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An Editorial Disgrace

Ohanian Comment: This Gannett chain newspaper editorial is so loaded with misinformation and Business Roundtable agenda that it's hard to know where to begin. Just look at these loaded phrases--and think about the lies and political agendas packed in them:

*meeting the needs of poor children in the 21st century

*keeping pace with the latest research [packaged in Texas and Washington D. C.]

*more academically centered

*educators have cited third grade

And so on.

Here's the phrases to make you shudder--if you care at all about pre-schoolers: keeping up with the heightened academic demands placed on young Americans. Corporate America and their politico cronies are placing these demands (while the obedient press marches behind). Early childhood educators keep saying how inappropriate these demands are.

Yes, we want "high quality" preschool. But who gets to do the defining of what this means? Where are the "heightened demands" for universal health care and adquate shelter for young children --not to mention a living wage for their parents?

Below the Gannett editorial is one from

Head Start is a hardy, though aging, veteran of President Lyndon Johnson's "War on Poverty." The program, designed to give low-income children a jump-start in life, has been remarkably successful in many ways, but it might fall short in meeting the needs of poor children in the 21st century.

A product of the Great Society of the 1960s, Head Start tries to prepare less-affluent children under age 5 for school by addressing their social skills and nutritional, mental and physical development needs.

Most experts say Head Start contributes to at least a short-term academic gain for its students, but any progress seems to dissipate by third grade. Whether that indicates a failure by Head Start or reflects the quality of the schools most poor children attend is a matter of controversy.

In Vermont, Head Start enrolled 1,573 children on a budget of $13 million in fiscal 2002.

The issue isn't the past performance of Head Start. The issue is whether the program is keeping pace with the latest research in how children learn and keeping up with the heightened academic demands placed on young Americans.

This week, President Bush proposed a wholesale restructuring of Head Start. The White House would set higher educational requirements for Head Start teachers and make the program's classes more academically centered. The president's ultimate goal is to turn Head Start over to state governments and scale back federal involvement in early childhood education.

The president's proposal comes at a timely moment for Vermont, where a spirited debate over preschool education is raging within the Legislature and among some residents.

This focus on preschoolers stems partly from recent brain research documenting the critical importance of the early years in acquiring language skills. Although the influence of home life cannot be overstressed -- children reared in a rich literary environment tend to read and write well -- high-quality preschool education can help fill learning gaps suffered by many poor Americans.

Coincidentally, educators have cited third grade -- the start of standardized testing -- as a benchmark in a child's learning and have pushed more academically rigorous material to lower grades to develop math and literacy abilities.

The early childhood issue is largely uncharted ground. Preschool nationally is a hodgepodge of nonprofits, for-profits and government agencies. Given the spending pressures from K-12 education, legislators are leery of taking on huge new expenses for 3- and 4-year-olds. Wide disagreement exists over the best learning methods for young children.

Part of the president's Head Start proposal is a pilot plan to allow up to eight states flexibility to craft their own preschool programs. Should that provision pass Congress, Vermont would be an ideal candidate for a child-development, public-policy laboratory.

Gov. Jim Douglas has made early childhood education a top concern. Many in business and education are eager to push the issue. State officials are looking to reform early childhood services to make them more accessible and efficient. Something good could come out of all that energy.

The United States faces a quandary of knowing more about how children learn but lacking the political will to achieve it. As evidence mounts of the vital importance of the first years of life, society must respond creatively to the new awareness of what makes humans tick.

==== Smoke and Mirrors on Head Start

from The New York Times July 11, 2003

The Bush administration has mastered the art of producing speeches and press releases that bear little resemblance to the legislative programs they purport to describe. This tactic was on display again earlier this week in Mr. Bush's speech on Head Start, the highly successful federal education program that embraces poor families and prepares underprivileged 3- and 4-year-olds for school.

The president spoke earnestly about improving Head Start's academic components while preventing the states from siphoning off its federal dollars for other, less crucial purposes. But the Head Start bill that is likely to be passed by the House would soon fall short of these goals on several fronts and would actually allow the states to weaken this valuable program, which serves about a million impoverished children.

The federal government finances Head Start directly, bypassing state governments, which might be tempted to use the money for other purposes. The House bill includes an experiment in which up to eight states would receive Head Start money in block grants subject to the governors' control.

This block grant approach has loopholes that the president either does not understand or fails to acknowledge. The statute bars governors from moving state funds out of early childhood education but fails to mention federal funds. That means the states could drain federal money from other early childhood education programs as money comes into their Head Start funds. The worst aspect of this approach is that it exempts the experimenting states from complying with current federal Head Start standards and allows them to proceed without proving that they are presenting high-quality programs.

Mr. Bush is right about the importance of renovating the Head Start teacher corps. The House bill would do just that by requiring that at least half of the Head Start teachers have four-year college degrees by 2008. But this provision is meaningless unless the White House and Congress come up with the estimated $2 billion needed to attract and pay better-qualified teachers.

The House's Head Start bill has generated outrage among children's advocates all across the political spectrum as well as in the Senate, which is unlikely to take up this issue before fall. It should keep the good parts of the House bill and jettison those that undermine this valuable program.

— Editorial
Burlington Free Press
Young Learners




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