Practically Speaking

Kyle and her husband moved to Brookfield in 1986. She became active in local politics and started blogging in 2004. Her focus is primarily on local issues but often includes state and national topics, too. Kyle looks at things from the taxpayers' perspective in a creative, yet down to earth way, addressing them from a practical point of view.

Does 4K deserve tax dollars?

4-K, Elmbrook, TAXES

On November 27th,  Elmbrook's school board will decide the very important question of should we continue or discontinue 4K. We do not get to vote for or against it; our only opportunity to influence that decision is to contact the board members.


Whenever I am faced with an important decision, I ask myself a few questions: What are the expected benefits and consequences resulting from my decision, and can I afford it. We don't always have the luxury of knowing the results of trying something new, but if others have already made the change in question, I certainly like to evaluate the results of their decisions.  Fortunately, with  4K, there is longterm data available.


One basic question came to my mind regarding the 4K decision. If 4K is so important, so beneficial to a student's success in school, then why does our state only set the compulsory school age at 6 years old on Sept. 1? (That means students with a later birthday than Sept. 1 will start 1st grade at 7 years of age.)


The fact that children need not attend school until age 6 in Wisconsin made me wonder how our school age requirement compared to other states.


I found that answer and more in this article, Early Education Shows No Benefit - Compelling children to attend school at an earlier age does not yield expected results , by HSLDA, Home School Legal Defense Association. It is a treasure trove of information on the subject of early education.


The article stated in the section labeled: State-by-State Comparison:

A review of compulsory attendance laws across the nation shows that requiring young children to attend school may be largely unnecessary. Only eight states and the District of Columbia require attendance of 5-year-olds, and six of those nine allow exemptions for parents to withhold their children from school until age 6. The other 41 states allow parents to wait until their children are 6, 7, or even 8 years old before beginning formal education.24

That information makes one wonder about the long term success of earlier and later starts in school. I read on in that section to find the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) test results from schoolchildren in all 50 states:

Scores of children from states that have low compulsory attendance ages (5-6) did not score any higher than children from the other states, and in some subjects their average was actually lower.26

There was a link to All-Day Kindergarten Failing as Education Reform, which detailed information published by the Goldwater Institute:

All-day kindergarten fails to improve Stanford 9 reading, math, language arts scores

PHOENIX—A report published today by the Goldwater Institute examines Stanford 9 test scores and finds Arizona kindergarten programs initially improve learning but have no measurable impact on reading, math, or language arts test scores by fifth grade.

This test score information affirmed everything I had heard about the merits of earlier and earlier education, that it may initially seem to give kids a head start, but that head start does not translate into long term improvement. In fact, as a homeschooler, we were warned that too early of an introduction to school is counter productive. It actually causes burn out in the upper elementary grades through high school.


Earlier education does not benefit the underprivileged either. Head Start, the government early intervention program for at risk children, is often touted as the poster child for earlier education success. I mistakenly bought into this idea last year when I blogged, “You may be able to make the argument that early education is beneficial for inner city children, whose crack addicted mother may be passed out on the couch.” But now I see I was mistaken:

The most important goal of any education program is that children be educated. Studies of Head Start, however, demonstrate that early education produces no apparent academic benefits. In its early years, extensive studies were undertaken to prove Head Start worked. But the opposite turned out to be true. In 1969, the Westinghouse Learning Corporation found no difference in the behavior and educational achievement between Head Start and other underclass children.

Sixteen years later, the CRS Synthesis Project study, commissioned by HHS, came to the same conclusion. Although children showed “immediate gains,” by the second grade “there are no educationally meaningful differences.”23

As I mentioned last year, I attended 4 year old kindergarten in the Shorewood school system. If 4K is so beneficial, shouldn’t Shorewood’s ACT scores be consistently higher than our school district’s that didn’t offer 4K? The data shows that this year was the first in the past few years that Shorewood edged out Elmbrook’s ACT scores by 1.23 points.  Of the top 10 schools in Wisconsin (Elmbrook consistently is in the top 10), at least 7 had no 4K program at the time those students tested started school. Incidentally, over 250 school districts have 4K so there should have been a better showing in the top 10 if it is so helpful.


All of this information presents quite a compelling reason to NOT start the education process so early. So when I saw last week's Brookfieldnow featuring those cute pictures of very young children enjoying 3K and 4K in the private school setting, it made me bristle. The article was misleadingly titled, "Learning early, 3-year-old kindergarten classes bring success to two schools".   


I ask you to look at the data, not the cute pictures in the Brookfieldnow article. What criteria are we using to measure success?


No one is arguing that young children do not enjoy an outing or activity from time to time. Our culture abounds with such opportunities. I still remember the Bible stories and making fun craft projects in Sunday School. My son used to enjoy his once a week, 2 hour visit at Elmbrook Church’s Moms and More (I did too!). Children love birthday parties, toddler gym classes, Park and Rec. programs, Library programs, trips to the zoo, and just doing things with mom! But all of these activities are not the responsibility of Public Education. Enjoyable? Yes.  Public Education? No.


The data just does not support starting school at age 4, and our state does not mandate it. The Brookfieldnow article shows that if these types of programs are wanted, there are plenty of opportunities for parents to avail themselves of them in the private sector.


The facts illustrate 4K is actually detrimental to a child's long term success in school. The cost of 4K then goes beyond just the financial investment in the program; it costs our children's future success in school.


Please read through the information and contact the board--especially Patrick Murphy, by phone, in person, or letter and Glen Allgaier.



FYI: The footnote numbers at the end of the quotes correspond to the Early Education Shows No Benefit article. Incidentally, that article affirms that internationally, the trends are similar:

The country of Finland was a standout in both of these international assessments [PISA, the Program for International Student Assessment tests], ranking near or at the top in all tested subjects. These impressive results were achieved despite the fact that school attendance in Finland is not compulsory until age 7, later than almost any other European country.17

Some of the lower scoring countries in PISA were Sweden and Greece, which both emphasize early education. Sweden has some of the most comprehensive childcare in Europe, with the vast majority of children ages 1-12 having a place in a publicly funded child-care center. Even with this emphasis, however, Sweden ranked among the average countries in the PISA test, and Greece was among the five worst nations in all three subject areas.19

Last year I blogged:

Research shows that an earlier start in school does not translate to an increase in academic proficiency. Raymond and Dorothy Moore have done many studies that show an earlier start in school does not make for a better education or better student. In their book, Better Late Than Early, the Moores found When children are ready to learn, around the ages of 8-10, they quickly catch up to those who started earlier. So, why start so early?




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