‘For the Kids’ Is Deceptive

November 1, 2010

For release noon Nov. 2 and thereafter (557 words)

Every few years an issue re-emerges in Indiana, one that deserves more serious, objective public debate but seems mired in emotionalism and politics. That issue this next session is full-day kindergarten for all Hoosier five-year olds.

Please know there is more to it than being either for or against children.

Most recently, the lead political writer for the Indianapolis Star wrote a front-page appeal to Gov. Mitch Daniels to use the upcoming session to secure full-day kindergarten as his administration’s legacy. “We need to do it for the kids,” was the gist.

As with most discussions of the issue, the Star commentary tugged at our heart strings but left questions unanswered, especially in regard to cost and effectiveness. Also, there were the unaddressed concerns associated with the moral responsibility of parenthood and the social dangers of instituting childhood bonds.

Those points were raised in a statewide survey of our two groups, scholars associated with the Indiana Policy Review Foundation and members of the American Family Association of Indiana. A sample of their responses:

• Will charter and private schools receive funding comparable to public schools?

• What is the peer-reviewed evidence of a cost-effective and lasting (beyond grade 4) educational impact from full-day kindergarten?

• How do the costs and benefits of half-day kindergarten compare with those of full-day kindergarten?

• Does the demand for private kindergarten and evidence of its benefits currently support a case for public expenditures for a broader, mandatory system?

• Would publicly funded day care provide comparable socialization and education benefits to full-day kindergarten?

Indeed, there is serious research that supports answers negative to the Star’s proposal. Lisa Snell, an education expert writing for The Indiana Policy Review, cites a RAND study of 7,900 students that found full-day kindergarten programs “may actually be detrimental to mathematics performance and nonacademic readiness skills.”

Snell also critiqued an Indiana study, “The Effects of Full-Day Versus Half-Day Kindergarten,” by the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University. The study, Snell argues, did its best to praise full-day kindergarten but could only go so far as to say, “there are no negative outcomes commonly associated with full day kindergarten, and that — at worst — full-day kindergarten and half-day kindergarten have similar effects.”

Finally, there is reason to suspect political motives hiding behind the inarguable good of educating and caring for small children.

The teachers unions clearly see full-day kindergarten as a jobs program. This is hidden from a generally supportive Democrat political base that may have full-day kindergarten confused with the separate and more serious issue of childcare — an issue gravely ignored in a society of single parents, working mothers and generally overwhelmed families.

One of the I.U. studies looked at 1,830 kindergartners in a large urban school district in Indiana and then analyzed their third-grade test scores on the I-Step in math and language. In that case, researchers found “evidence that the differences between full- and half day students are negligible.”

“Negligible? Not exactly the results you want to hear when you are considering spending $280 million a year,” Snell concluded.

Our memberships would agree.
Micah Clark of Indianapolis is the director of the American Family Association of Indiana. Craig Ladwig of Fort Wayne is the editor of The Indiana Policy Review. A version of this essay originally appeared in the Indianapolis Star.


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