Just Whose Children Are They?

By Karen Bryant

Issues and Action in Education

An e-letter produced by EdWatch, a nonprofit organization.

January 15, 2005

We all know that a square peg cannot fit into a round hole.  But did you know that a sphere apparently cannot fit into a round hole?  It was that time of year when the government rounds up all the preschool age children they can find in order to screen them for “school readiness.”   My friend’s grandson went through this assembly line process only to be labeled unprepared for kindergarten.  The reason?  He could not adequately stand on one foot and he did not give the predetermined answer to a question.  When shown a ball and asked what it was, the boy replied that it was a sphere with air in it.  That answer was incorrect according to the preschool screening guidelines.  The passing answer was “ball.”  Although this child had all the U.S. Presidents memorized in order of their terms, he was judged to be unprepared to enter kindergarten.  This is a true story and a classic example of what we get when bureaucracies try the one size fits all approach with our children.  

On Monday, November 14, a “community initiative” promoted by Ready 4 K, Minnesota’s School Readiness Campaign, was held at Alexandria Technical College.  This was one of several meetings held by Ready 4 K around the state with the goal of mustering up community support for expanded early childhood development programs (preschool).  There were approximately 50 in attendance, most of whom were stake holders in early childhood education and development.  Our local legislators, Senator Dallas Sams, Representative Torrey Westrom, and Representative Mary Ellen Otremba served on the panel, which District 206 Superintendent Ric Dressen facilitated.  In addition to our local legislators, Senator John Hottinger, from District 23 in the Mankato area attended.  Senator Hottinger chaired the Early Childhood Policy and Budget Division of the Senate Finance Committee.  Expansion of government education seems to be a major interest of Senator Hottinger. 

After researching some of the reports that organizations such as Ready 4 K use as their foundation for building a case for program expansion, which translates into increased tax dollars, it became apparent to me that early childhood development expansion is simply the next step in the transformation of our education and economic system.  Once fully implemented, this transformation will leave our nation unrecognizable as a constitutional republic and free market society.    

This transformation really began to take hold with the passage of Goals 2000.  That federal mandate initially was recognized at our state level in the form of the infamous Profile of Learning.  The terms “Goals 2000” and “Profile of Learning” have been wiped off the slate, but their structures are essentially in place and are continuing to be built upon.    The first goal of Goals 2000 states “All Children Will Start School Ready to Learn.”  Notice the word “all?”  That is a rather grandiose and invasive goal, as admirable as it may appear on the surface.  Ready 4 K appears to embrace that goal.  Its literature states, “Only one-half of Minnesota children start kindergarten fully prepared for success...”  I suppose my friend’s grandson falls into this category.   It also states that its solution is “a five year plan that puts in place well-connected early care and education services for all families and targets more intensive services to those children and families most in need.”  This sounds like an all inclusive solution to an isolated problem.

From their testimonies and comments at the November 14 meeting, it appears that Ready 4 K, Senator Hottinger, and many of the early childhood stake holders think that parents just are not doing a good enough job in preparing children to learn.  While I recognize those early childcare providers who serve children and families with a sincere heart of compassion, and I acknowledge that there are indeed children whose school readiness is thwarted by their high risk living situations, I do not see the hard evidence that demands a massive expansion of early childhood learning.  A study just released by Stanford University and the University of California on November 5, 2005 states that “For example, children spending long hours or more months in center care each year exhibit greater problem behaviors, including elevated levels of aggression and less effective impulse control, compared with children attending fewer hours each day.” (Bates, Marvinney, Kelly, Dodge, Bennett, & Pettit, 1994; Belsky, 2001; NICHD ECCRN, 2003)  The crisis as defined by organizations such as Ready 4 K, Minnesota Early Learning Foundation, etc...only serves as a vehicle to usher in the predetermined solution that promotes the agenda of increased government regulation.    I would venture to say that the real crisis is not so much a bunch of kindergartners unprepared to learn, but rather a state that wants to simply produce pre-trained laborers, which can best be ensured by gaining access to children at the youngest possible age. Take into account the fact that the Ready 4 K literature fortresses its arguments with “A Proposal for Achieving High Returns on Early Childhood Development” by Rob Grunewald and Arthur Rolnick of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.  What interest does the Federal Reserve have with our 3 and 4 year olds? 

