Close to home (Part I)

Jenny D looks at early childhood education.

On what theory does it make sense to take children from parents? Early institutionalization of children lowers overall system performance on several measures.

States which compel attendance at age 7 exhibit higher 4th and 8th grade NAEP Reading and Math scores than States which compel attendance at age 6.

Some years ago a visiting Professor of Education from Canada told me that people at some Canadian university studied the relation between the age of compulsory attendance and school performance. According to this professor (whose name I do not recall), the investigators could not find the upper limit (the point when the performance advantage shifts from parents to institutions) and quit looking when the political implications became overwhelming.

On what theory does transferring control of children from parents to strangers yield a social benefit? Consider three scenarios:

1)If the strangers are also parents and the child to caregiver ratio is one to one, we play musical chairs with children and the theory implies that children will work harder for strangers than for their own parents and that parents will more effectively instruct strangers' children than their own.

2) If caregivers are also parents and the child to caregiver ratio is greater than one-to-one, we are to believe that (over some low range) larger child to caregiver ratios yield better performance than lower ratios. Is that plausible?
3) If caregivers are non-parents, we are to believe that non-parents out-perform parents. Do you believe any of this?

Please read Dahlmia and Snell
"Protect Our Kids From Preschool"
Wall Street Journal, 22-Aug.-2008

Steve Biddulph
"A child-care lesson from Canada"
Sydney Morning Herald, 19-Jam.-2008
A large Canadian policy experiment provides a lesson that might save us much grief in Australia. In 2000 the province of Quebec, populous and progressive, took the bold step of providing universal day care right down to newborn babies, at a cost to parents of $5 a day. It was a well-intentioned attempt to come to terms with a large increase in the number of families where both parents were working, which had almost doubled in 30 years.
Three economists, Michael Baker, Jonathan Gruber and Kevin Milligan, seized the chance to evaluate what happened in real time. They had the rest of Canada as a control group, and a large study in place tracking children across the country to provide detailed data on their development. What they found was astonishingly clear cut in a field usually littered with carefully worded reservations and ideologically filtered reporting. The scheme was a disaster.
Evaluated in economic terms, it did not pay for itself; the tax gains from increased workforce participation (the workforce grew by 7.7 per cent) did not make up for the cost of the exercise. Also the system crowded out informal and family forms of care, so that many people simply switched the kind of care they used to take advantage of the massive subsidies.
But the human cost was the most significant. There were marked declines in child wellbeing; on measures of hyperactivity, inattention, aggressiveness, motor skills, social skills and child illness, children were significantly worse off than their peers who remained at home.
The family suffered, too: parent-child relationships deteriorated on all measured dimensions. There was a significant increase in depression rates among mothers and a deterioration in couple relationships among affected parents. None of these changes was minor. The hyperactivity increases were in a range of 17 to 44 per cent; the skills decline was between 8 and 21 per cent; childhood illnesses rose by 400 per cent. The study is littered with adjectives researchers are usually careful to avoid: strong, marked, negative, robust, striking. Yet it did echo, though more strongly, similar findings in the United States, Britain and Europe.
The Quebec policy did so many things right. It mandated many improvements, increasing from one-third to two-thirds the proportion of carers with tertiary qualifications. It supplanted private profit-making centres or took them over, a measure known to increase care quality. It also included and trained in-home carers, or family day carers, as we call them. Yet still the outcomes were dire....
The evidence points to only one possible solution: paid parental leave. When Sweden introduced this 15 years ago, babies and under-twos almost disappeared from its day-care system. This was despite it being acknowledged as the best system in the world, costing 2 per cent of gross domestic product...
In Britain, the policy of the former prime minister, Tony Blair, of building vast numbers of centres has proved an expensive mistake: a younger generation of parents is choosing to stay home and one-fifth of British nursery places stand empty. Under pressure from parents and child development experts, Britain has now introduced paid parental leave...
In the end, paid parental leave is the most equitable way and the best value for money. It is certainly the best for babies. Love, after all, can't be bought.
See "Universal Childcare, Maternal Labor Supply, and Family Well-Being"
(University of Toronto - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER))
(Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER))
KEVIN MILLIGAN (University of British Columbia - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER))
November 2005 NBER Working Paper No. W11832
The growing labor force participation of women with small children in both the U.S. and Canada has led to calls for increased public financing for childcare. The optimality of public financing depends on a host of factors, such as the “crowd-out” of existing childcare arrangements, the impact on female labor supply, and the effects on child well-being. The introduction of universal, highly-subsidized childcare in Quebec in the late 1990s provides an opportunity to address these issues. We carefully analyze the impacts of Quebec’s “$5 per day childcare” program on childcare utilization, labor supply, and child (and parent) outcomes in two parent families. We find strong evidence of a shift into new childcare use, although approximately one third of the newly reported use appears to come from women who previously worked and had informal arrangements. The labor supply impact is highly significant, and our measured elasticity of 0.236 is slightly smaller than previous credible estimates. Finally, we uncover striking evidence that children are worse off in a variety of behavioral and health dimensions, ranging from aggression to motor-social skills to illness. Our analysis also suggests that the new childcare program led to more hostile, less consistent parenting, worse parental health, and lower-quality parental relationships.
See also
San Francisco Chronicle 2005-Nov.-01
The UC Berkeley-Stanford study found that all children who attended preschool at least 15 hours a week displayed more negative social behaviors such as trouble cooperating or acting up, when compared with their peers. The discrepancies were most pronounced among children from higher-income families.
Children from lower-income families lagged behind their peers who didn't attend preschool an average of 7 percentage points on the measure of social behavioral growth. But children from higher-income families lagged 9 percentage points behind their peers. These wealthier children did even worse when they attended preschool for 30 hours or more: They trailed their peers by 15 percentage points...
"It is time to come to grips with what all too many have denied for all too long, namely, that all disconcerting news about adverse effects cannot be attributed to low-quality care, which has been more or less the mantra of the field of child development and the child-care advocacy community for decades," Belsky said.
See Belsky, et. al.
"Are there long term effects of early child care?"
See Wight
Childcare for All? No Thanks
...Professor Edward Zigler, credited as “the father of Headstart” a widespread American preschool program admits “there is a large body of evidence that there is little to be gained by exposing middle class children to early education … (and) evidence that indicates early schooling is inappropriate for many four-year-olds, and that it may be harmful to their development”.

