I was looking through a memory book that I had put together when my daughter was a small child and came across her pre-school schedule. It goes like this:

8:30-9:00 AM: Free time: Blocks, books and coloring

9:00-9:30 AM: Circle: French, Spanish, German and sign. (The children and teacher would sing songs in different languages and one teacher would sign while she spoke to the students. They would rotate languages each day.)

9:30- 10:00 AM: Outside: In the garden.

10:00- 11:30 AM: Classes: Art, Listening Comprehension, Music, Large Motor Activity, etc.

11:30- noon: Lunch: Manners and Language Development.

The children in my daughter’s pre-school also learned the alphabet, their numbers and how to write their names. The rest of the time they were absorbing new experiences, exploring their world,  learning how to work together and get along with each other and having fun in the process. Having fun at school during that time was very important to me. I wanted my daughter to equate learning and school to a positive experience.

Is this the same experience that Burgess and other fans of Universal pre-K envision for all children?

First, let’s take a look at the money. Funding for the Universal pre-K program in Seattle is to come from the levy that recently passed and by way of an increase in property taxes. The cost of Universal pre-K in Boston is $10,000 per student so this effort will be costly.

In the Mayor’s Preschool Program Action Plan, “quality assessments” will be linked to funding: “The efficacy evaluation will provide valid estimates of the effectiveness of the program in achieving its goal of improving children’s preparedness for kindergarten with sufficient precision to guide decisions about the program” (Mayor’s Plan page 18)

And there is to be a “prescribed curriculum” that the assessments will be based on. What these assessments are has not been clearly defined but up to this point, in the drive for the corporate makeover of our educational system, that language refers to testing.

A friend and I were discussing the idea of assessments recently in terms of pre-K and she brought up the fact that if middle class families think there will be testing involved of any sort, they will not have their children participate in the program. One of the goals of this Universal pre-K program is to have a more diverse group of children which would include low income and middle income students.

Needless to say, assessing students in any way at preschool age to see if they are kinder-ready is absurd and abusive.

Regarding the curriculum, “Programs (are) required to adopt approved curriculum, (with a) waiver process considered after 2018”.

This requirement for a specific curriculum could discourage participation of current programs that use a different approach to preparing children for Kindergarten. Programs such as Montessori and the school my daughter participated in where the focus is on social-emotional learning as opposed to academic training could be excluded.

For this reason, we should not see “Universal” pre-K as a silver bullet as charter schools were deemed to be.

But getting back to the money, let’s take a closer look at that aspect of Universal pre-K.

From Education Week:

Growth in States’ Early Childhood Spending Opens Business Opportunities 

“Estimates of the return on investment of high-quality programs for low-income children range from $4 to $7 for every $1 spent.”

Judging from a Markeplace K-12 review of the report, more opportunities for businesses that serve the youngest children may emerge next year, and beyond, in the following areas:

  • Providing preschool programs
  • Educating preschool teachers
  • Developing assessments of preschool children
  • Enhancing reading/literacy
  • Creating home-visit programs
  • Parent education and support programs
  • Providing quality rating or improvement systems

In May, the Business Roundtable, an association of CEOs interested in influencing public policy, issued a call to action for states and the federal government to provide more early childhood education. “Estimates of the return on investment of high-quality programs for low-income children range from $4 to $7 for every $1 spent. However the research is clear: the return on investment is linked to quality; simply increasing participation without ensuring program quality will not produce positive results.”  

“Quality” these days is determined by “assessments” which means testing.

As I stated earlier, funding for Universal pre-K in Seattle, according to the ordinance to be voted on by the Seattle City Council on Monday, is to come from the levy that was recently passed and by raising property taxes.

Using levy money is how we support public schools in the Seattle school district. There is no income tax so we rely on the state sales tax, property taxes and levies to pay for public programs. The one caveat about this funding is that the money could easily go into private hands and to investors in pre-K who stand to make a profit off of our investment.

City Council members have referred to a  “mixed delivery system” for a Universal Pre-K program in Seattle.  In other parts of the country where Universal pre-K has been established, the term “mixed delivery system” refers to offering Universal pre-K in public schools, in for-profit charter schools, by small private businesses and community based organizations.

That needs to be carefully watched.

And then there is the  data-sharing which is another piece of Universal pre-K. The requirements for Race to the Top money and the Common Core Standards have created a large and virtually untraceable trail of data, private student and family information, that is vacuumed up and shared with any third party.

There is to be data sharing between preschools involved with the Universal pre-K program and the Seattle Public School district. There is not only the risk of categorizing children before they begin Kindergarten but we also know with the Race to the Top money that Seattle “won”, we are to share any and all information with the Federal Government which in turn, thanks to the revision of FERPA by the Obama administration, makes student information available to any third party.

According to Politico:

PRE-K DATA VARIES ACROSS STATES: Thirty states say they’re securely linking early education child-level data from some programs to their state’s K-12 data system, but 49 states say they aren’t connecting that child-level data across all early childhood programs to the K-12 system. Pennsylvania is the exception, according to a new study released by the Early Childhood Data Collaborative. Twenty states are linking early childhood data to social services data and 12 are linking that data to state health data. The report also finds that 36 states collect state-level childhood development data across early childhood programs and 29 are collecting kindergarten readiness data.  If a bipartisan congressional preschool expansion titled the Strong Start for America’s Children Act were to become a reality, states would have to tie early childhood data to their state’s K-12 systems.

Other troubling aspects of the Ordinance are as follows:

The Mayor is to appoint four members to the Universal pre-K Oversight Committee. How will that be done? Who can qualify to be one of his appointees? This aspect needs to be transparent and anyone who has an interest in preschool for all children should be able to apply. This should not be a time to appoint favorites or recycle the usual few.

The other four members of the Oversight Committee will be from the levy committee. There also needs to be on the ground, in the trenches Seattle educators with experience in early child learning as part of this committee.

The city expects Seattle Public Schools to be a vital partner in this program and yet the school board does not have the ability to oversee the program at all.

There are still many unanswered questions about this ordinance and a vagueness that could provide loopholes for charter schools and others to use and abuse.

Let’s be careful what we wish for Seattle.

Dora Taylor

Post Script:

A big thank you to all of the people who have contacted me with their concerns and additional information about this program.

Keep those cards and letters coming.