Mar 14, 2013

Written Testimony SF 481/ HF 1058 – Early Childhood Scholarships

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Written Testimony on SF 481/HF 1058 – Early Childhood Scholarships

Karen R. Effrem, MD

President – Education Liberty Watch

Although this bill is less onerous than the language in the governor’s education finance bill regarding parental rights, family sovereignty, and the rights of conscience, we still have a number of concerns

1)      Internal language inconsistency  – Lines 1.10-1.14 of the bill say:

1.10 Subd. 2. Duties. The Office of Early Learning shall administer the early learning

1.11scholarship program, establish participation standards for children and their families,

1.12develop criteria for qualifying providers based on section 124D.142, and contract for

1.13administrative services as necessary with a resource and referral organization under

1.14section 119B.19, or other nonprofit or public entity.

If the Office of Early Learning determines “criteria for qualifying providers” how does that square with lines 3.9-3.10 that say:

 Subd. 7. Scholarship recipient choice of programs. A scholarship recipient may
3.10choose to apply to any rated program or prospective program for acceptance.

What is to say that the Office of Early Learning won’t say later that recipients must choose a 3 or 4 star rated program such as required in the governor’s finance bill?  We are particularly concerned about the Parent Aware requirement to align curriculum and assessments to the Early Childhood Indicators of Progress (ECIP) in order to receive a three or four star rating, which I will discuss more below.  We also want to know whether it is the language of this bill or the governor’s bill that will be included in final legislation and which part of the language of this bill.

2)      Childcare and preschool programs that accept scholarship recipients will be considered subsidized for the purposes of unionization – This will increase costs and decrease access for these poor and middle class families analogously to what is happening to physicians who cannot afford to take care of Medicaid and Medicare patients under the Affordable Care Act.

3)      Cost – The governor’s finance bill calls for a 733% increase in funding for these scholarships over current levels.  This bill’s funding for 2014 is a 1,300% increase and a 1,750% increase in 2015 when there is still a deficit in Minnesota, much less the federal government, the threat of unionization and higher taxes, other needs in education, little proof that they will work, and a still quite shaky national economy.

4)      Many large centers and Head Start programs receive automatic four star ratings putting small programs at a disadvantage – According to the Parent Aware evaluation two thirds of programs received automatic four star ratings.  This is especially problematic for Head Start, when the most recent of over 600 studies released in 2010 and 2012 showed that there was no benefit to the program after 1st grade and harm to math skills of three year old participants. Smaller programs and individual providers will find it harder to compete.

5)      Mandated curriculum standards for early childhood that apply to private and religious programs that take subsidies – If the 3 or 4 star rating requirement remains, all programs that take subsidized students must align their curriculum and assessments to the ECIP.  This is especially problematic in the social and emotional area, because the state is now mandating one set of standards for thought, behavior, and belief that, no matter one view’s on any given subject, it is the right and authority of parents to inculcate those values in their children, not taxpayer funded education institutions.  Doing ratings and assessments of little children and eventually teacher/caregiver merit pay systems on one set of very subjective standards like this is extraordinarily problematic.  It could also lead to unnecessary over diagnosis and treatment for mental health issues.   We have heard through the grapevine that these standards are being rewritten to remove some of the more controversial items.  That is good, but we still question the authority of the state to be determining norms in this area at all and imposing them of private and religious providers.  Some of the more egregious examples of the ECIP, with definitional quotes and my comments are as follows:

  • Develop an awareness of self as having certain abilities, characteristics, and preferences

At best, this is vague.  At worst this could leave the door open to bringing up sexual preference with three year old children

  • Begin to develop awareness, knowledge, and acceptance of own gender and cultural identity

“Refers to a person’s internal, deeply felt sense of being either male or female, or something other or in between. Because gender identity is internal and personally defined, it is not visible to others.”  (Emphasis added.) – Gay-Straight Alliance Network; Transgender Law Center; National Center for Lesbian Rights. (2004). Beyond the Binary: A Tool Kit for Gender Identity Activism in the Schools as quoted in  Making Room in the Circle: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Families in Early Childhood Settings

Gender identity: as defined in part at G.L. c. 4, § 7, is “a person’s gender-related identity, appearance or behavior, whether or not that gender-related identity, appearance or behavior is different from that traditionally associated with the person’s physiology or assigned sex at birth…” (Massachusetts DOE document on gender identity)

Regardless of one’s position on gay marriage or any of that, is this really an issue that taxpayer funded entities should be teaching to 3 year olds???

