Nevada lawmakers have for decades been throwing taxpayer money at various feel-good-but-futile programs and schemes in an attempt to drag the state’s public education system up from the lowest rungs.
The latest proposal to surface in the Legislature in Carson City might not be merely futile, but actually harmful.
Democratic North Las Vegas Assemblywoman Olivia Diaz has introduced Assembly Bill 186 that would lower the mandatory school age from 7 to 5 and require schools to create prekindergarten education programs for children as young as 4.
Diaz testified before an Assembly Education Committee hearing this past week, “I think we need to step up our game as a state to make sure there is more access to pre-K programs. Currently, I know my grandbaby is blessed to have two professional, attorney parents to enroll him in a pre-K program as early as 9 months of age, but what happens when you are of a different socio-economic status? What happens when you cannot afford, it’s just not within your means? Do we just look the other way and say, ‘So sad for you. You don’t get this opportunity to start on a level playing field when you enter kindergarten?’ Or do we realize that we have a lot of children … who need a high quality pre-K program? And how do we get that pre-K program to those children in need?”
Diaz said that Nevada is only allocating about $3 million to pre-K programs, while Utah, for example, spends about $9 million.
The fiscal note accompanying AB186 estimates this proposal will cost $352 million in the next biennium and $420 million over the next two years.
The federal Head Start program offering early childhood education has been around since 1965 and costs $8 billion a year, despite the fact a massive federal study found it has had no lasting educational impact.
“In summary, there were initial positive impacts from having access to Head Start, but by the end of 3rd grade there were very few impacts found for either cohort in any of the four domains of cognitive, social-emotional, health and parenting practices. The few impacts that were found did not show a clear pattern of favorable or unfavorable impacts for children,” reported the Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation in 2012.
Worse, a study by Stanford and Berkeley universities in 2005 found that early education programs can be harmful. “The biggest eye-opener is that the suppression of social and emotional development, stemming from long hours in preschool, is felt most strongly by children from better-off families,” said UC Berkeley sociologist and co-author Bruce Fuller in a press release.
The study found that the earlier a child enters a preschool center, the slower his or her pace of social development. It also noted that prekindergarten education actually “hinders social development and created poor social behavior, such as bullying and aggression, and a lack of motivation to take part in classroom activities.”
Some things sound like a good idea but don’t turn out to be so.
For example, since 1990 Nevada has spent close to $2.5 billion on class-size reduction in the early grades with nothing to show for it. A 2001 report by the Nevada Legislative Counsel Bureau found that achievement data did not improve and that students in larger classes outperformed those in the smaller classes.
Over the past four decades, according to a Cato Institute analysis, Nevada has increased K-12 public school funding by 80 percent per pupil, adjusted for inflation. During those four decades student test scores have actually fallen slightly.
A number of people testifying against AB186 Wednesday afternoon suggested the state is taking away too many parental rights.
Janine Hansen of Nevada Families for Freedom cited the work of one researcher who looked into 6,000 studies of early childhood eduction and found that starting school later, rather than earlier, led to “the success of children, including in academics, leadership, resisting peer pressure and general success in life. So we believe that the option should be available and that more children could succeed if they were in school later, when their brains are lateralized, when they are developmentally ready.”
Hansen said earlier schooling can be especially a problem for boys who, when forced into school early, can become behavior problems.
“We think parents are the best to educate their children, and they need to be free to make those kinds of decisions,” she said.
We agree. This bill is too expensive, too intrusive and is just as likely to cause more harm than good.
A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel, Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.
Although one important question remains unanswered, it seems hard to justify maintaining Head Start until further research is done. The question is whether or not the effects of Head Start are diluted in forthcoming years by classmates who were not in Head Start. It is conceivable that, as with a bright child going to a school with inferior pupils, the Head Start children might have done better with classes full of Head Start peers. That being said, the burden of proof should lie on the advocates for this program.