children were randomly assigned to a Head Start or non-Head Start group. The report stated:

In sum, this report finds that providing access to Head Start has benefits for both 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds in the cognitive, health, and parenting domains, and for 3-year-olds in the social-emotional domain. However, the benefits of access to Head Start at age four are largely absent by 1st grade for the program population as a whole. For 3-year-olds, there are few sustained benefits, although access to the program may lead to improved parent-child relationships through 1st grade…

So taxpayers have paid over $100 billion to such programs since 1965, with little results. Not only did these programs remove these poor children from their homes, the academic and non-academic gains just aren’t there. Where is the compassion for these children, not to mention the rat hole tax payers have been forced to jump into?

state-test-2-lenses-2Compassion for the African-American and Hispanic Demographic?
One only needs to go as far as what is happening in the African-American and Hispanic neighborhoods to know that whatever efforts government has funded in education have failed. In that demographic, in spite of Head Start and public education, they still lag behind.

For blacks, unemployment rates for teens are around 50%, and having babies out of wedlock as increased to around 47% (35% for Hispanics). See Census Statistics for updated information. This contributes to a first in our history – now more children are being born out of wedlock than not.

The cause is well-known: fractures families, absent fathers, especially in the African-American demographic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Attachment Disorder
Some advocates of early childhood education also believe that children are best in day care centers as early as six weeks after birth. However, concerns about “attachment disorder” in varying degrees are now presenting after more than a generation of early childhood ed. Children who were removed from their parents for great lengths of time over extended periods experience an internal crisis: the need to be with and bond with their parents, particularly with their mothers. This bonding occurs before age five. a logical conclusion is that when a child spends less time with the primary parent, the less bonding will occur. The extremes of this disorder are witnessed with children who have faced extreme neglect or who have been orphaned.

Common sense would say that those early years until at least age five are best spent with their parents.

ducks imprintingEvidence of this strong bond is found among ducks whose babies “imprint” and instinctively know who their mothers are. Likewise, this phenomenon is seen among adopted children. Attachment disorder can nurture anger and an inability to bond with adult relationships normally, and it is a destructive factor in divorce when they become adults.

Children, at least through age five, thrive best when they are with their mothers and fathers. That is the definition of compassion, and this should be the priority: what can we do to keep children with their mothers – and fathers?

So this is the alarm, my friends, and I ask you where is the compassion because nothing public education has done, no amount of dollars, has solved this age-old problem of poverty and crime?

Eradicating Crime and Poverty: The Purpose of Education?
In my testimony, I cited statistics on crime and poverty rates have not been improved by public education, actually going back as far as the year 1830. In Elwood Cubberley’s 1919 book Education in the United States, this staunch proponent of public education commented on the crisis of that day, oddly the same crisis we face today: soaring poverty and crime rates in New York City. During the industrial revolution, he wrote, women were entering the workforce and factories, leaving their young on the streets. The crime rate was estimated to be at around 8%. Public education was the answer.

Today, after over a century of public education in New York City, the crime rate is between 20 and 30% with more are on welfare than ever before. Around 25% in New York State is on food stamps. One could legitimately say that public education has failed miserably in solving the very problems for which it was established.

So between the disappointing results of Head Start and the long history of the failure of public education to reduce crime and poverty, yet another early childhood education program is being introduced in Utah. By my definition, that is indeed throwing money down a rathole.

Shall We License Parents?

LicensingParentsIn my testimony, I dared to suggest that the public school and the legislature was attempting to solve a problem that it could not, and for which it does not have the power or authority to solve. It is the problem of the failure of marriage and family to provide the loving and safe environment for a child to learn.

I didn’t have time to go into this topic during the hearing, but let me ask you: given the logic of the history of education and the belief that growth of government as the charity-giver and problem-solver of all societal ills, would the answer then be to require the licensing parents to have children and to remove them from the home if they divorce or cannot provide a safe and loving two-parent home?

Don’t be so quick to laugh that one off as unthinkable or absurd (even though it is), because that is what government protective services are doing more and more frequently. And many in academic circles educating the next generation agree.

eugenic-marriage Licensing parents and sterilizing 12 year old boys deemed not fit to parent was proposed at a U.N. conference on families I attended in 1995. The audience gasped.

But this has been the ideal of Planned Parenthood and Margaret Sanger from its founding, as illustrated in this vintage certificate.  This is the approach the public schools take with sex education.  The discussions teach them how to have sex safely with condoms and contraceptives.  .

