Baesler, Poolman Make A Weak Case For Early Childhood Education


President Barack Obama is making a push for universal preschool nationally, and here in North Dakota a couple of Republicans have a similar agenda.

North Dakota Superintendent of Public Schools Kirsten Baesler and state Senator Nicole Poolman are calling for more funding for early childhood education. The state House stripped a $5 million appropriation for it out of HB1429, which would have allowed the superintendent to make grants to school districts for childhood programs.

Senator Poolman’s has a version of that bill (SB2229) in the state Senate, and it has been sent to the Senate Appropriations Committee with a $4.683 million price tag still intact.

Both Poolman and Baesler are arguing in favor of the funding by pointing to the achievements children already enrolled in preschools, noting that the kids who get preschool do better. “We’re scientifically learning when we can reach kids at 4, they are more likely to be successful throughout their careers,” Senator Poolman is quoted as saying.

I’m not sure how much we can “scientifically learn” without a control group. Comparing the small number of schools with pre-kindergarten education to all public schools isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison, and there are other problems too:

Baesler pointed out data from Sweetwater Elementary School in Devils Lake that tracked the progress of its students that enrolled in the school’s inaugural preschool class in 2008 until they were in fourth grade.

In the fall of their first grade year, 83 percent of students who had gone to preschool and were living in poverty and receiving free and reduced lunches were proficient in reading compared to the 78 percent of students that did not receive pre-kindergarten education.

By second grade, fall testing found 100 percent of the students with pre-K education were proficient in reading, compared to the 67 percent of students without early childhood education.

The first question is why on earth is reading proficiency falling in students from first grade to second grade? The percentage of overall students proficient in reading falls off by 11 points. Whatever else may happen with funding for early childhood education, that data point screams for attention.

The second question is, why does the study stop tracking academic outcomes after the 3rd grade? A federal Health and Human Services study, looking at Headstart the nation’s largest government preschool program, found that any academic gains from early education programs actually dissipate going into 4th grade and beyond.

And there’s a good deal of evidence to suggest that being too aggressive with early childhood education can do far more harm than good. Early childhood education “is about the simplistic notion that giving disadvantaged young children academic training will provide them with the skills and motivation to continue their education and break the cycle of poverty,” writes David Elkind, a professor of child development at Tufts University. “It is about politicians who push accountability, standards, and testing in order to win votes as much as or more than to improve the schools.”

“The idea that kids should learn to read, write, and add when they are very young has been thoroughly disproven, and in fact, this sort of structured evinronment is so bad for boys that it puts them on an early path to being labeled low performers,” writes syndicated columnist Penelope Trunk. “This is why the rich don’t even bother with preschool—they know their kids will be fine without it. And almost all the research to support preschool is based on lower-income statistics, like preschool keeps kids out of prison.”

Superficially, it might seem that more money spent on more education would be a good thing. After all, how can you be against education? And education bureaucrats always love the idea of expanded education. That means more jobs, and bigger budgets, for them.

But education is too important an area of policy for simplistic assumptions. It’s about what works for the kids, not what makes adults feel good. Let’s not assume that throwing money at early childhood education is a good thing.

Rob Port is the editor of In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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  • whowon

    The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released its latest findings of a long study that followed Head Start kids all the way to third grade.

    The findings: “by third grade, the $8 billion Head Start program had little to no impact on cognitive, social-emotional, health, or parenting practices of participants. On a few measures, access to Head Start had harmful effects on children.” I couldn’t be more disappointed in Kirsten Baesler.

    • zipity

      I know. The Fargo Fool’em (Forum) ran a glowing piece today about the benefits of early childhood schooling and how we should pour millions more into this welfare program for teachers, but managed to completely ignore HHS’s recent study/report.

      Either deliberate ignorance on the Forum reporters part, or a sign of extreme incompetence.

      Neither is very flattering…

      • Kevin Flanagan

        FCC was just doing what it always does; pander to the state’s education cabal in exchange for cheap column inches.

    • Rob

      Yes, it was a devastating report, but it won’t get nearly enough attention.

