"State of Preschool" report doesn't paint whole picture for Ohio
Ohio recently received distinction from the National Institute for Early Education Research in its State of Preschool 2010 report, but not in a good way. As the Cincinnati Enquirer reported, the co-director for institute issuing the report said of the Buckeye State:
For a couple of years, [Ohio] was moving up [in the rankings], but last year the state eliminated a major program. Enrollment went way down and spending per child went way down. The program the state does have meets only two of 10 benchmarks for state standards for quality. That puts Ohio in last place. Nobody has a program that is that weak, except for 10 states that don’t have any program at all.
According to The State of Preschool, funding for public preschool dropped by almost $30 million nationally (funding would have fallen by another $49 million if not for federal stimulus dollars). In Ohio, state spending per child dropped by almost half (from almost $7,000 per child to $3,900), and access to preschool, especially among four-year-olds, puts Ohio among the worst in the nation (the Buckeye State ranks 36 out of 40 states with public preschool programs).
At first glance, such statistics are alarming. Funding early learning programs, especially for low-income children who otherwise come to kindergarten ill-prepared and already behind their wealthier peers, is a worthwhile (and preemptive) investment that reaps long-term gains not just for students but society at large.
However, it’s worth considering several factors and trends before sounding the alarms on Ohio’s preschool landscape. First, as the Enquirer rightly points out in the same article, many of Ohio’s preschool programs are licensed and funded via the Department of Job and Family Services and thus are not included in The State of Preschool, which only looked at those programs licensed and funded through departments of education. Thus Ohio’s less-than-stellar profile is based on an incomplete portrait of early learning initiatives.
Second and more importantly, as Fordham President Chester E. Finn, Jr. pointed out in the Education Gadfly in his review of the report:
NIEER’s definition of ‘quality’ preschool, while faithful to widely held views in the early-childhood field, continues to emphasize inputs and processes, not outcomes…. Of their ten big ‘quality standards,’ at least eight are mainly about spending, credentials, ratios, and services, not about kindergarten readiness and other (increasingly measurable) signs that such programs are actually preparing their wee charges to succeed in school.
Especially during times of austerity, Ohio has to do a better job measuring quality than just counting dollars and inputs. This sentiment was captured well recently by the Columbus Dispatch’s Jennifer Smith Richards, who compared the number of poor children and non-poor children in various central Ohio districts scoring in the bottom range on the state’s kindergarten readiness assessment (KRAL). In every district studied there was a significant gap in readiness between poor kids and non-poor kids, with the largest gap at 35 percent. Based on these trends, several central Ohio groups are focusing on increasing readiness in high-poverty areas and even plan to track effectiveness (by examining kindergarten test results of the students who attended their early learning program).
Cynics might argue that advocating for more preschool funding should be paramount to parsing through kindergarten test data (then again, cynics would argue we shouldn’t even bother to test children at such a young age). But given Ohio’s fiscal reality, and the fact that enormous gaps in readiness persist between poor and non-poor kids, the state should focus less on NIEER’s rankings on universal access and spending and more on developing creative initiatives to improve effectiveness for the kids who need early learning programs the most.
blog comments powered by Disqus