Licensing of parents has been widely discussed and researched. Clemson University has provided a bibliography for their students in writing research papers on the topic.  All roads lead to the U.N., it seems. It has long been the sentiment of those do-gooders at UNESCO, the education arm of the U.N. and it’s sex ed arm SIECUS.  The former and late U.N. Assistant Secretary-General Robert Muller(known as the grandfather of “Common Core”) was a strong advocate of state ownership of children and licensing parents. So is Maurice Strong, the chairman of Rio 1992 Earth Summit and the Agenda 21 declaration, also the chief architect of the philosophy of public education curricula.  Watch his video.

I didn’t have time in the hearing to go into all of this detail, but it brings to memory a statement from a wise man named David O. McKay, once the President and Prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:

No other success can compensate for failure in the home.

How I wish elected officials across the country and in Congress who belong to that church would apply what they profess to believe in their private lives to at least acknowledge that this man’s words might have been prophetic.  And how I wish that every elected official would be educated on the topics for which they vote, at least to attend the U.N. while it is in session or some conference to watch what is happening and how it happens.

But the hearing proceeded with no time for any of this discussion leaving only my 2-minute testimony on the record.  Senator Pat Jones asked two pointed questions of me. The first was: “As a former teacher, did you ever teach early childhood grades?”

Of course my answer was “No.” But I explained, “However, I have raised five children and for three years I worked closely with Laotian refugees and helped them to assimilate into American culture, also helping them to learn English.”

I added: “But as a former teacher in one of the United States’ top arts charter schools in Southern California, I have witnessed how family or personal crisis impacts learning, and I attest to this principle: A child, regardless of the age, cannot focus on learning when in the middle of a crisis.”

For that matter, who among us – even as adults – can focus clearly during a crisis – whether it is death, divorce, health or loss of income?

Pat Fagan has researched two excellent reports on the impact of the religion on a child’s stability and ability to learn. The second is examines the root causes of crime. They are well worth reading.

Religion in the Classroom?
Then Senator Jones asked the second question, and to her credit, it really does get to the heart of the matter: “So are you suggesting that we bring religion into the classroom?”

Here is the consummate liberal set-up – she wanted some Bible-thumping out of me.

ACLU sues Santa Rosa“Well, that decision was made long ago now, wasn’t it?” I glibly said, knowing full well that it was her party, her liberal ideology in the 1960s that barred God from the classroom with the help of the ACLU. But, yes, the truth is, when the churches were in charge of education, those who availed themselves were indeed more literate – and they did make more moral decisions in their lives.

The unbelievers and atheists were the coalition that forced religion out of the classroom. Cubberley himself was one of them. He wrote:

It still required a half century of struggle with the churches to break their strangle hold on the schools and to create really public schools, but the beginning of the emancipation of education from church domination goes back to this wise provision inserted in our National Constitution. [p. 56]

Cubberley was referring to the First Amendment exercise clause, guaranteeing the free exercise of religion to all, and also to the establishment clause forbidding a state religion. However, no philosophy is neutral, and the result is the State establishment of a humanist religion, or philosophy in the classroom that now interprets the purpose of life and man in it, which is precisely what religion does.

He commented on the political climate of the day (a socialist movement beginning in the mid-1800s and taking hold in the turn of the Century) saying:

These new political beliefs tended to created a new political motive for education, which was destined to grow in importance and in time entirely supersede the old religious motive.[p. 56]

And that is the backdrop for today’s public school setting. God is the uninvited guest to a place where what is taught is inherently religious, and it includes much more than the three R’s. Today’s classroom shapes our children’s views of the world, its purpose and man’s purpose in it. It always has, really, but this time it’s confined to a secular humanist setting.

Today’s classroom environment puts faith under the same critical thinking microscope of science, and given the rules of critical thinking standards today, faith loses every time.

So, my answer to Senator Jones would have been, had there been the time: “Yes, God must be re-invited to the classroom, and parents must have a choice. The most compassionate thing we can do for our children is to encourage parents to either remove them from the public school setting and educate them at home, especially in the early years, or to find a school that reflects their religious beliefs.”

Marriage and It’s Impact on Poverty and Education
One topic that must be included is the positive impact that marriage has on eradicating poverty. In the United States, along with other countries, marriage is on the decline and unwed births up.

death of marriage in U.S.

