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    It’s time for universal preschool in Seattle

    Guest Opinion: Universal preschool would level the playing field for Seattle kids at all income levels.

    This week, approximately 50,000 aspiring scholars started their school year at one of 95 Seattle public schools spread across our city. Many of these students will receive an exceptional education and graduate from high school prepared for college or career.

    Others won’t be so fortunate. Some of the youngest will start needlessly behind — before they even walk through the door of their kindergarten classroom — and it will be extremely difficult for them to catch up.

    In fact, when we consider what will likely happen with this year’s class of new kindergartners — based on many years of actual student performance — it is very discouraging.

    Imagine 100 new kindergarteners with their little backpacks entering their school for the first time. By the time they reach third grade, about one-fourth of these youngsters will not be reading at grade level, a key indicator of a hard academic road ahead. And, indeed, 23 of them won’t graduate from high school.

    It is far worse for our children of color and those kids living in poverty. Out of a sample of 100 children living in poverty who started kindergarten this week, 39 won’t be able to read at grade level in third grade and 27 won’t graduate from high school. Of 100 African American children, 47 won’t read at grade level and 33 won’t graduate. These statistics are stunning, yet this has been the reality for years.

    And, it’s not just the kids that suffer. All of us lose when the children of Seattle aren’t educated for the future. The costs we will bear are staggering — higher crime and unemployment, more expensive social services and remedial catch-up courses and the strong likelihood this cycle will keep repeating.

    We can spend a great deal of time debating why these statistics are reality for so many kids — poverty, broken families, complacency among civic leaders, failed education systems and on and on. But we can’t avoid or discount the stark reality many of our children face as they start their new year in the schoolhouse. Kids who don’t graduate from high school — or graduate but aren’t prepared for college or technical certification of some kind — face a very bleak future in today’s demanding and dynamic job market.

    It doesn’t have to be this way. We can change this reality by smartly investing very early in the lives of our children.

    Nobel laureate and University of Chicago economist James Heckman documents in his many years of research and in his new book "Giving Kids a Fair Chance" that early investments reap huge benefits for kids and society as a whole. “Early interventions can improve cognitive as well as socio-emotional skills. They promote schooling, reduce crime, foster workforce productivity and reduce teenage pregnancy,” Heckman writes.

    Seattle is an emerging leader in making smart investments early in a child’s life. We do it through the Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP), an evidence-based public health initiative that sends specially trained nurses into the homes of low-income, first-time moms. The NFP begins in pregnancy and lasts until the child turns two. The nurses provide medical assistance and parenting tips. The results are strong: better pregnancy outcomes, huge reductions in emergency room visits and incidents of abuse and neglect, stronger education achievements for both mom and child, better economic conditions for the family and greatly reduced criminal justice involvement for both mom and child.

    We also invest early through the Parent-Child Home Program, another evidence-based effort that begins when a child reaches age two. Funded through the City’s Families and Education Levy, volunteers who have completed a special training course visit low-income households twice a week and read a children’s book with the child and her mom or dad. This early literacy, parenting and school readiness program establishes habits of reading and helps to prepare youngsters for kindergarten.

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    Posted Wed, Sep 4, 11:37 a.m. Inappropriate

    Imagine if all kids were the beneficiaries of private school education and given a stipend or scholarship type sum of money and the parents could shop around for the best available education. Imagine every Social Security retirement check directly spent on private school education for grandchildren, nieces, nephews, etc. within one's family structure. Imagine no universal, state run pre-school and daycare. Imagine every kid bringing to school a brown bag, sack, and/or lunchbox from home with lunch food that actually would be enticing enough to eat (or trade with other kids)! Imagine no need for unionized national school lunchroom employees. Imagine no government school strike threats. Now that would be the mark of a progressive, world class community.


    Posted Wed, Sep 4, 12:29 p.m. Inappropriate

    Efficiency means doing more or the same amount with the same or fewer resources.

    We talk about wanting efficient government, and education is nearly always one of the places where we complain that we "don't just want to throw money at the problem."

