Thursday, August 25, 2011

Early Education and Race to the Top

I've been reading lots about how the new Race to the Top competition is devoting a large chunk of its money for states that commit to improving their early childhood education programs.  While I am a real fan of early childhood education, I recently heard about a study found that Head Start has no long term benefits for its attendees.

It's always hard to interpret data that goes against one's expectations.  My mind immediately begins to think about the "why."  Although I'm sure early childhood experts have better "whys" than I possibly could, I'm thinking.... perhaps it has to do with what happens between kindergarten and the third grade follow up.  Perhaps it has to do with the gap that already occurs in children who enter Head Start around age 3 or 4.  If Head Start is run completely on tax dollars, it seems that the federal government should have data to support its effectiveness.  However, I'm certainly not going to say "can the program if its not getting results."  As a teacher of high schoolers, I know how difficult it is to turn things around for kids who have been behind for 9 or 10 years of school already.  Head start is currently our best option to make a difference while the gap in performance for low-income and minority students is still small.

And it seems like the new Race to the Top was written with similar ideas to mine.  Head start isn't enough, so lets let states improve their pre-k and early ed. programs on their own.  New Mexico's programs could certainly do with a more coordinated effort (I have no idea about quality).  I recently tried enrolling my son in the state-funded Pre-K program, and it was difficult to find centers that offered the program and then far more difficult to find a program that wasn't already full.  We had luck though, and Jeremiah will be starting preschool in two weeks!

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