Wednesday, February 09, 2011

The Dayton education agenda's pre-K obsession

"Instead of talking about how to spend more money and finding ways to spend more money, we ought to be talking about how to focus the resources we have on something we can measure." —Sen. David Hann (R-Eden Prairie), Star Tribune, February 5

Do you get the point that Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton really believes in early childhood education? The governor's seven-point education plan is not content with dedicating one or two of these points to early childhood education, he embeds "ready for K" goals into five of them:
  • Invest in Early Childhood and All-Day Kindergarten
  • Target All-Day Kindergarten
  • Expand existing K-12 system into a comprehensive pre-K-12 system
  • Adopt pre-K - 3 reading standards
  • Support early childhood teacher observation and development
  • Reauthorize Statewide Early Childhood Advisory Council and reestablish Children's Cabinet
  • Charge Commissioner of Education with leadership of early childhood initiatives
Considering the state's barely ten-month old kindergarten-readiness study, this obsession with pre-K seems odd.
The Minnesota School Readiness Study found that between 91 percent and 97 percent of Minnesota five-year-olds were In Process or Proficient in five developmental areas necessary for school success: physical development, the arts, personal and social development, language and literacy, and mathematical thinking. This compares to last year’s study with numbers between 87 percent and 96 percent. The increases are within the margin of error between the two years.
When you couple these findings with national empirical studies on Head Start and other preschool programs that show little if any benefit to pre-K programs, you may wonder why Governor Dayton is so bent on a significant expansion of government pre-K and all-day kindergarten.

"There's nothing terribly new in here," said Rep. Mindy Greiling (DFL-Roseville) in the February 5 Star Tribune article, "Dayton renews pledge to raise school funding." "We're going to have more commissions and more advisory councils. I think we've been there and done that," remarked Rep. Sondra Erickson (R-Princeton), chair of the House Educationn Reform Committee in the February 5 Star Tribune article.

Dayton's myopic focus on pre-K and kindergarten to the exclusion of other education reforms such as streamlining the process for sponsors of successful charter schools to open new sites, and education tax credits is a missed opportunity for much-needed education reform for Minnesota students and families. Dayton's omissions provide an excellent opportunity for the Republican majorities in the Legislature to display some leadership in state education policy initiatives.

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