    But what our behavior and policy has said is that we want cheap education. Regardless whether or not you're doing more or less with education funding, you're GOING to get less. We'll start by giving education less, and then assume something looking like efficiency will follow. But we never check back. In fact, when we don't get good results, we use it as justification for devoting even LESS money to education, because it's clearly so dysfunctional.

    We've been behaving and setting policy this way for so long, we don't even meet our Constitutional mandate to provide an adequate education anymore. And this debate, like all of them, will include a lot of talk about efficiency, but the RESULT will eventually be MORE resources for education or LESS.

    We seldom if ever want to pay more to get more, and we nearly always want to pay less. We've shown very little curiosity or devotion to measuring and fixing what results from just giving less. But we always seem to come up with a reason to not spend more.


    Posted Wed, Sep 4, 4:30 p.m. Inappropriate

    This is an excellent idea, and I hope it doesn't get caught in bickering between the council and the mayor over who gets credit. One worry: if you raise the standards for all pre-schools sharply, the costs will go up a lot. You might solve the problem for children from lower-income families while making the hard-pressed middle class even more pressed. Boston has some of the best pre-schools and day-care facilities in the nation, but also some of the highest prices.

    Posted Wed, Sep 4, 5:43 p.m. Inappropriate

    What if the government provided free birth control to anyone who wanted it? Perhaps we'd have fewer children in less than optimal situations. There's always plans like this to deal with the problem of unwanted and unparented children but NEVER any talk or funding to lessen the problem before it starts. Nobody wants to remove kids from their situation because of the asinine idea that family is the answer when,in fact,it is often the cause of the problem. We need a new dialogue because endless cures like this haven't made a damn bit of difference or we wouldn't be having the same old discussion.


    Posted Wed, Sep 4, 6:38 p.m. Inappropriate

    Given how terrible the schools already are, it's hard to be optimistic about this. But then, actual results never really enter into the "progressive" mindset in Seattle.


    Posted Wed, Sep 4, 10:53 p.m. Inappropriate

    So just how much money are we talking about here in Seattle? Is it X dollars? Or XY dollars or even XYZ dollars? When a pipe dream about education comes out of the mouth of a politician and it doesn't have a dollar amount attached to it, we should grab our wallet. Historically we can say with a high degree of confidence that it will take three to ten times the money that is originally thrown at the pipe dream and it doesn't include a guarantee of success.

    For example, nationally we spent around 7 billion dollar/year on Head Start and according to the 2010 CBO audit of the program it didn't produce the intended results. Read it here for yourself.

    This is a sample of a some of the conclusions reached,

    "In sum, this report finds that providing access to Head Start has benefits for both 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds in the cognitive, health, and parenting domains, and for 3-year-olds in the social-emotional domain. However, the benefits of access to Head Start at age four are largely absent by 1st grade for the program population as a whole. For 3-year-olds, there are few sustained benefits, although access to the program may lead to improved parent-child relationships through 1st grade…"

    So what we're talking about is tax payer funded baby sitting masked as an educational tool that won't work no matter what the dollar amount thrown at it. Only in Seattle.


    Posted Thu, Sep 5, 7:39 a.m. Inappropriate

    Taxpayer-funded daycare AND a jobs program for WEA members, all under the guise of education. What could possibly go wrong?

    Posted Thu, Sep 5, 7:48 a.m. Inappropriate

    Whatever benefit there may be exists for only a subset of the population (very poor, disorganized home life, low parental literacy). Most high performing countries start education later than the US. The majority of kids are simply not ready for an academic type setting at 3 or 4 years of age. They are better off with unstructured play. If you think the proportion of kids diagnosed with ADHD is too high now, wait till they implement this.


    Posted Sun, Sep 8, 8:56 p.m. Inappropriate

    Put it this way: The prime beneficiaries of Head Start are guilty, smug, hypocritical white liberals who want to think they're "doing something" by supporting the waste of money. Which makes this a perfect idea for Seattle.


    Posted Thu, Sep 5, 7:59 a.m. Inappropriate

    The union won't stop until they have members in utero.


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