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Ploys for tots

"Ploys for tots" Continued...

Issue: "UN's abuse of power," July 24, 2004

But critics of the Perry research -- a study that universal preschool advocates quote often -- note that all children in the study were from families living in poverty. Thus differences between the school-age and adult experiences of the preschool and control groups may not predict the effect of preschool -- or the lack thereof -- on children from other socioeconomic groups. Also, Perry Preschool teachers paid weekly 1-hour visits to students and their mothers, a service not typical of a normal preschool experience. Finally, all students in the Perry study had IQs between 70 and 85; the "normal" range is 85 to 115.

Meanwhile, Georgia's universal preschool program has yet to yield baby geniuses. A 1999 study showed that graduates did "not differ from the entire kindergarten population" in kindergarten aptitude testing scores. But a 10-year longitudinal study by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development showed that regular, out-of-home child care may yield baby bullies: Kids who were routinely cared for by non-parents for more than 10 hours per week were more likely to be aggressive toward other children.

"One of the misrepresentations taking place [among universal preschool advocates] is that investing more public funds in more early childhood education is important to improve the quality of care for preschoolers and their cognitive development," said Bryan Robertson, a research fellow at the Family Research Council's Center for Marriage and Family. "But the social science tends to show that parental involvement is the most important corollary to successful academic performance later on."

The Safrits may be a case in point. Their son Taylor, now 7, knew how to read when he entered kindergarten. But he didn't learn it in preschool, though he did attend one part-time; he learned how to read at home, with mom Karen. Today, Taylor is an ace third-grader at Will Rogers Elementary School in Santa Monica.

In states where universal preschool already exists, none has yet decreed compulsory attendance. But some Californians worry that their state may be first. The Democrat-led legislature and education establishment have in recent years shown a penchant for overreach, even hegemony. For example, while some states have passed laws prohibiting discrimination against homosexual students and employees, California went a step further: It is now state law that, beginning in kindergarten, kids must be taught that homosexuality is one legitimate sexual choice among many, and that contrary views amount to bigotry.

Another example: In an effort to cut its fiscal losses incurred with a growing homeschool population, the California Education Department (CED) last year sent out a letter that tried to frighten home educators -- under penalty of law -- into placing themselves under the supervision of local public-school districts. As it turned out, the letter itself didn't comply with the law. After a storm of grassroots protest, the CED admitted that homeschoolers could operate independently after all.

Add to that history the fact that Golden State liberals now are coalescing around the CED's Master Plan for Education. That document calls for California both to establish universal preschool and switch from optional, part-day to mandatory full-day kindergarten. The plan also calls for the state to lower from 6 years to 5 its compulsory school-starting age.

Meanwhile, First 5 and the California Teachers Association (CTA) in April abruptly withdrew the "Improving Classroom Education Act," a 2004 ballot initiative that would have raised California's commercial property tax by 55 percent, ostensibly to improve existing public instruction. But the measure's language would also have amended the state constitution to establish universal preschool, per-pupil funding, and, ultimately, union control of the program.

First 5 dropped the initiative after a taxpayers group said it could prove in court that the act would also raise taxes on private property. But Pacific Research Institute education analyst Lance Izumi said language in the initiative reveals what may be in store for California. "The fact that [the CTA] was pushing for per-pupil funding means universal preschool would have become part of the public education system," Mr. Izumi said, adding that similar, future initiatives may bear the same threat. "It's only a small step from voluntary to mandatory preschool. It will be easy to say next that since some kids are not taking advantage of preschool and are falling behind, we need to make the program mandatory."

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