Guest Opinion: Poll results don’t reflect pre-kindergarten reality

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A pre-indergarten class on an Army base. Photo by heraldpost with Flickr Creative Commons Liicense.

By Margaret E. Williams

Maryland Family Network

Last Friday’s story Poll: Marylanders back spending more on school safety, career education, but less support for pre-K and teacher pay cites a Maryland Public Policy Institute poll in which voters say they are against making cuts to roads and transportation, public safety, or children’s health insurance to afford expansion of pre-kindergarten education.

We at Maryland Family Network, one of the state’s leading advocates for pre-K, agree that we shouldn’t trim back on those essential services. But this either/or scenario proposed by the pollsters doesn’t reflect the reality of pre-K implementation, when it’s done right.

By following a national best practice called “diverse delivery,” Maryland can cost-effectively offer public pre-K in community settings, such as private child care centers and Head Start programs, as well as public school sites. Among its many advantages, diverse delivery saves public funds by using existing facilities.

What’s more, the notion that Marylanders are “less enthusiastic about expanding pre-kindergarten” does not ring true with Maryland Family Network’s own research and experience.

Importance of first five years

The First Five Years Fund (FFYF) is a national nonprofit working towards better early childhood education for disadvantaged children through bipartisan federal advocacy. FFYF found that 89% of voters support making quality early education for children from birth through age five, including child care, more affordable.

In fact it is one of the few issues that transcends partisan or economic lines. Ninety-seven percent of Democrats, 82% of Republicans, and 85% of independents asked by the First Five Years Fund in 2017 were in favor of making early care and education more accessible to working families. Eighty-one percent of the electorate support a child care tax credit to help parents better afford quality child care and early education programs, with low- and middle-income parents who need more help getting a larger credit.

While our own research is a bit dated, when Maryland Family Network engaged Gonzalez Research to conduct a similar poll in 2010, we found that 82% of Marylanders thought it was important to expand pre-K access to all children whose parents chose to enroll them.  Seventy-three percent said it was important to make that investment even in the face of competing priorities.

Lawmakers in Annapolis are now hearing the same thing from voters.

Legislators are listening

This was demonstrated during the 2018 legislative session with the passage of bills in both the Senate and House to dramatically raise the state’s abysmally low child care subsidy rates (SB379/HB 430) and to preserve $22.3 million of pre-K expansion funding (HB1415).

If the governor listens to what these voters are saying and signs the bills into law, low-income working parents across Maryland will gain significant help in finding and paying for safe, quality child care, and the State will sustain its progress toward making public pre-K available to all families.

Early childhood education pays for itself

The fact is that early childhood education pays for itself. Every year, there is more and more research-based evidence demonstrating the importance of early childhood education for its economic, social, emotional, and intellectual benefits to children and society.

Nobel laureate economist James Heckman found that quality early learning offers a 13-to-one return on investment. Maryland’s own Washington Center for Equitable Growth says “children from low- to moderate-income families who attend high-quality prekindergarten require less special education and are less likely to repeat a grade or be victims of child abuse and neglect, thereby reducing the need for child welfare services.”

The cost savings continue because when these same children become juveniles and adults, they are less likely to engage in criminal activity, more likely to graduate from high school and attend college, and will earn more money as productive adults, contributing tax dollars (and much more) to society.

Maryland Family Network is happy that the Maryland Public Policy Institute has taken an interest in the issue of pre-K expansion in Maryland. We are likewise thrilled that pre-K has been a topic of conversation among candidates for governor.

Only when we have these discussions as a community will positive change happen for the one thing on which we cannot put a price tag: our children.

Margaret Williams is executive director of the Maryland Family Network.

  • Charles Littlewood

    ARTICLE: Nobel laureate economist James Heckman found that quality early learning offers a 13-to-one return on investment. Maryland’s own Washington Center for Equitable Growth says “children from low- to moderate-income families who attend high-quality prekindergarten require less special education and are less likely to repeat a grade or be victims of child abuse and neglect, thereby reducing the need for child welfare services.”

    Heckman bases his “return on investment” numbers on dubious data from a couple of boutique programs for poor blacks 40 years ago in North Carolina. This is one of them:

    Abecedarian Early Intervention Project

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abecedarian_Early_Intervention_Project

    “Some researchers have advised caution about the reported positive
    results of the project. Among other things, they have pointed out
    analytical discrepancies in published reports, including unexplained
    changes in sample sizes between different assessments and publications. Herman Spitz
    has noted that a mean cognitive ability difference of similar magnitude
    to the final difference between the intervention and control groups was
    apparent in cognitive tests already at age six months, indicating that
    “4 1/2 years of massive intervention ended with virtually no effect.”
    Spitz has suggested that the IQ difference between the intervention and
    control groups may have been latently present from the outset due to
    faulty randomization.[8]
    In fact, it is known that randomization was compromised in the
    Abecedarian program, with seven families assigned to the experimental
    group and one family assigned to the control group dropping out of the
    program after learning about their random assignment.[9]”

    Aside from the quality of the data, there are many reasons to be skeptical about whether the supposed results of this study will carry over to other sorts of children and to massively scaled-up programs and to the situation now.

    The real problem here is that women who shouldn’t be having children are having children. We should try bribing such women not to have children.

    Another obvious related problem is that people who should not be here in America are here in America. Rather than spending billions on early childhood care for the children of illegals, we should kick them out.

  • Osceola Renzi

    Margaret, Thanks for calling this bogus research out. It was commissioned by a right wing Republican think tank and the survey was conducted by the former director of the state Republican Caucus and former partner with Public Opinion Strategies, the leading Republican political polling firm.

    Board members include Bob Erlich Larry Hogan. Many of their staff bios include Heritage Foundation, gun rights, property rights, for profit school loving, anti immigrant, Trump loving hacks.

    Lest there be any question as to their mind set, here are the words spoken this week by board member James Kelso, “Donald Trump is as president exactly the man we cheered in the primaries. He IS our Peace President as part of being the only Real American president in any of our lifetimes.”