From this has resulted a rise in unwed births:

unwed births

 

Overall, few unwed births are among teens:

teen unwed births

Now look at the poverty stats for marriage:

Marriage reduces poverty

Which proves my point to the legislators in that hearing: Educators are focused on the wrong problem and the wrong solution to their goals to eradicate crime and poverty. The solution is found in the family and marriage has the greatest influence.

Now, one comment about the rate of school drop-outs and poverty: Educators will say that the longer a student stays in school, the less poverty. No doubt the stats show that to be the case. However, what is the major reason for dropping out?

According to an article published in Ed Week, one in four U.S. public school students drops out of high school before they graduate, and 30 percent of teen girls that have dropped out say pregnancy or parenthood is the main reason. Only 40 percent who have babies before age 18 finish high school, and less than two percent finish college by age 30.

marriage and povertyAs you can see marriage has a powerful impact on reducing poverty. So again, the family and marriage is where the solution is found, not in the public school room or in a pre-school program. It seems to me that, rather than teaching children how to have (or not have) babies in sex ed programs, we ought to be teaching them about the value of marriage and that marriage between a man and a women is the optimal environment for a child. That is the compassionate solution.

But I digress into another controversial – but conservative – subject.

Is Today’s Public Classroom Compassionate?
The public school classroom in general has become more out of control than ever. Teachers are being charged with sexual crimes against their students. Students are throwing insults at, assaulting and even killing each other. It’s not uncommon for children to come home from school and let out a vulgar expletive he had never learned home, and this did happen to a three year old. His parents were shocked. Is this compassionate?

bulllyingThe National Ad Council has an anti-bullying radio ad playing in many markets. It goes something like this:

“Today in English I learned I was fat…. Today in Science I learned I was ugly….. Today in Math I learned I smell.”

My reaction was: “Wow. What a great ad to urge parents to get their children out of this damaging and disrespectful public school environment!”

Some parents will defend it saying, “Our children need to have these experiences to teach them to be stronger.” My approach was simply to teach my children that people will say mean things, but it’s your response that makes the difference. I hoped that I taught them to be strong.

But with early childhood ed, I would say, “At what age? Would you put your three year old in a sea of sharks?”

mom teaching childI hope parents will begin to take notice and put themselves back in the drivers’ seat and find the right solutions for their own families. Many solutions are not in a public school or formal school setting at all, but are in a growing number of private, independent religious-centered schools and with a growing number of online curricula choices that truly reflect their deeply-held religious beliefs and values.

As a mom, I selected the educational setting I believed my children needed on an individual basis. That included home education, charter school, parochial school, Calvinist, Jesuit, Lutheran, Baptist – private and public settings. Education is primarily the parents’ role, not the government’s. I have worked with many fine teachers who are dealing with a system that they have little control over.

But I see little compassion – or shortsightedness – in the long-term outcomes that the current top-down, administrative-heavy and federally-controlled public schools have produced so far, and for that reason I stand by my words:

We are throwing money down a rat hole.


  1. Ron Hilton - March 4, 2013

    I agree completely with Cherilyn’s position. We moved here from California 7 years ago, and the deteriorating state of public education there was a big factor. Academics was acrually stronger in California, but in Utah we found a more balanced, family-friendly approach. Our kids are allowed to be kids, and by the time they graduate from high school, they are academically on a par with their California-educated older siblings. We used “Joy School” with our kids which is basically a low-intensity home-based preschool program. Taking young children out of the home is a really bad idea, for all the reasons that Cherilyn stated. We also see other bad ideas trying to come from California to Utah, such as class size reduction – costs a bundle in infrastructure and does no good. My wife’s father was a teacher in the Utah public school system, and he observed that educational “fads” often began on the East coast, then jumped to the West coast, and finally ended up in Utah after they had been fully discredited elsewhere. We should not be emulating other states in public education. Instead of following the crowd, we should be moving public education in Utah in a more family-friendly direction, just as Cherilyn proposes.

  2. Anita - March 4, 2013

    I also couldn’t agree more. Parents have more influence over their children’s education than anyone else. They set the standard. Morals and values not taught at home will be learned somewhere, and it may not be what parents want for their kids. 
    It seems many parents are willing to abdicate their roles because that’s the way it is done, or they want to have their own time, or they believe they are not smart enough or trained to teach their kids. It just isn’t so. 
    We have an obligation and duty to raise our kids to be good citizens. 

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