If preschool were truly beneficial in terms of giving children a head start, those places with some form of compulsory preschool should do demonstrably better academically. The evidence does not bear this out.

For example, the two states of America which have compulsory preschool, Georgia and Oklahoma, have the lowest results for fourth grade reading tests in the country.
...the longitudinal studies often quoted to argue an academic advantage provided by preschool for lower socio-economic groups, actually also show that this “advantage” disappears by grade three.

But what about the much-touted social benefits of preschool programs? Here again, there is research to refute this. A 2005 Stanford University study reported: “We find that attendance in preschool centers, even for short periods of time each week, hinder the rate at which young children develop social skills and display the motivation to engage in classroom tasks, as reported by their [prep] teachers.”

In 1986, Tizzard and Hughes compared the language environments at home and in preschools in the UK. Their method involved tape-recording the conversations of four-year-old girls at preschool in the morning and again at home with their mothers in the afternoon. They reported:

"We became increasingly aware of how rich this [home] environment was for all the children (working-class and middle-class). The conversations between the children and their mothers ranged freely over a variety of topics.
At home the children discussed topics like work, the family, birth, growing up, and death; they talked with their mothers about things they had done together in the past, and their plans for the future; they puzzled over such diverse topics as the shape of roofs and chairs, the nature of Father Christmas, and whether the Queen wears curlers in bed.
When we came to analyse the conversations between these same children and their [preschool] teachers, we could not avoid being disappointed.
The richness, depth and variety which characterised the home conversations were sadly missing. So too was the sense of intellectual struggle, and of the real attempts to communicate being made by both sides.

The questioning, puzzling child which we were so taken with at home was gone: in her place was a child who, when talking to staff, seemed subdued, and whose conversations with adults were mainly restricted to answering questions rather than asking them, or taking part in minimal exchanges about the whereabouts of other children and play materials.

In all this research, it is difficult to sort out to what extent there is a difference between compulsory preschool programs and optional preschool but it seems that there is enough evidence both to question the push towards compulsory preschool and to throw doubt on the theory that preschool is beneficial for all.

Children at home with their families are not disadvantaged. Indeed they are very likely better off. So if your child does not wish to go to kindergarten, or you do not wish to send them, rest assured that you are not depriving them.

Relationships are the most important part of life. For small children especially, the time spent in the secure home environment is invaluable. Contrary to popular opinion, forcing children to separate from their parents before they are ready to is not necessary...

No comments: