The Cycle   |  February 21, 2013

Closing learning gap is about educating parents, knowing where to spend money

Author Milton Chen talks about how to bridge the gap in early childhood education.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> tonight i propose working with states to make high quality preschool available to every single child in america. studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level , graduate high school , hold a job, form more stable families of their own. we know this works. so let's do what works and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind. let's give our kids that chance.

>> that was the president calling for universal prekindergarten education taking inspiration of red states , no less. more on that in my rant, ahead. that's what we call a tease in this biz.

>> oh, okay.

>> this week education secretary duncan released a report documenting the inequalities of the schools, begin setting children back as early as 3 and 4 years old. our next guest says that it's great that leadership is ready to invest in early education but we have to focus on how we spend those funds and teach parents what they can do, too. in the guest spot today is milton chen who wrote " education nation" about this topic and a senior fellow at the george lucas foundation supporting innovative teachers and processes. milton , thank you for being with us.

>> thank you. glad to be here.

>> let's first stipulate, we don't have all of the details of what this pre-k proposal from the president would look like. but from the research i'm seeing, i mean, the problem not just preschool for everyone. it's quality preschool for young children. is it your opinion that this proposal gets at that goal of a quality education ?

>> well, i'm glad the president mentioned those words quality and high quality at least twice in the remarks because that should be key. professionalize and modernize education and working with the states is important. and funding alone doesn't assure that. we need to look closely at the preparation of early childhood teachers and educators and the connection to parents. this could be a real opportunity to help parents before the kids get to preschool in the first five years of life before they get to preschool. when they're toddlers and up to the age of 2 or so and so much to create a positive learning climate within the family. many aspects of the proposal are not clear.

>> when we get more details, what specifically would you be looking for in that?

>> importantly, there's flexibility in the federal funding . there's one thing we have learned about federal funding in education and perhaps other fields is that the states need some flexibility. the state s vary widely and the funding and they need to craft a state plan that can use federal funding and more flexible ways, investing more in preschoolteachers' salaries or may want to invest in facilities and curriculum, digital learning and preschools and looking closely, as well. lots of opportunities and lots of possibilities and i hope there's flexibility not being specific about how the funds should be spent.

>> i think obama's in a little bit of a tough spot here, this is an ambitious and probably worthy plan and operating in a climate of deficit hysteria in washington and joan walsh writing at salon where i write and a lot of experience actually with pre-k policymaking wrote about it this way and saying when you look at the framework for 4 years partnering with the state and other programs for children under 4, the idea it's revenue neutral, may not be realistic. do you have a sense, is public money going to be more money from the government going to be required to pull this off?

>> well, i think there's some ways providing additional funding to be revenue neutral. you know, in terms of the amount of funding, we don't yet know and there are ways i believe of making sure that this does not add to the federal budget and saving funds elsewhere possible to invest in early childhood and as you were saying earlier, looking at a period to invest in, the first five years and 4 and 5-year-olds critical. pays off tremendous benefits.

>> talking about benefits, milton , the per state per pupil spending on education is a really interesting predictor of academic success or lack thereof. it is not a perfect science but generally the states that spend more get more achievement from their students and the states that the end to spend less get less. that's the map of per pupil spending and the map of national rating, the colors inverted but there's a correlation of how much you spend and the achievement you get from the students. so how can we get the states to narrow that gap so we don't have a gigantic differentiation of new york and utah spends per student?

>> well, i would say there's a weak correlation of per pupil spending and factors such as high school graduation, lower truancy, going to college. certainly, the northeast, they tend to spend more per pupil, in the south less. a lot of that is cost of living , facilities, teachers' salaries. money is not the determinant. we need to invest in things such as technology. we are seeing a sea change with technology at a lower cost than purchasing print textbooks. ways of saving money and also putting more money in to the classroom. and also reducing the bureaucracy of education , as well.

>> milton , do you think it's an end goal maybe just legislateively to make pre-k mandatory the way that primary and secondary education are fairly mandatory in this country?

>> well, i always get a little nervous talking about mandatory education . because students vote with their feet all the time. don't they? certainly high school years. we cannot force students to go to school.

>> right.

>> i think i would rather have incentives for parents to make sure that the children are involved with a quality preschool experience. there's incentives for parents. i was talking earlier about the importance of parent education to practice high quality parenting at home. kids spend more time at home than a school or a preschool so the importance of family time and how that can support what goes on in school and preschool becoming very important.

>> milton chen, thank you very much.

>> thank you.

>>> when truth isn't stranger than fiction , why salon's andrew o'hare says "argo" never let the facts stand in the way of a good story. mom