Monthly Archives: February 2013

Concerns About Universal Preschool

I certainly do not claim to be an expert on such matters, but I do have an opinion on the universal preschool proposition that has recently entered the national educational discussion. Were these concerns to be allayed, I do believe that I would fully support universal pre-K as I am an advocate of education at all levels. Here is a list of my primary concerns:

  1. The cost associated with adding pre-K for all 4-year olds would be high. Many states are already having financial troubles, and the federal plan is supposed to require state support. Additional burdens on states would reduce or remove other programs in order to include pre-K for all children. I have heard that they are talking about an estimated 4 million children with a rough estimate of $5,000 per child. This amounts, conservatively, to at least an additional $20 billion. Although there are supposed future benefits for these children that would save money in the future (i.e. better health, less likely to become pregnant as a teenager, less likely to commit crimes and land in jail, etc.), clearly the average American would not have been as affected by these statistics. Therefore, including all American 4-year-olds would not actually realize these potential financial returns on this investment. In fact, the majority of added students to this program would not realize a return at all, most likely.
  2. The cost of improving pre-K to traditional public school standards would be high. The general call for universal pre-K is predicated on the concept that these preschool programs would be of high quality. Reaching that standard would add to the costs. How many preschools right now are not high quality?
  3. When adding all students into the preschool mix, children who were previously above the curve would benefit as well, nullifying the value in closing the achievement gap. Furthermore, these children who need preschool less, such as those with wealthier, better-educated parents, would require attention from staff memebers that would pull from the more needy children, resulting in less effective instruction for the impoverished children. In order to rebalance the diminished achievement gap created by current pre-K, 3-year-old pre-K would subsequently need to be expanded. This would add to the cost and logically spiral down to schooling from birth for some children in an attempt to get ahead of the curve.
  4. The effectiveness of public preschool is questionable, specifically concerning the fact that the gap can be diminished (not eliminated) before Kindergarten begins, but generally returns before students leave elementary school. In How effective is Head Start?, Helt revealed a study showing that “while student performance during their time in Head Start was positively impacted, any gains were all but gone by third grade.” In Obama spotlights Georgia’s pre-K program, but state still struggles to meet its goal, the author writes, “Georgia made a commitment to universal pre-K in 1995 and it’s been a slow climb, with about 60 percent of eligible children currently enrolled. And Georgia’s high school graduation rate is among the lowest in the nation.” With the long-term effectiveness of pre-K programs in question, it is difficult to substantiate the need for universalization. I also wonder how many children will be negatively affected by this program, presuming they could have been receiving a better preschool education elsewhere.
  5. Perhaps there are more important areas in education that need to be addressed. Tienken (2012) explained that poverty plays a larger role in education than it is often given credit for. Tienken referred to a word gap, specifically that children in poverty hear 30 million fewer words prior to entering pre-Kindergarten than their nonimpoverished peers. In Obama proposal reflects shift in views on early childhood education, the authors point to a working vocabulary gap of between 224 and 591 words by age three for children in poverty. Therefore, concerns such as the effect of the phenomenon of being in poverty related to education and the summer slide (Tienken) would seem to be more negatively impactful than preschool could possibly be positively impactful.
  6. When you mandate pre-K for all children, you minimize the value of all previous research comparing students receiving versus not receiving pre-K services, as there would no longer be a group of children not receiving these services to compare with. Causation in much of the completed research is difficult to argue currently, but the universalization of preschool would make the data less significant still.

For these reasons, I am concerned that universal preschool may not be a panacea at all. Therefore, I would recommend a more cautious approach, perhaps starting with fixing state and federal education budgetary concerns along with efforts to ensure the current preschool programs are of high quality. The universal approach is hard to justify when the current programs are not nearly as effective as is claimed.

Tienken, C. H. (2012). The influence of poverty on achievement. Kappa Delta Pi Record, 48(3), 105-107.


What Happened to Fran?

tornadoFran’s voice rang out like a gunshot amidst a large, crowded room. With the turmoil surrounding Texas math education and the plethora of data I was collecting in this focus group interview with six Algebra 2 teachers, I was suffering from information overload. At this early stage in my data collection process for my doctoral dissertation, every new statement added to the tornado of statistics, facts, and emotions swirling in my neophyte brain.

I was fighting to maintain my professional demeanor; meanwhile, I was giddy as these teachers not only wanted to participate in my study, but they had a lot of great quotes and thoughts about my research concerns. But then, like the turning point in a great thriller, Fran responded, and I sensed the chills scaling my spine as I realized, “This just got real.”

In attempting to discover the professional opinions of Algebra 2 teachers concerning the changing math landscape, my interview questions encompassed the Algebra-for-All movement, college versus workplace preparation, tracking, the 4×4 Recommended High School Plan (RHSP), graduation rates, and the impact on individual teachers’ teaching environments. Concerning the impact on teachers of the policy positions of the state of Texas, I asked about the panel’s desire to continue teaching high school mathematics. Their answers were contemplative but measured with a determination to remain in the profession despite the enormous challenges and silent agreement in spite of the policymakers. Fran dissented, however, as she spoke honestly with piercing, young eyes stopping and starting, “Yes… The things that we’ve talked about have… me wavering on whether I do want to teach… high school math anymore.”

I had already shifted my young research mind from wanting to prove my point as the impetus for getting a doctorate to wanting to truly find out what teachers believed. Now, my purpose shifted again from wanting to discover teachers’ opinions to needing to tell their story. I realized at that point that the voices of the teachers I would come into contact with along the way were significantly unknown, and their yearning to be heard was often emotionally overpowering. Ultimately, at least I heard their voices; my belief is that their professional opinions should matter to policy makers.

 Interacting with ten teachers at two separate high schools in two focus group interviews; ninety-one respondents to a lengthy online questionnaire; and three individuals during in-depth interviews, I discovered that these Algebra 2 teachers were optimistic about the potential impact of Algebra 2 on all students but were pessimistic regarding the realities of Texas’s expectations for all students. The teachers revealed a number of interesting opinions: graduation rates would probably be negatively affected by graduation and math requirements; Algebra for all was unlikely to be successful because students were generally unprepared for Algebra 1, let alone Algebra 2, and this level of mathematics is overwhelming for many students; honest assessment reveals that all students will not be going to college; high schools ought to work harder at developing alternative paths to graduation for children; requirements involving Algebra 2 need to be reevaluated; a one-size-fits-all approach is doomed to fail; the RHSP is not having the expected positive impact on students or education; tracking is valuable and should be expanded for mathematics while being purposefully monitored to emphasize and maximize success; recent changes were not improving student learning or opportunities for postsecondary endeavors: and, lastly,  more than one-third of the participants had a lessened desire to teach math.

In the end, the doctoral study process was powerful and enlightening. I found that consensus on most issues is difficult to achieve, but the Algebra 2 teachers in my study were passionate and informed members of the educational community who felt that their input was seriously undervalued by decision makers. I am hopeful that I am able to get some of their sentiments into the ears of governmental leaders, which may lead to positive social changes. I have received a lot of great feedback so far from those I have communicated my results to, with one explosively loud exception; when I e-mailed the executive summary of my dissertation to Fran early the following school year, the e-mail was returned with a delivery failure indicating she no longer worked in her previous position. I wonder if Fran will be an example or a trend.question mark

Full dissertation (Teachers’ Perceptions of State Decision-Making Processes for Mathematics Curricula by Brett Bothwell, Ed. D.) can be found in online databases or at


Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice

Farris-Berg is lead author of Trusting Teachers with School Success: What Happens When Teachers Call the Shots. She is a Senior Associate with Education Evolving, a policy design shop based in St. Paul, Minnesota, and an independent education policy strategist. Her Twitter handle is @farrisberg.

If we made it loud and clear, in both policy and practice, that teachers can have autonomy to collectively make the decisions influencing whole school success, would any teachers take advantage?

Collective teacher autonomy isn’t for everyone. It is a working arrangement that some teachers long for, but others never imagine for themselves. Teachers who are now calling the shots in more than 50 district and chartered schools around the country describe themselves as pioneers both in the professionalization of teaching and in the modernization of schools and schooling.

Pioneering is intense and difficult work, they say, especially in an education culture that values…

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Interesting: opportunities for teachers to run the schools!

Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice

Can we trust teachers with authority to manage whole schools? Would teachers even want the opportunity to manage schools? And, when they are in the position to manage schools, will it make any difference in student achievement? Kim Farris-Berg explores these questions in this three-part guest blog .

 Farris-Berg is a Senior Associate with Education Evolving, a policy design shop based in St. Paul, Minnesota, and an independent education policy strategist. Her Twitter handle is @farrisberg.

Everyone knows that many K-12 public schools are not producing desired results. The big question is: how will we improve them? The dominant assertion today is that if we can just get better at telling teachers what to do, and how to do it, then improvement will follow. In this climate, “getting tough” with teachers appears to be the only solution. Fortunately for those of us not fond of one-bet strategies,   other assertions are…

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Potential Research

So, now that I have secured my Ed.D., I may have an opportunity to reach out into the world and do a little research. I can certainly say that I have many topics of interest, however. Which of the following do you see as being more interesting or having more potential for development through research?

Classroom management.


Elementary math education.

High school math.

Algebra 2.

Mathematics teacher preparation.

Teacher preparation.

Classroom assessments.

State assessments.

Educational policy.

Charter schools.

Education finance.


Mathematical games.

Curriculum development.

Math curriculum development (secondary and/or elementary).

I am sure I have more, but these popped into my head as I was writing this.