    • retirenowconrad

      whowho don’t leave out important information from the HHS findings…

      The children were fully indoctrinated by third grade and were already applying for federal aid. They were anti gun and pro abortion.

    • camsaure

      I guess her and Fidel Castro both support govt indoctrination as soon as possible. I am rapidly losing faith in Kristi.

  • Camburn

    It seems that meeting every two years is too often with the current legislature.

  • joe mauer

    I know you got kicked out of NDSU therefore your railing against them all the time but did you also get kicked out of kindergarten?

    • Rob

      I’ve actually never been kicked out of anywhere. I dropped out of NDSU because I was a dumb kid and I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life, and didn’t think I needed to be spending thousands of dollars on tuition to drift through school.

      And while I did spend more than what was probably my fair share of time in the principal’s office in kindergarten, they didn’t kick me out.


      What interests me is your refusal to discuss this issue any any reasonable way, choosing instead to attack me personally. Are you just assuming that because this has been branded “for the children” it’s a good thing?

      • joe mauer

        I’ve made it my mission to attack you personally because you allow personal attacks on anyone who disagrees with you by your cult club fans. What’s the difference?

        • whowon

          Allows? Free speech Joe, you are a very small person, enjoy that revengeful life you live.

          • joe mauer

            I was voted most cheerful by by senior class, still a very cheerful and charitable person who also agrees with free speech.

          • Guest Observer

            “I’ve made it my mission to attack you personally”

            Liberalism 101.

          • whowon

            so cheerful, must have been quite a class!

          • joe mauer

            So when you cultists call Heidi fat and ugly that is liberalism? Wow, is that how it works?

          • whowon

            Fat and ugly? Haven’t seen anyone say that but facts are facts Mr. Cheerful. A couple of liberal thinkers.
            Van Jones:
            Conservatives Willing To “Kill Children” For Jobs…
            Maher Attacks Romney’s Children, Calls Them ‘Shiny,’
            ‘Remarkably Life-Like’

          • Guest Observer

            ” when you cultists call Heidi fat and ugly that is liberalism? ”

            Not liberalism but fact. Curious though as to why you would bring up that fact about Sen. Heitkamp.

          • opinionated

            Shoe fits

          • opinionated

            Oh my god the guy who claims ” my daddy can beat your daddy up”. High school is over your glory days are finished. You are in the real world where people don’t have to be nice or agree with you

          • camsaure

            Are you sure that wasn’t a sign of your early onset dementia?

        • Rob

          I probably get personally attacked in my own comments section more than just about anyone else. I allow everybody to say pretty much everything (with very minimal censorship for spam and egregious potty mouths).

          But i think it’s interesting that, because other people act like children, you feel justified to act like a child as well.

          • joe mauer

            Just seeing if I am rob blog cult qualified. i think I have passed the test.

      • Attackrobnow

        And kicked out of the MADD, SADD, RADD, Planned Parenthood, AARP, NOW, NAACP, PETA, ACLU, and weight watchers.

  • JoeMN

    Meanwhile SAT scores continue to swirl the toilet bowl.

    President Obama has bragged about his supposed revolution in
    education over and over during this election cycle. He says he’s
    interested in upping standards while simultaneously appeasing teachers
    unions. But the performance of American students continues to sink to
    all-time lows.

    2012’s high school seniors have the worst SAT reading score since
    1972; they scored 486 on reading, out of a possible 800. In writing,
    students also dropped dramatically, down to 488. That’s a nine-point
    drop since 2006.

    • ec99

      Yes, and the knee-jerk reaction is always to blame the test, even though it’s been dumbed downed over the years. I remember the great complaint that Black should be able to take an SAT written in Ebonics and Hispanics in Spanglish. K-12 is disaster because it ceased to be a place to learn. Districts adopted theories devised by university professors of education, who had never taught a day in a K-12 class. The priorities became self-esteem, egalitarianism, teach to the lowest common denominator. Never mind that teachers are stuck being police more than instructors.

    • exsanguine

      Having witnessed my daughter’s, a junior in H.S., english class contents, I can confer that today’s high school students are getting screwed. They have no clue how to compose a proper essay, report or argument much less the vocabulary to do it with. I have already started to impose on her a reading list that will force her to expand her vocabulary and introduce her to writing more complicated than “see vampire dick run and bite wanna-be vampire jane.” ;)

      • realitybasedbob

        Have you considered the possibility that you’re a bad parent?

