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Problems with pre-school programs

For reasons too space-consuming to relate here, I recently took down from my little five-foot-shelf my 1994 copy of the controversial book The Bell Curve, that Murray-and-Herrnstein mega-book which introduced the phrase cognitive elite to a broad readership along with a subordinate argument that the three major human races are marginally different, on average, in IQ, as shown graphically on a bell curve. Along with this book, I took down my copies of two rebuttal-books, each an anthology of essays by outraged critics. One is the 1995 book The Bell Curve Wars, edited by Steven Fraser, and the other is the 1999 book Race and IQ, edited by Ashley Montagu. The rather remarkably non-analytical arguments range from race doesnt exist (Race, p. 79) to The Bell Curve is hate literature with footnotes (Wars, p. 93). The really interesting part pops up on p. 355 of Race, where author Urie Bronfenbrenner opens a different line of thinking. He starts by conceding that long-term effects of pre-school programssignificant differences between experimental and control groupswere no longer visible at the end of second grade. By the mid-1990s, it turned out, experts in the pre-school education field were aware that old ways werent working, something that contemporary advocates of public school expansion still refuse to recognize. The same conclusion came from a February 2006 UC/Santa Barbara study: Any advantage from pre-school in kindergarten performance had faded away by third grade. Chris Braunlich of the Thomas Jefferson Institute has written a two-page summary of that and multiple similar findings. The title is Arguments for Universal Pre-School Dont Add Up. On p. 358 of Race, therefore, Urie Bronfenbrenner proposes a fix: home-based intervention, to replace or supplement group-based (public school, Head Start, et al) programs. In subsequent pages the author focuses on the students mothers, describing not only mother-child-tutor home visits but mother-classes in some sort of classroom. By p. 363 Bronfenbrenner is writing that the generalization that parent intervention has more lasting effects the earlier it is begun can now be extended into the first year of life, because a parent education component is important, and that is because it appears to enhance the mothers perception of themselves [as] capable of independent thought. But then, a page later he recognizes that many such parents are neither willing nor able to participate in the activities required by a parent-intervention program, so he goes on to discuss the Milwaukee Project, designed to remove the child from his home for most of his waking hoursand entrusting primary responsibility for his development to persons specifically trained for the job. This level of governmental intervention works, he happily writes: the program has been astoundingly successful but then he adds the same caution which came out of Head Start failure findings, and will probably continue to be so long as intervention lasts... Failure-to-read would then lead to child removal and growth in government employment in the persons specifically trained for the job category. Alternatively, Bronfenbrenner has a lower-cost solution: on p.370 he writes glowingly of such kids placed in foster families who were above average in economic security and educational and cultural statusthe average IQ of the children's true mothers was 86; by the age of 13, the mean IQ of their children placed in foster homes was 106those who made the greatest sustained gains were those who had experienced maximal stimulation in infancy with optimum security and affection following placement at an average of three months of age, and not a word about Head Start or any other pre-school equivalent. (I wont even mention the use of IQ as a success-measure by folks who angrily rebutted The Bell Curve by denying the validity of IQ measurements.) Todays pre-school advocates know all of this long-documented background. They just choose not to talk about it. Martin Harris is a former, long-time Vermont residence. He is a retired architect and Green Mountain State politcial observer now living in Tennessee.

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