Jan 25, 2022Liked by Freddie deBoer

not sure if you can post links on here but have shared on google drive if anyone wants to read it:


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Please note the edited footnote

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Obvious proof that we need pre-pre-K

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What's interesting is that during World War II the U.S. had a very effective universal child care program. Under the Lanham Act, the federal gov. funded public care centers in communities where women had stepped up to help the war effort.

And these care centers were great in a lot of different ways. The teacher to student ratio was like 1:12. Teachers were actually well-trained (and paid). Some programs even provided dinners that mothers could take home when they came to get their kids. Sadly, the child care ended once the war did. But the fact that this was managed during a massive war effort suggests (more like proves) universal child care is more than feasible.

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Thank you, Freddie, for ending your post with "and this is why we need universal childcare" rather than "and this is why all mommies should stay home with their young children."

I see a lot of posts in this thread on "staying home with your child is the best" or "working outside the home is a necessary evil, done so that you can maintain a middle-class standard of living." I'm here to represent a different point of view. I love my son (now six) with all my heart, but I never wanted to stay home full-time with him. Caring for an infant or toddler is just plain tedious as all heck. As Rossini said about Wagner's music, "It has some wonderful moments, but some horrible quarters of an hour."

I took eight weeks of maternity leave (I was fortunate, by American standards, to be able to do so), and I needed every one of those weeks so that my body could recover from giving birth. But once those weeks were over, I just about wept with relief as I crossed the doorstep of my workplace - a place where people communicated by speech and not screaming, where I was surrounded by intelligent peers doing interesting work, where I didn't have to change anybody's diaper.

I want the same opportunity to be available to all parents who intrinsically value their careers, not just those (like my husband and myself) who are able to spend oodles of $$$$ on childcare.

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I made this comment before but I'm going to re-up.

If institutional care doesn't provide any measurable benefit for children, then free government child care (without any educational goals) is also a bad policy, because it discriminates against families who prefer stay-at-home parenting. What you want is a child benefit, something like the CTC now under discussion, which gives cash to parents with no strings attached. Women who want to put their careers first can spend the money on child care, and women who don't can use it to offset the reduced household income that stay-at-home motherhood entails.

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just wanted to say that I love these education-and-quantitative-metrics posts :)

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The difficult thing about studies like this is that it seems to show that institutionalized settings for children under 5 are detrimental. And there is no good answer for that. Not only does it conflict with progressive beliefs about the role of women, family structure and the value of early education but it is an impossible situation in a modern economy where both parents need to work to afford security or even subsistence. The answers that come to mind: extended paid parental leave, universal basic income, paying parents to stay home with their children are absolutely unachievable in a society where we have not even been able to extend the child tax credit, where we tie public benefits to working a minimum wage service job and sending your young children…somewhere else. I have worked full time since my first child was 9 weeks old - I am not disparaging working mothers or parents, but if we aren’t going to commit to enabling families to have a parent care for their children at home, I don’t see another alternative besides universal childcare, which we have to call “early education” in order to make palatable to lawmakers and voters.

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When you say that this is in line with many other studies, do you also mean the noncognitive negative effects? I thought the standard pre-K finding was 0 to negative cognitive effects, but small to medium positive noncognitive effects. Are lots of other people finding negative noncognitives?

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This part is so interesting to me: "Studies demonstrate that teachers in these circumstances often display a flat to negative affect (Coelho et al., 2021; Farran et al., 2017), one that could lead to children developing negative attentional biases. Negative attentional biases have been associated with increased reactivity to later stressors." This suggests that just the extended time of receiving negative attention starting in pre-K leads to increased defensiveness and reactivity from longer exposure. I can think of a lot of other studies that have documented this effect, though not in the context of pre-K. But I'm wondering if this is correlated with academic pressure? Does the pressure to "academically ready" a population not developmentally apt to do so increase negative feedback? I have a hunch the answer is yes -- partially why I lean heavily, Freddie, toward your keeping kids alive, fed, and loved centering-of-priorities for early education. I wonder if there are any studies comparing academically focused preschools to something like a forest or play-based pre-k? My hunch is the academic stuff doesn't matter as much as the negativity (like if you could teach ela/math w/o constant correction, that's fine whatever). But here where I am (Austin ISD) almost all pre-K and Kinder classes, at minimum, use a color chart to enforce behaviors. Not sitting at your desk -- you get yellow! Not writing your name- now you're on orange! Many kids end up with an yellow or orange frowny face at the end of every single day and it really eats at their self-worth. And there's documentation that this, as you can imagine if you were experiencing it, is bad for students mental health & leads to worse outcomes. So why do we keep doing it and forcing this constant stream of correction on these tiny, vulnerable people? I'm also haunted by someone telling me the other day that their daughter *in kindergarten* failed to copy things down from the board in time so was excluded from the class 100 days celebration. Instead she was left to cry in another classroom and do worksheets. Whyyy? I worry that the added pressure teachers are facing now to "catch kids up" is only going to increase these negative strategies at the cost of seeing the classroom as a communal space.

On the other hand, I kept my daughter home until she was 2 for pandemic reasons. I honestly think I'm a fun mom, but she was super sick of us and soooo happy once she started at a child development center. She craved the interaction with other kids. And they don't use color charts, so fingerscrossed that it's not all bad?