        • JoeMN

          I have already started to impose on her a reading list that will force
          her to expand her vocabulary and introduce her to writing more
          complicated than “see vampire dick run and bite wanna-be vampire jane.”

          Obviously exsanguine can recognize a bad school.
          A bad parent would praise those bad teachers and blame Bush

      • JoeMN

        Now the big push is in AP (advance preparedness) courses, which I say fine, but shouldn’t those schools be preparing them already ?

        Yet even here libs screech about their unfairness to minorities, and the classroom space they rob from those really important subjects, such as how to properly condom a banana.

    • retirenowconrad

      It’s because we aren’t spending enough money on education. Duh.

  • Januaryjones

    Headstart and this proposal are just free daycare. Kids need to have time to be kids. If ya can’t feed em or pay for their daycare don’t breed em.

  • ec99

    The solution is relatively simple, but too extreme for today’s society: make biological units responsible for parenting. Others have taken over the role: schools feed the kids breakfast, others clothe them. As one pointed out elsewhere, adults have the money for their cell phone contract, but not for their spawn. They dump them off at daycare when they’re 5 days old and expect K-12 to continue the process of babysitting. No reading to them, no help with homework, no supervision. That’s all too inconvenient.

  • Eric Wittliff

    Upsetting to hear they convince many people in their testimony.
    First we do not have to start with diminishing and argument not in this article
    nor I believe this blog believes in, but is out there. I and others believe in
    a smart more efficient government, but not in a government that does nothing at
    Pre-School is hard to statically show the value of nationally
    the value of because the date moved out of area often and disappear. In North Dakota
    it is even harder because we would only be working with about 8 districts to begin
    with that have statically relevant info and we still had the same issues, people
    move out. ND has that issue with programs already running.

    What we do know finding children with learning issues
    early can have better out comes. It has been a couple times in court that if a
    person does not learn at early age they lose the ability to learn. It cost less
    to fix the issues as early as possible so that the people can learn more in the
    end and be better citizens (tax payers).

    • Eric Wittliff

      Also the issues you see with “headstart” might be and issue with how it is administered and not fallowing best practices consistently

      This would be a good time to change that private school tuition bill to add pre-school age too.

    • zipity

      Um….you aren’t by any chance a Head Start alumni, are you?

      Your sentence structure and grammar leave, shall we say, something to desire…

      In addition, your straw man that conservatives want “a government that does nothing at all” is baseless. We want Government. Just not one that strives to control EVERY facet of our lives, and usually with disastrous results.

      Governments have NEVER been very good at picking winners/losers.

      • Eric Wittliff

        Sorry I was using a Voice to text program because I only had a minute to post on an important subject.

        First this is not an attack on Conservatives I was trying to avoid the “staw-man” argument that people get accused. No one rational HERE is a “No Government man.” My point is that Conservatives are rightfully crying out that government waist is ever where. We need a call to use are money smarter and wiser. Right Rob?

        Now If we add pre-K and that finds troubled students earlier that will reduce the cost to the state and make the people better.

        Best analogy is thinking of it as deferred maintenance on a building or car. If we were to fix it right away rather than wait 3 or 10 years it cost a lot less. In some cases in makes the difference between a person become employable or on disability.

        • Lianne

          We only have to look at our high school students’ academic achievement and graduation rate across the nation to see that Head Start and pre- pre- pre-school are poor returns on their money. The assumption that learning ONLY occurs in a structured classroom is highly flawed.

          • Eric Wittliff

            Very True Lianne, The best curriculum at the ages we are talking about uses play-to-teach. Not sure I fallow you all the way on linking low graduation rates to pre-K. Most ND kids don’t have pre-k right now. Do you know of study? I heard one on NPR the other day, but as Rob pointed out the sample size was small. I can say with certainty, from data collected by the state, that many child with learn disabilities are not found till the sit down at the kindergarten desk. Those same children are the ones at highest risk not to graduate. There is tons of data that supports finding children with learning issues early changes outcomes.

