Oct 20, 2011

Early Learning Race to the Top Nationalizes Preschool

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Karen R. Effrem, MD – President

October 19th was the day that states applying for the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC) grant must have turned in their applications.  After banking, health care, the auto industry, K-12 education, and so many other areas of life, the new early childhood Race to the Top initiative is now doing to preschool what has been done in all these other sectors.  The Obama administration is bribing desperately cash starved states with one time federal dollars that have been coerced from those same states  in order to impose the latest version of control from Washington DC.

As did the K-12 version, which we described as Federal Control of Education on Steroids, the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge continues where the 2007 reauthorization of Head Start (See A Federal Curriculum for Preschoolers) left off.  The RTTT-ELC:  1) Puts Uncle Sam in charge of preschool standards, assessments, and data collection from birth onward; 2) Expands invasive and ineffective home visiting programs; and 3) In addition to the federal takeover of state early childhood programs accomplished in 2007 with the Head Start reauthorization, becomes a de facto government takeover of private childcare via the so-called quality rating and improvement systems (QRIS).  In reverse order here is a brief description of the issues:

1) QRISs and the Government Takeover of Private Childcare – Many states have been experimenting with the expansion of quality rating systems under the guise of improving information about childcare program quality.  IF this were a private, market- driven, Consumer Reports style effort, it would have some value.  However, as has been noted by many authors, including former Democrat assistant attorney general Mark Kindt as far back as 1994, the QRIS style efforts have “in reality [been] calculated to restrict entry, limit competition, reduce access, limit parental choice, and increase cost.”  (See Evidence on Effectiveness of Quality Rating Systems for details)


Here is a list of other problems with QRISs:

  • Submission to a QRIS is being used as a bribe/blackmail tool for childcare providers to receive payments for state subsidies in the form of scholarships for poor children to attend these early childhood education/childcare programs.  Once providers accept these government subsidies, they are considered state employees and are subject to unionization, whether they want it or not.
  • These programs require a government approved curriculum that in reality is based on federal and state standards (see below)
  • There are many state imposed, one size fits all, expensive  bureaucratic hoops with which small, in-home childcare programs have to comply making it difficult to compete against large  for profit and state programs.
  • These programs are not popular with either parents or providers.  In Minnesota, only 14% of eligible providers signed up to be rated and only 25% of parents with children in rated programs even knew what a quality rating system was.
  • There is no evidence in state or national research that these programs improve either childcare program quality or child outcomes.

2)      Invasive, Expensive, and Ineffective Home Visiting Programs –Even the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services own website admits that these programs for the vast majority of primary effects measured (> 80% for improving child development and > 85% for preventing child abuse) showed no effect.  In other words, there was no improvement at all.  In addition, there are several other huge problems with home visiting programs from the parental authority, privacy, and size and scope of government perspectives:

  • Medical record review without consent
  • Consent may not be voluntary for participation
  • Visitors may only have as little as 5 days of training
  • Information presented may be unscientific or biased
  • Data collection
  • Families may unknowingly give up 4th amendment rights


3)      Federal Control of Early Childhood Standards and Assessments – As mentioned above, the RTT-ELC increases federal control over preschool standards and assessments by demanding that every state that receives a RTT-ELC grant adopt state readiness standards that are in most cases already tied to the federal Head Start standards and implement statewide kindergarten readiness assessments by 2014.  Aside from the egregious lack of constitutionality, state or federal preschool standards are even worse than K-12 standards. These standards delve into very controversial and subjective areas that regardless of one’s opinion on these issues are not the role of government education at any level to  teach.  These include the arts, mental health, and environmental, family structure, gender and other diversity-related issues that are not required to be taught or assessed for older children and greatly interfere with parental authority and autonomy.  (See Action on Radical Early Childhood Bills and the new Head Start Early Childhood Outcomes Framework for examples.)

Even though there is concern about the abrogation of constitutional separation of powers, state sovereignty and parental authority related to the K-12 version of Race to the Top, there has been little to no resistance from either members of Congress or state legislators regarding this enormous federal government takeover of early childhood education and parenting.  State legislators and departments seem so desperate for cash that they are willing to sell their souls for this one time money.  And while not surprising that Democrats want to expand government, sadly it appears that Republicans have been co-opted by the big government tendencies of big business groups like the Chamber of Commerce and the Business Partnership that want corporate welfare to have taxpayers cover the costs of childcare, calling it education.  They also seem to be totally deceived about the lack of effectiveness, as well as academic and emotional harm of these programs.  (See Studies on Effectiveness of Early Childhood Programs and Preschool Actually Harms Reading Achievement for details.)

Perhaps Rep. John Kline’s good efforts to zero out funding for Race to the Top will negate the completely mystifying decision of the House Appropriations committee to increase funding for Head Start in FY 2012 despite the overwhelming evidence that it is a failure and fraudulent to the point that even Time Magazine commentators are asking for it to be repealed.  Here are some things that can be done at both the state and federal levels:

  • Call your members of Congress and ask them to rescind the funding for all Race to the Top funding, both preschool and K-12 from the 2011 fiscal year and to support the House Republican plan to eliminate Race to the Top in FY 2012.
  • Demand that Head Start be eliminated given the huge deficits and the program’s abject failure and evidence of fraud.
  • Contact your state legislators and ask them to let Secretary Duncan know that this Race to the Top grant violates state sovereignty and that they should refuse to implement the requirements of the grant and in fact to refuse it altogether.
  • Work on your state level to eliminate quality rating system and home visiting programs, as well as participation in Race to the Top and Common Core Standards or Head Start Standards.


Hopefully enough lawmakers who care about the Constitution and parents’ rights and understand that big government cannot be family and teacher will step forward.

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