Monday, January 15, 2007

Full-day kindergarten in Montana -- truth in advertising

State superintendent of schools Linda McCulloch is understandably plugging all-day kindergarten at the legislature and in the media. The program would make for a permanent increase in public education spending, and that will please the public education lobby in the state.

There should be a little truth in advertising, though. She states:

Nationally 63 percent of kindergarten students are currently attending full-time kindergarten. Many of these programs have been in place for more than thirty years.

Ah, words like "many" can hold a host of meanings. A study done by the Kansas State Department of Education in 2001, which is not that long ago, revealed that only 12 states required full-day kindergarten be available, and of those, only 4 required attendance.

Now, of the top 10 states in SAT scores, in 2006 only two states are to be found to have had full-day kindergarten required in 2001 -- North and South Dakota. As a side note, South and North Dakota ranked dead last in average salaries for teachers (50th and 51st respectively -- D.C. is included in the list). Their rankings on expenditures per student were 38th and 51st, respectively. But the relationship between spending and actual educational achievement is another story for another time.

There is a disconnect here. It is misleading to say "many," when as little as 5 years ago, there were only 12 states requiring full-day kindergarten be available. One would expect a correlation between states that require it and school achievement as measured by objective standards.

Perhaps such evidence exists, but it would be hard to come by, since the real test is whether students graduate from high school and go out into the world of college and jobs being functionally literate. It takes at least 19 years to prove that. As a curmudgeon at the libertarian Ludwig von Mises Institute recently wrote, the reasoning tends to be circular:

Success will follow implementation, because the success will be the implementation. The praises and awards will be given to the man who was brave enough to push such a beneficial program forward against hostile and vile opposition; a program that not only benefited the kids, but also got the economy back on track.