  • Use play to explore, practice, and understand social roles and relationships
  • Begin to understand and respond to others’ emotions

Is it the job of the state to be training kids to do that?  Do we want the government to be deciding what is normal emotions for 3 year olds?

  • Recognize and describe the roles of workers in the community

Is this really what 3 year olds have to be thinking about?

  • Share responsibility in taking care of their environment

Adults don’t even agree how to do this, yet they want to create environmental attitudes in young kids.  Should we be laying this on 3 year old kids?

“When should environmental education begin-in the third grade; first grade; kindergarten? Even earlier. Environmental education based on life experiences should begin during the very earliest years of life. Such experiences play a critical role in shaping life-long attitudes, values, and patterns of behavior toward natural environments (Tilbury, 1994; Wilson, 1994 as quoted in Wilson, Clearinghouse for Science, Mathematics, and Environmental Education, June 2003)

  • Participate in activities to help others in the community

That is for parents, not the government to decide.

6)      Evaluations of Parent Aware and national research show there is no evidence that quality rating systems improve child outcomes

  • “The design does not permit us to determine if Parent Aware causes outcomes for programs, parents, or children. We can look at patterns of associations, but causation cannot be determined.” (Parent Aware Third Year Review, MELF, November 2010, PowerPoint, p. 9)
  • “No definitive patterns of linkages between rating categories, program characteristics or proxy scores developed from director and teacher surveys, and child outcomes were identified.” – (MELF Yr. 3 Report, 11/10, p.132)
  • “Despite their growing popularity, there is little information available about how well QRISs work. A logic model presented in this report posits a clear path to improved provider quality and better child outcomes, but it is largely untested. We do not know how well QRISs measure what they purport to measure, whether parents pay attention to ratings in selecting care, whether providers that participate in QRISs actually improve the quality of the care they provide, or whether children benefit from the improved care they are receiving as their provider receives quality-improvement support.” (Zellman, et al, Assessing the Validity of the Qualistar Early Learning Quality Rating and Improvement System as a Tool for Improving Child-Care Quality, Rand Corporation, 2008


7)      Incentivizes poor parents to let someone else raise their kids – Children are already suffering enough from being in single parent family (increased poverty, emotional problems, crime, drug use, sexual activity and decreased academic performance) and now remaining parental influence will be lessened for poor and minority kids.

8)      Preschool does not work:

  • Huge fadeout effect for academics.  Head Start benefits gone by end of 1st grade and showed harm to math skills of 3 year olds (2010 study) and it was no better after 3rd grade year (2012) study.  Same seen for Perry and Chicago.
  • Statistical long-term benefits seen for Abecedarian, Perry, and Chicago are not practical real-world benefits.  They are only better than controls and were described by an AP reporter discussing the 2011 Chicago Study as still “dismal” (See also  Preschool is NOT the Panacea Portrayed in Study)
  •  Even if one believed that these studies helped enough, they are prohibitively expensive.  For Chicago they were adding on another $40,866/child over the 6 years of the program on top of $15, 000+/child/yr for regular K-12 to see income levels increase from $10,796 to $11,582 ($786) or less than a semester more of school completed or only 3.5% more kids attending a 4 year college and only a slight (6%) decrease in arrests.  There was NO difference in degree completion, employment, number of arrests, arrests for violence, or convictions, public aid and family outcomes.
  • Much more data is available at Studies on Effectiveness of Early Childhood Programs, including references to 8 different studies showing behavior problems linked to time in childcare, including some regardless of quality.

We believe that this money would be better spent promoting literacy in kindergarten, finding ways not to penalize parental involvement in welfare reform to encourage two parent families and allowing one parent to stay home with their children.  There is much research showing that children from single parent families have greater achievement gaps, more crime, drug use, mental health issues, etc. and alternatively that when minority children are from two parent families, the achievement gap is eliminated.  (See The Effects of Black and Hispanic 12th Graders Living in Intact Families and Being Religious on Their Academic Achievement. (EJ663866))

Thank you again for your consideration of our views on this important issue.

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