On Monday, February 23, Arne Duncan laid down some speaks on the National Governor's Association Winter Meeting. His prepared remarks touched on many areas of education, but he devoted much of his speaking to the issue of Pre-K.
Mind you, Duncan did not speak about why Pre-K is a good idea or a valuable idea, nor did he speak about what Pre-K done right would look like. In fact, he didn't really talk about the educational aspects of Pre-K at all. What he addressed was its political inevitability.
So let's see what the compelling reasons for welcoming Pre-K might be. Here's Arne's Top Ten List.
#10: There is much greater public awareness today of the importance of
the early years to the long-term health, learning, and success of our
children and our communities--and it is coupled with widespread public
support for a big expansion of early learning.
The political ground is fertile for the planting of Pre-K support. Lots of people believe this is a good thing, although most of them are imagining something completely different from our vision. You can win votes by backing this. Also, doesn't this sound much more attractive then testing and drilling four-year-olds?
#9: A powerful, bipartisan coalition of governors are funding expansions
in the states—in some cases, big expansions—of high-quality early
There is a big bunch of money pushing this. People are going to want to be your buddy when you have the power to make them rich. Also, note the new buzzword "high-quality," which means roughly, "carrying the USDOE seal of approval (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Pearson, Inc)"
#8: There is a remarkably diverse and robust coalition of law
enforcement officials, military leaders, clergy, CEOs, unions, parents,
and others that strongly support expanding high-quality early learning
Again, there is political support out there for this, from all sorts of folks. It's true that all these folks know next to nothing about the needs of four-year-olds, but they know plenty about the needs of politicians.
#7: The old arguments that states should have no role in providing
low- and moderate-income families with voluntary access to early
learning and child care have lost force.
We have broken down the traditional desire for local control.
#6: There is a growing recognition that quality matters tremendously when it comes to early learning.
We have no idea what "quality" means, but it tests positive with all our focus groups. Some people think "quality" means games and fun and being a child while learning some stuff, instead of drilling and testing. We can use these people. And as long as we control the meaning of "quality," we control the Pre-K franchise.
#5: For the first time, a majority of the states are now assessing the school readiness of children when they enter kindergarten.
Testing five-year-olds will help generate the kind of fear and panic that are great for motivating people. Let's just skip over the question of what in the hell a five-year-old needs to be tested on, or the developmental appropriateness of making Kindergarten the new First Grade. Is your four-year-old writing complex historical analyses and reading Faulkner? Then get thee to Pre-K. And don't forget-- no child is ready for school without a working knowledge of politics in Mesopotamia.
#4: The enactment of third grade reading laws in many of your
states is going to propel an expansion of high-quality early learning.
We're going to start labeling your eight-year-olds failures if they can't pass a standardized reading test. Again, don't ask why. Just relish the highly motivational panic this will create in your electorate.
#3: America is way behind high-performing countries in our
provision of early learning--and there is a growing awareness that
high-quality early learning is critical to sustaining our international
Actually, we're just making stuff up now. This talking point has been constructed without the use of a single verifiable fact. But yeah-- Estonia is going to bury us economically if our four-year-olds don't know fifty sight words!! OMGZZ!!
#2: America is currently in the midst of an unprecedented wave of
innovation and capacity-building when it comes to early learning--and a
new federal-state partnership helped unleash this wave of innovation.
Key word here is "capacity building." Somebody is going to have to create all those Pre-K schools and programs. Do you smell that? It's the smell of money just waiting to be made.
#1: The enormous unmet need and demand for high-quality early learning.
Unmet, unverified, and unsubstantiated. But okay. We are doing our best to help create the illusion of need in order to drive a real demand.
The speech is directed at politicians, so the political nature is understandable, but I am still struck by how completely and utterly Duncan ignores the question of what "quality" looks like in a Pre-K program, which is exactly the conversation we should be having.
Look, I'm a high school teacher. But it sure looks to me like we are creating-- inventing from scratch-- a whole new grade of school, pushed on our most vulnerable citizens and promoted without the slightest conversation about what a new grade of school for four year olds should look like. What would be developmentally appropriate? What would best serve the needs of the children? Everything we know about the USDOE, Duncan, CCSS, and the implementation of reformy stuff indicates that the USDOE doesn't know the answers and doesn't particularly care.
Declaring Pre-K "inevitable" for any number of reasons is irresponsible for a Secretary of Education. We should be talking about whether it should be evitable. We should be talking about what form it must take if we're going to allow it to happen.Set some policy. Ask not if it IS inevitable, but whether or not it SHOULD be.
Duncan ought to be saying things like, "Before we make any attempt to take very young children out of home to participate in new educational programs, we'd better make damn sure that every aspect of that program is carefully designed and vetted by educational and developmental experts." Instead, he's out cheerleading about a unique opportunity for investors and politicians. As with CCSS, children are just cannon fodder.