New governor shows true educational leadership

Joe Enge

Right after his Jan. 2 public swearing-in ceremony, Gov. Jim Gibbons showed leadership in education by rejecting funding for the spurious all-day kindergarten program for all students.

Gibbons was quoted by reporter Geoff Dornan as saying he hasn’t seen data to show it is effective. Sen. Bill Raggio (R-Reno) was quoted as saying Gibbons’ logic “sounds reasonable.”

Gibbons’ decision is not just reasonable. It is responsible, fiscally and academically. Funding all-day kindergarten for all students without looking at valid research would have been unreasonable and irresponsible as it has definite, negative consequences beyond wasting tax dollars. All-day kindergarten serves as a distraction from badly needed systemic reforms while expanding the public-education empire.

Advocates for all-day kindergarten have outdone themselves in exaggerating the benefits, minimizing the costs and ignoring the research. Sen. Dina Titus (D-Las Vegas) in her run for governor was chief among them. Titus low-balled the cost, claimed “all studies show” the purported benefits, and offered it as the “silver bullet” to fix government schools. I suspect Titus is not happy her pet project did not receive funding.

The first national study providing data on the skills of kindergartners is the U.S. Department of Education’s Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 1998-99 (ECLS-K). This is a one-of-a-kind study where the researchers assessed 22,000 children at kindergarten entry and most recently reported on those students through the third grade.

The ECLS-K findings on the academic impact of all-day kindergarten completely contradict the assertions most American children start school unprepared to learn or that there are any long-term benefits. These findings are clearly outlined in “Assessing Proposals for Preschool and Kindergarten: Essential Information for Parents, Taxpayers, and Policymakers” by Darcy Olsen, President and CEO, Goldwater Institute. Olsen concluded from the ECLS-K data: “The ECLS-K research shows the same pattern documented by hundreds of early education studies: Children in full-day kindergarten are afforded a modest academic edge over children in half-day kindergarten when measured at the end of the kindergarten year.

"However, that initial edge completely disappears by third grade. At the end of the kindergarten year, the researchers find there is “little meaningful difference” on reading and math test scores between all-day and part-day kindergartners. They write, “In terms of kindergarten program type (i.e., all-day or part-day), there is little meaningful difference in the level of children’s end-of-year reading and mathematics knowledge.”

The NCES reports document on a large scale the piecemeal findings on early education that have been trickling in for years: In the short-term, more early education may confer more gains than lesser amounts of early education, but over time, those advantages are not sustained. Unless or until the elementary and secondary school system is improved, it is unlikely that preschool or kindergarten will lead to a measurable improvement in school achievement.

The benefits for at-risk students may disappear even earlier. Dr. Sherrill Martinez with the Kansas Department of Education wrote, “Finally, a few longitudinal studies involving at-risk students show that gains made during the kindergarten year are lost by the end of the first grade year.”

American 4th graders are “A” students in international comparisons, dropping to “C” students by the 8th grade, and “D” students in the 12th grade. The longer American students are in the public-school system, the worse they compare to other countries. The problem isn’t in early childhood education; rather it is in our middle and high schools. Research exposes all-day kindergarten as another political ruse designed to blame the problems of public schools on funding to avoid serious systemic reforms and accountability.

The statist public education system has demonstrated its self-interest overrides research, students’ academic interests and the interests of taxpayers. Gov. Gibbon's decision showed the type of leadership in education that is sorely lacking in the education establishment itself.

Joe Enge is education analyst with the Nevada Policy Research Institute and a member of the Carson City School Board. This article also appeared in the February issue of Liberty Watch magazine.