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Jan 26, 2022·edited Jan 26, 2022

This issue is what brought me to you Freddie. I had read Lyell Asher's essay on Quillette "Look Who’s Talking About Educational Equity" and your essay "You aren't actually mad at the SAT's". Those two essays opened up a whole avenue of thinking and research for me. Why would I spend the time? Well...

I have twin daughters, fraternal. One is a genius and I taught her to read in Pre-K using the DISTAR method. She read War and Peace in 4th grade, the Portable Jung in 5th grade and by high school had read more than I ever had. She went on to ace 100% the SSAT in the 7th grade practice test, walking out early, and is now at an "elite" boarding school on the East Coast, and I miss her terribly for her wild and intellectual conversations. For example, she is now hectoring me to read Robert Musil. She is desperate for intellectual peers and seems to only find them in books and AP chemistry classes. I took college calculus, and I can't keep up with the math she does now in high school. I want to be clear that I don't think this makes her better than anyone, she just has a gifted intellect. The world is full of them. All I want is a world that allows her to find her educational peers. But academia America seems to not want her. They don't want to accept that some people are just smarter than others, often by a lot because weird things happen at the tails of distribution curves.

Meantime her twin didn't want me to teach her to read in Pre-k . So I held back. By third grade her school, the same elite SF private school her twin went to, said she had a reading problem and may need to 'find a better fitting school.' They were teaching the whole word/language method and she was seeing all kinds of ghost words. I sat her down and over the next four months and taught her to read using phonics. By the time she took the SSATs in 7th grade she scored 100% on the reading sections. Meantime in math she scored 6% on the SSAT. Her entire classes scores were embarrassingly bad, and very unequal across students. So for the next year I taught her math using a progressive knowledge based approach (vs skills based) and she ended up scoring in the 80% by her 8th grade. She is now one of the strongest math students at her elite private high school in SF. The test scores in all of SF, both private and public are a disgrace. You cannot believe how poorly educated these kids are unless you see it first hand. We are not a serious people that we would let this go on.

Now my point: even with enormous resources and enormous expenditure on schools my second twin would have failed out. There is no hope unless we change the curriculum and reading pedagogy. But we wont, because the education schools in America are turning out teachers who are not results oriented and evidence driven and of a Bayesian mindset. No, they are theoretically driven, prioritizing all sorts of feel good BS at the expense of competency and achievement. And it starts right at the beginning.

So I wonder: How can anyone today, given the disastrous decline of our education pedagogy think that the answer is pry kids away from their homes sooner? The best solution cannot possibly be universal child care. My advice to any new parent is to make sure you teach your child to read when they are young before the schools get hold of them.

Nothing will ever change large scale in America education. The teachers unions and their agenda are too entrenched and the ED schools function more as "Woke Seminaries" than actual teacher training. Any notion that the answer is to just get the "policy right", is jejune in the extreme. No, the answer is for parents to realize that their children's education is in their hands, and that schools are only there to help, sort of. Because even if you get the policy right, it's impossible to get the personnel right. There just aren't enough talented teachers to educate, and the ED school don't teach anyone how to teach right in the first place.

My advice is don't have kids. But if you do, be prepared to be responsible for their education.

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Not American, so can anyone explain what they do in pre-K?

It seems way too young to begin education...

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This makes a fun contrast to the recent study showing the extra $300 a month had neurological benefits to young children. I’m not really equipped to evaluate the study but one thing I often ask about any program is “would it be better if we just gave them cash?” Seems like it might be!


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My child goes to a Montessori preschool. I can live with the idea that it has no effect on his future outcomes, but the negative effects are concerning. A lot of these education posts are ultimately reassuring: Just keep them alive and they’ll be fine. But not this one. It’s worrying that a RCT shows more future behavior problems in the preschool group.

We chose his preschool because it seemed like a nurturing environment. The ratio is 7:1 (often less because of absences) and it’s a spacious classroom with lots of different things to do. The Montessori style means he gets to follow his interests for much of the day. They seem to coddle the kids as you’d expect for the price. Plus, he likes to play with other kids (he’s an only child).

I guess I’m just trying to justify my choice. No effect is okay, but I hope it’s not harming him. 😕

I wish we had more research on the characteristics of schools associated with these outcomes (along with the effect of various options, like how many days per week, whether to go full or half day, whether to do summer program). But there would be huge selection problems in any attempt to study these things outside of random assignment, and you can really only do random assignment for government programs.

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Do the authors of the paper have any theories as to why the effect would be negative? I can certainly speculate myself, I'm just curious. Where I'm standing, if pre-K does indeed cause children to become meaningfully academically worse later in life, that should also give one pause about supporting universal child care in general, not just because the supposed academic benefits aren't real.

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Good grief...you regular people (that is not librarians) are outdoing me. I can send a copy to anyone, but looks like you have solved that! klmccook at gmail.com

Durkin K, Lipsey MW, Farran DC, Wiesen SE. Effects of a statewide pre-kindergarten program on children's achievement and behavior through sixth grade. Dev Psychol. 2022 Jan 10. doi: 10.1037/dev0001301. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 35007113.

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