January 15, 2008

In Praise of Expulsion

"Progressive thinkers are always pressing to get children into non-maternal care at earlier and earlier ages," researchers at the Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society noted in October 2005.
Five-year-olds, after all, need to prepare for first grade by going to kindergarten. Three- and four-year-olds need to get a leg up on the kindergarten curriculum by attending preschool. One- and two-year-olds need an early start on socializing by spending their days in day care. And so it goes, in a regression that pulls children out of the home at ever-earlier ages. That young children are actually round pegs in the square holes that educationists keep creating in this out-of-home bureaucracy seems almost unthinkable. But a study recently completed by researchers at the Yale Child Study Center makes the misfit between young children’s needs and preschool programs’ offerings all too clear.

Drawing data from randomly selected 4,815 classrooms in the 52 state-funded pre-kindergarten programs in the 40 states that have such programs, the researchers uncovered a very disturbing pattern: pre-kindergarten students are expelled from their programs at rates more than three times as high as those for students attending kindergarten though twelfth-grade classes. ...

Some readers of the new study may wonder if the young children getting expelled from their preschool programs are not actually the smart ones: perhaps they have, after all, figured out what they must do to get back home with their mothers — where they belong in the first place.
That, of course, would not be the view of the many bureaucrats and political activists in Oklahoma with a vested interest — political and/or economic — in cramming more and more round pegs into the square holes of surrogate parenting. Nor, apparently, is it the view of journalists who write one-sided puff pieces about those square holes.

Today in the Tulsa World, (‘Early childhood education: Avoiding expulsions’) reporter Ginnie Graham tells us about the Child Care Consultation program, "a little-known Oklahoma program for improving the behavior of children in its classrooms. ... The program’s goal is to keep children enrolled in centers when they might be in danger of being asked to leave. Consultants offer ideas when providers are stumped by aggressive or challenging behaviors in children. Ages of children range from infants to preschool."

Can’t imagine why an infant or toddler who yearns to be with her mother would exhibit "aggressive" or "challenging" behavior when forced to be institutionalized all day. That’s a real stumper. Somebody get me a consultant.

Program manager Dale Wares acknowledges that the program, which has a budget of $120,000, is "underutilized." He says, "We would be delighted if we had trouble meeting the needs. We have a service that will strengthen the quality of child care. But too often, it goes unused."

That’s helpful information for appropriators returning to the state capitol next month. Let’s take all or part of that $120,000 and put it where it most certainly will not go unused. As Steve Anderson and I pointed out on pages 8-9 of the October 2007 issue of Perspective (‘Credit Where Credit’s Due’), Oklahoma’s trendsetting tax break for the most important early-childhood educators — moms — is a good first step, but much more needs to be done.