Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Got preschool?

The big randomized Head Start Impact Study that the federal government released earlier this year may be good news or bad news, depending on your point of view. The one thing it was not, to many: news at all.

In January the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released the study, which found that the previously documented edge Head Start children had in kindergarten readiness largely disappeared by the end of first grade. (Maybe it should have been called a Kindergarten Impact Study?) Head Start supporters may take the results as proof that public kindergarten is so inferior to the quality of Head Start that it dilutes its effects; opponents likely interpret the news as proof that the program wastes money.

Whatever your take, chances are you did not even hear about the study if you don’t pay close attention to preschool issues. Every researcher I asked about it said it seemed a sound piece of work, if not the best-designed Head Start study ever. The report was addressed online, for example by Lisa Guernsey at New America Foundation, and Steve Barnett at NIEER. But the only journalism Nexis turns up is a brief by Mary Ann Zehr in Education Week and an article by Dan Berrett of the Pocono Record.

Surely at the Heritage Foundation event on this topic next week, conspiracy-theory suspicions will be aired about why the study got so little coverage. I do not suspect nefarious motives. Rather, I would say from experience that getting reporters to cover preschool is always a challenge. I wish I knew why. Journalism is already skewed to the older end of the student population, and most reporters see themselves as covering local school systems that, logistically, don’t assume responsibility for most preschool programs. But why did even national reporters not write about the study? Was it simply not well-publicized? Not, in their mind, news?

I would love to hear from journalists, privately or here, explaining why they don’t write much about preschool and why they did not write about this report specifically. Because absent sound explanations, I am sure Heritage will come up with some of their own.


  1. Linda,

    It's been pretty clear to me that so much bloviation and journalism on education assume that the author possesses the appopriate knowledge and expertise simply based on theri own memories of their experiences as students.

    Awareness of what teachers actually do during class? Slim. Of what teachers actually do when NOT in class? Almost non-existant. Awareness of the real nature of the principalship? Ha!

    They write about what they think they know. A parent's view? Easy. A student's view? Easy. A more professional and knowledgable view? Quite difficult. Only they don't even realize it.

    So, why the lack of Head Start coverage? Well, how many journalists have personal experience or history with Head Start? Writing about pre-school? They either don't take it seriously (i.e. they think of it as glorified baby-sitting) and/or don't think of it as education at all. It's not school; it's PRE-school.

  2. I believe that Head Start teachers should have a BA or BS in a child development related area. Be it Early Childhood Education, Early Childhood Special Education, or Child Development; a four year degree should be required for all of the teaching staff. Currently, Head Start has been taking on the added role as an employment agency to help employ single mothers who live in the neighborhood. Head Start gives preference to these single mothers who live close to the school so that they may obtain a full time job as a Teaching Assistant. Many of these women only have high school diplomas and very little college (if any) college training. Head Start has been attempting to train these women to teach the students while they are on the job. Many of these women have very little skill in parenting the kids they have so they really have problems teaching the twenty kids in the care at school. It breaks my heart to witness a poorly qualified Teaching Assitant or Lead Teacher berating and scaring the kids into behaving submissively. Some of the Lead Teachers treat their students like they are in Juvenile Detention and all the kids do is sit quietly in a state of fear. The poor kids are scared stiff of these incompetent Head Start teachers. These poorly educated, poorly qualified teachers have no idea what Positive Guidance/Positive Discipline principles are yet alone how to implement them in the classroom! They would learn these things if they had attended a University where Child Development Studies are taught! If Head Start would only hire qualified teachers to be instructors in their schools then maybe there will be changes for the better.

  3. Head Start has been employing teaching assistants through state job training programs. The program requires that enrollees be single parents on welfare with at least one dependent living in the home. Head Start will hire these poor single welfare Mom's to be teaching assistants in a class of 20 children led by the teacher and her assistant. These teaching assistants typically lead the class as a "teacher-in-training" every other week with the their teacher-supervisor in the room to monitor the class. They are trained on-the-job with the understanding that they will complete their Child Development credential (a one year diploma program) before 2013. The big benefit to Head Start is that their agency will be reimbursed for up to 50% of the wages paid if they can keep the employee on staff for one full year! What happens as a result? Head Start will give the employee every opportunity to stay on the payroll and they won't fire them unless they do something terribly wrong (like hitting a child in front of another staff member). So Head Start will have this incompetent person in the classroom commanding and controlling the children in the manner that she see's fit. This assistant will teach her students the way she was taught growing up; with an iron fist in a prickly, burlap glove complete with all the threats and intimidating voice tone. She'll call herself "old fashioned and strict" when she's really just an angry control-freak, just like her own disfunctional Mom and deadbeat, absent Dad. Head Start administrators just "look the other way" when this emotional abuse is going on in the classroom. They do this since they really want to get their 50% refund on the wages they're paying this "teacher-in-training". These "teachers-in-training" aren't helping to prepare these vulnerable at-risk children for Kindergarten; they're getting them ready for a life of dependency, learned pessimism, depression, and a sense of hopelessness. They aren't being prepared for success in school; they're learning to get used to being failures.