What is amiss with VPK?

As always, when a state test indicates kids are failing, parents have to wonder whether the problem is the test or the program. Now the focus is on the Voluntary Prekindergarten program. (VPK). Over forty percent of children who were enrolled in VPK do not meet the new STAR readiness standards for kindergarten. Once again, the stakes are high. Early learning providers can be placed on probation if fewer than 60% of children enrolled do not meet the state standard established for the new STAR kindergarten readiness test.

The new readiness test has higher standards than the previous one, so a drop in kindergarten readiness rates is no surprise. Back in 2012, Florida OPPAGA reported that 72.9% of VPK children were ready for kindergarten and now only 40%??.

There is a lot we do not know about the quality of VPK programs. The VPK program only provides funding for 540 hours of instruction for children…about 1/2 time during the school year and 300 hours in the summer. So, programs may offer VPK in the morning and just daycare in the afternoon. Lead teachers must be at least 18 years old have post secondary course work in early childhood education. Is this adequate to meet state standards?

We do know that the kindergarten standards have gone up, and in usual Florida style, the funding has gone down. We also know that about 25% of eligible children, mostly from low-income families, do not attend a VPK program at all.

At issue is more than the results of a test. Test scores go up if teachers teach to the test. Children can spout facts and reproduce simply defined skills if enough time is spent on drill and practice. As many of us know, however, memorizing words and facts does not an essay make. Spouting facts and skills does not produce critical thinking and problem solving. Naming tools does not equate to the ability to make things or do things. Fixing that problem with a test and high stakes consequences for failure makes a bad problem worse. Knowledge and the ability to apply that knowledge and think critically about the result is what is required for a strong educational system. The legislature needs to put this into practice. Test and punish philosophies just do not work.

VPK Study Raises Serious Questions

Why would children attending Voluntary Pre School do slightly better than similar students in kindergarten who did not attend VPK but less well in third grade? A serious longitudinal study in Tennessee found just that. VPK students lost ground in math and science and performed the same in reading. There were no significant differences in attendance, grade retention or discipline infractions.

This is counter intuitive, of course, and the authors provided possible explanations. At the same time, they reference similar findings in a study of Head Start students. It is thought provoking. Are these children enrolled in preschools treated differently e.g. immersed in language arts to the expense of science and math? Why would this be true for children from VPK programs but not for children with similar backgrounds?

The quality of VPK programs differ, but this in itself may not explain the study’s results.

VPK Standards Up; Scores Drop

Four year old children in Voluntary Prekindergarten have to meet higher standards, particularly in math. As a result, 43% of the providers failed to meet the new standards compared to 22% in 2013. These standards have not been taught, so lower scores are no surprise. The increase in math standards requires students to count to 31; determine which is more, equal or less in sets of ten objects, and recognize circles, squares, triangles, and rectangles.

Results of the fall 2017 by county can be found here. Scroll down to the RESULTS section.

For more information about Florida’s Early Learning Program see here.
http://www.heraldtribune.com/news/20180522/new-test-impacts-floridas-kindergarten-readiness-rates

Scott Signs Early Learning Bill

The legislature passed a comprehensive Early Learning Program bill (HB 1091). The Office of Early Learning will administer grants to develop observation based child assessments and program assessments. $6 million have been allocated. Quality improvement strategies and community needs assessments are to be reported by the Early Learning Coalitions.

The bill supports recognizes needs of the most at risk children and provides financial incentives for program improvement.

Not everything in education is partisan

Where is the common ground? In this NY Times article, education policies turn out the vote on the right and the left. There is agreement that a good education matters according to a survey by Priorities USA. The much publicized skepticism about America’s educational system applies to other people, not to personal experience. The author, David Leonhardt, says this is the “time for big, ambitious ideas”. This translates into universal preschool to address both racial and access inequalities and free community college for which there is bi-partisan support.

Leonhardt’s article ends with “Sometimes good policy and good politics align quite nicely. The single best bet that a society or an individual can make–education–also turns out to be the rare idea that transcends today’s partisan divide”.

Segregation: Is the federal government to blame?

Did the federal government end segregation of schools while at the same time promote segregation? How could this be?

In this Education Votes article, Sabrina Holcomb presents Rothstein’s arguments that federal housing policy created the current educational policy crisis. In ‘The Color of Law: A forgotten history of how our government segregated America’, Richard Rothstein is provocative. It is worth a minute to read the Education Votes summary. It focuses our attention on what needs to change to reduce the inequities that our schools are supposed to overcome.

It is clear that attempts to overcome the housing segregation that occurred due to federal housing loan policies dominate our school systems. School choice is one of the most dramatic examples. Charters that siphon off and divide minority neighborhoods are a direct result of trying to find an inexpensive alternative for families to ‘escape’ the low income, educationally disadvantaged schools that federal policy created. They are also a way for some higher income parents in other neighborhoods to maintain their advantage. The emphasis on magnet programs to fill under enrolled schools is also related. Wholesale tracking of students into advanced and gifted programs is another unintended consequence. So, what can be done?

You can’t pick up and move homes. Moving children around is sometimes so time consuming and expensive that it creates as many problems as it solves. Some localities are experimenting with incentives to promote more economically diverse housing options. Others suggest that schools must solve the inequities that communities produce. Online education advocates promote packaged instruction that does not create the student engaged, project based interdisciplinary instruction that motivates students. We do need some sort of learning networks, however. What could these be like both within and across schools and community partners? How can entire communities pull together to support a positive learning environment for all kids? How can real estate developers, local governments, education and social service systems work toward common goals?

Isn’t this what we should be talking about? The first learning network that comes to my mind is one where those communities that are working toward a collaborative vision can learn from one another. Hmmmm, the Integrative Communities blog. Know of one? Surely some exist in the city planning world.

Massive Last Minute Education Bill Emerges

A new mega bill HB 7069 for education was released last night–278 pages long.   It combined provisions from other bills.  The funding is dismal; for most districts there will be less money next year.  Local district capital outlay funds do not increase and must be shared with charters which seriously harms districts.

Other provisions impact teacher bonuses and scholarships and expansion of charter schools by taking over schools in low income areas without requiring district oversight.

Testing and accountability have minor changes–Algebra II EOC is no longer required and the testing window is pushed back by allowing paper and pencil test for grades 3-6.  Districts may determine data for teacher evaluations.

Schools of Excellence and Schools of Hope are created.  It seems as though current state regulations now apply only to schools earning a grade of ‘B’ or ‘C’.  The others are granted flexibility.   The logic is flawed there.  The needs for the middle (or most students) are ignored.

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Education Budget Disaster

According to FADDS, the education budget is out.  The State base per student funding decreases by $27 per student.  This base funding amounts to about one half of the operating funds for schools.  The remainder comes from local property taxes.  Increases in funding from property taxes covers expected growth in student enrollment and higher rates for the Florida Retirement System.  What is left, about $5.32 per student, may not even cover increases in health care and other costs.

Categorical funds for things like transportation, Safe Schools, exceptional students, supplemental instruction, and instructional materials, all remain below 2010 funding.

This budget is much lower than either the Senate budget or the budget offered by Governor Scott.  He is rumored to be considering a veto for this budget.  Perhaps we should encourage Governor Scott to be resolute.

New and Improved?? Testing Bill

SB 926 may be dead!  Arising from the ashes is a new version of HB 549.  Senators Stargel and Flores filed a strike all and insert 72 page amendment last night.  Will it be heard today??

K-5 recess is still there as are a number of other ideas being floated to support visits to and expansion of charter schools, shared use of school playgrounds and wearing sunscreen etc.  Some of the bill actually relates to testing reform.

 

 

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