Ready or not 4 K

Early Childhood/Family Education (ECFE) forces are rallying the troops for another sentimental demand for more money and more government bureaucracy.

In this morning's Star Tribune editorial "Early education/Make it a top-five priority," the newspaper claims that "About half of Minnesota 5-year-olds come to kindergarten less than fully prepared" for kindergarten. The editorial mentions a group called Ready 4 K, a political action committee whose web site begins, "WHAT YOU CAN DO FOR MINNESOTA'S KIDS: FIND out who your legislators are and contact them. Tell them you want them to invest in young minds!" It continues, "Fewer than one-half of entering kindergartners are truly proficient when they enter kindergarten, according to the Minnesota Department of Education."

What a difference a commissioner makes. If the Strib and Ready 4 K are referring to the Department of Education's second annual Minnesota School Readiness study (neither source cites the study to which it refers), it proves the old saw about lies, damn lies, and statistics. Former education commissioner Cheri Pierson Yecke looked at this study and saw that "most Minnesota children enter kindergarten with the skills they need." Take a look at these numbers and tell me what you see:
ProficientIn ProcessSubtotal Not Yet
Physical Development57%41%98%2%
Personal And Social Development47%44%91%9%
Mathematical Thinking40%50%
Language and Literacy43%46%89%12%

Source: Minnesota Department of Education, 2003 "Minnesota School Readiness."

Scholar thinks that the 10 percent in the "Not Yet" column is the "crisis," not the 90+ percent who are "proficient" or almost proficient.

In a February press release announcing the results of this study, Yecke suggested:
  • Creating local task forces with schools and communities to review the results of this statewide study and take local action to involve parents, improve schools' ability to address the needs of young children, and enhance early care and education programs and outcomes for young learners;
  • Continuing to promote and distribute information the Department has developed for parents of 4-year-olds on expectations for kindergarten and simple, everyday learning experiences that help children learn; and
  • Continuing and expanding Minnesota's school readiness study.
  • Providing education initiative fostering innovation grants for voluntary cooperation among school districts could help to strengthen Minnesota's pre-kindergarten programs. One option for these grants would be to coordinate the administration of Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE) programs.
Ready 4 K proposes measures that would focus on creating a new bureaucracy to establish "universal standards" and administer "assessements," improve the infrastructure, and dole out money:
  • Providing scholarships to at-risk families for quality early care and education
  • Providing incentives for professional training and infrastructure improvements
  • Developing a provider quality rating system to guide parent choices
  • Encouraging home visits for certain struggling families
  • Providing excellent parent education through improved outreach
  • Establishing universal school readiness standards
  • Assessing each child's progress against those standards
  • Enabling providers to see more clearly the results they are getting for their kids
  • Improving links to K-12 so the transition to school is smooth and encouraging
Anticipating attacks on their approach, the Ready 4 K website claims that "parents are, and should be, the most important people in the lives of their children" and that they don't want government to solve the problem, "but it can help."

There is some overlap between the two visions. Everyone, even those mean, heartless Republicans, can agree on wanting our "youngest Minnesotans" to arrive in kindergarten ready to learn. But aren't 90% of those entering kindergarten either ready or almost ready to learn already? Who will really benefit from a toddler edition of The Profile of Learning and the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCAs)?