WATERS: <span>Santa favors school choice but fears Scrooge’s union</span>

Santa hasn’t put much in his bag this year for education reformers in Kentucky.

The jolly old saint is probably afraid teachers’-union thugs will shut down schools and trek to the North Pole to protest hearsay that Kris Kringle wants to put school choice under Kentucky’s Christmas tree.

(A spokes-deer denies there’s a quid pro quo in the offing even though the workforce at Santa’s Workshop overwhelmingly favors charter schools and tax-credit scholarships for Kentucky families.)

Scrooge showed up in Frankfort recently, bringing the spirit of intimidation aimed at heretofore supporters of proven reforms like school choice and higher reading standards.

The result is that education Commissioner Wayne Lewis and the Kentucky Board of Education, which made its best decision in hiring Lewis in 2018, gets a failing grade for its December meeting at which it approved a legislative agenda that not only fails to include school-choice programs with proven track records of helping poor and at-risk children but also demands legislators spend $150 million on – of all things – all-day kindergarten.

Substantial research suggests early education doesn’t improve students’ learning in the long run, especially where ongoing support structures are missing.

Education Northwest in surveying research about the impact of all-day kindergarten versus half-day programs found that “absent ongoing intervention structures in first grade and higher, the differences between students in full-day and half-day kindergarten diminish over years of schooling to the point that full-day kindergarten students perform similar to their half-day peers by third grade.”

RAND Corporation concurred, concluding “there was little difference in the reading achievement of students attending full-day or half-day kindergarten programs as they progressed through school.”

Even more concerning, though, are the negative impacts of all-day kindergarten exposed by digging deeper into the research.

The RAND researchers not only found that children in full-day kindergarten programs “demonstrated lower levels of nonacademic readiness skills through the fifth grade, including poorer dispositions toward learning, lower self-control, and worse interpersonal skills that children in part-day programs” but also “showed a greater tendency to engage in externalizing and internalizing behaviors than children in part-day programs.”

Any Kentucky mother can tell you 5-year-olds aren’t meant to daily sit in a classroom for six hours.

Yet research included in Sage Journals indicates “changes in kindergarten pedagogy from 1998 to 2010 found that what was once a time for play-based discovering and learning has increasingly become another grade of formal learning.”

There’s at least enough reasonable doubt to give Kentucky lawmakers long pause before pouring resources into a program that may be harmful in the long run.

Besides, 167 of Kentucky’s 172 school districts already offer all-day kindergarten.

Why would we spend more taxpayer dollars on a program that already exists when we could implement true reforms like public charter schools and tax-credit scholarships at lower costs and significantly higher chances of success?

Meanwhile, as our state’s education commissioner and board surrender to boredom, union intimidation, lost interest – whatever it is – even Mississippi is passing up Kentucky in academic achievement.

The brand new 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) shows Mississippi has surpassed the Bluegrass State in fourth-grade math and reading for both black and white students.

And the Magnolia State did it while spending $1,900 less per pupil, paying teachers $8,000 less than Kentucky and with a higher poverty rate.

Education-performance gaps between the two states began to close following policy reforms implemented by Mississippi beginning in 2013, including legislation that pushed good reading programs and expanded the number of charter schools – policies which Kentucky has failed to pass.

Until Kentucky implements these reforms and their proven results, why are we even talking about throwing more money after existing programs which, at best, offer temporary results and possibly even harmful, long-term side effects?

Jim Waters is president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Read previous columns at www.bipps.org. He can be reached at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com and @bipps on Twitter.

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