  • bubba

    this recently released study following these preschoolers from 2008 through 3rd grade (class year 2012-13) can’t consider 4th grade data. see why?

    • bubba

      On your first concern (a valid one), consider for the sake of argument one extra year school is akin to investing 100 dollars a year earlier than the next guy. all other things equal, later investor’s total amount of money gained over time will be an ever decreasing percentage relative to early investor. nothing startling about that.

  • Ray Seltz

    We fall further and further behind other countries in education particularly in (STEM) (Science Technology Engineering and Science). It;s due to both parties who dance to special interest groups that only benefit the self-serving special interests. Their puppets from Nancy Pelosi to Rand Paul (and filtered to the state level), dance the right game at the right time. Baesler was an interesting endorsement for the Republicans given her classic public, educational, Democratic leanings. Head Start is a joke and in turn the Republicans have nothing to offer.

    • Ray Seltz

      sorry, brain fart, last “Science” in STEM is Math

  • Yogibare

    How can anyone be against or skeptical of “education”? Any such attitude or questioning is like being gainst motherhood. It appears that money must be spent no matter what the results may be. As they say—go to a Doctor who is a sugeon you will lkely get —-surgery!

  • Patrick R. Pfeiffer

    $#$#%#%%$# Rob if your INTENTIONS are good and particularly if a lot of money is taken from the rich it doesn’t MATTER what the actual results are!!!
    IT’S FOR THE CHILDREN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Opinion8ed

    This is less about schooling and more about daycare. There is absolutely no proof that this works long term. It is simply an expansion of the welfare state. Here again we are talking about spending millions is dollars on students who are most likely supported cradle to grave b the taxpayers anyway. You can lead a horse to water….

  • The Whistler

    Head Start programs are about free daycare disguised as education.

    • camsaure

      Don’t forget indoctrination also.

  • Opinion8ed

    When schools in bismarck failed to make adequate yearly progress for the third year in a row a letter was sent home to parents with the typical it is not our fault.they talked about having a large number of Native American students and them keeping scores down, blah blah blah.. But the fine print tells you that you can take your student for outside help but only if you are low income. So you can be middle income and your student is just stuck or you can foot the bill. What the hell does what is in my wallet have to do with you failing to educate students, Mrs. Baesler ?

  • SusanBeehler

    I don’t like the idea of public school pre-schools. I think families should not just be “farming” there children out. Kindergarten is fine, but a structured system for preschool may help them in further schooling but children need play and unstructured interaction with others, a school setting will not give them this freedom. I believe it is especially negative for boys, they need more physical activity then our structured school system provides. Not every child and especially our sons are not “created” to sit at a desk to learn. Instituting preschool will only “grow” our school systems not necessarily “grow” our children’s minds. Property tax is an issue and this will only increase the cost of education with no concrete evidence of its pay off for our communities.

    • Waski_the_Squirrel

      I don’t often agree with you, but this time we are in complete agreement.

  • sbark

    Just the thought of placing younger and younger children in the hands of the NEA is nauseating.

    this is an org which in 1936, the National Education Association stated its position, from which they have never wavered; “We stand for socializing the individual.”

    Quotes from NEA today are still along that LIberal line……”The schools cannot allow parents to influence the kind of values-education their children receive in school……Our goals are incompatible with theirs. We must change their values.”

    and then from the Founding source of money to NEA……….”I don’t want a nation of thinkers. I want a nation of workers.” – John D. Rockefeller, created the General Education Board (GEB) in 1903 to dispense Rockefeller funds to the National Education Association.

    ……..and they are fulfilling all these “goals”

  • VocalYokel

    I am 100% in favor of “Early Childhood Education”.

    My family, in particular my Mom and Dad, began educating me when I was quite young.
    I didn’t attend ‘pre-school’ (in those days that was considered the time you spent being a kid before entering the 1st grade…that’s right 1st grade…there was no kindergarten where I grew up either) and before I began 1st grade I could read, write (print actually) and even cipher a bit.

    I know it’s a radical notion that the people who should be responsible for taking care of the children they conceive actually do it, but I think it’s an idea whose time has come.