The report opens with the following comments regarding economic development, “If using public subsidies to influence the location decision of private companies is the wrong way to promote economic development, what is the right way?  Invest in human capital.....In addition, most successful economies are associated with a high-quality workforce which includes workers with formal education as well as experienced workers with on-the-job training.”  (Grunewald, Rolnick p. 5)  In other words they need some professionals with college degrees, but they also need individuals content with skilled labor.  The private business owner is noticeably absent from the picture.  They also state, “Economically there are important benefits available, if we find cost-effective ways to improve early childhood development.  These include avoiding the burdens of “social chaos,” such as crime and welfare costs, getting more from our existing investments in K-12 education and capturing gains from social capital investments such as more skilled workers and higher incomes.”  (p 4) 

Higher incomes for the individual translates into more tax revenue for the state and federal government, as admitted in the Minnesota School Readiness report, “Winning Start: A Plan for Investing Wisely in Early Childhood Development,” where it lists increased tax revenue as one of the benefits of early childhood development.  (p. 16) 

What they call “human capital,” we call our children.  When a society views its citizens as human capital and funnels them into a program that serves the needs of the state’s planned economy over the individual’s right to pursue happiness, it takes the shape of governmental systems that historically have failed miserably in other countries.  

In order to promote this ideology, government needs access and a structure to regulate its citizens starting at birth and continuing through the individual’s lifetime.  With that understanding in mind, we raised a concern at the November 14 meeting that program expansion to serve “at risk” children would soon morph into universal preschool.  While Senator Hottinger tried to allay our concerns, he failed to mention that he sponsored legislation in 2005 that would have set the stage for universal preschool in Minnesota and increased government regulation and oversight of our children.  He authored SF 2124, a bill which would have lowered the compulsory attendance age from 7 to 5.  In addition, Senator Hottinger authored a bill that would add intrusive and subjective mental health screening, “socioemotional” development, to the already existing preschool screening.  In fact, the totality of the individual legislative pieces introduced in the 2005 session would have created a comprehensive early childhood development project that would have cost taxpayers 480.7 million dollars!   Another significant aspect to the proposed plan to expand early childhood development is to create and implement a rating system for childcare providers - both public and private.  “Winning Start: A Plan for Investing Wisely in Early Childhood Development” which is the Policy Task Force Report submitted December 9, 2004 identifies the following necessary elements in early childhood development reform:

Early childhood assessment based on agreed upon early learning standards for children ages 0-5 ·  These early learning standards for outcomes for children ages 0-5 should be used by all early childhood care and education teacher/providers; ...” ·  “Competition between public and private, profit and nonprofit, teachers/providers should be encouraged,.... ·  “Informed parental choice should rest on outcomes-based indicators, ... establishing a quality rating system for evaluating results that different teacher/providers achieve, publicizing teacher/provider ratings and equipping parents to choose on the basis of cost-effective results.” 

This means that the state will establish standards for all children age 0 - 5, it will assess children according to those standards, both public and private providers will be accountable to the state’s standards and assessments, and providers will be rated according to their achievement.  The effectiveness of each provider will be published publicly, so parents can identify which providers the government defines as successful.  This should sound familiar to school districts which are currently trying to jump through the hoops created by the federal No Child Left Behind Act in order to be in good standing for funding.  While the task force touts competition among public/private providers as being an important element, it confines competition within the limits of producing outcomes as defined by the government’s standards.  That is hardly the competition that makes a free market strong and encourages creativity and ingenuity. 

In summary, while there may be some children “at risk” for entering kindergarten unprepared for success, adequate evidence is lacking to demand a massive government expansion of early childhood development.  Children most at risk may indeed benefit from some type of intervention, but there is no agreement among professionals as to what type of intervention serves those children best.  Although universal preschool is not overtly stated as part of the current community initiatives which are being promoted to convince the public of a crisis and need for government solution, the concept of universal preschool is indeed sweeping across the nation.  Children are precious creations by God that are placed in the care and jurisdiction of their parents, not the government.   A child’s development should be determined by the parent, who is the most highly motivated person to ensure that decisions are made in the child’s best interest, not the state’s best interest.  If a sphere doesn’t fit in a round hole, then maybe the hole is broken - not the child.

Karen Bryant and her husband, Mac, live in Alexandria, Minnesota.  They have home educated their two children from the preschool years through grade 12.  Karen received a baccalaureate degree in Social Work from Minnesota State University - Mankato.   She and her husband currently serve on the board of directors for the Minnesota Association of Christian Home Educators (MACHE).  She serves on the organization's Legislative/Legal Committee and has presented workshops on the standards movement in education, tax-funded virtual schools, and Minnesota homeschool law.  In addition, she coordinates MACHE's communication and service to local homeschool support group leaders.  Karen also enjoys working regularly with a special needs child, owning a hobby business for collectible model trains and taking her three dogs for walks.

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See also Brave New Schools, Chapter 2: The International Agenda