The Libertarian

Vin Suprynowicz
Website: Liberty Book Shop
Last month, here in Las Vegas, the Clark County School District ballyhooed a “longitudinal” study which (officials there argue) demonstrated the effectiveness of government-run all-day kindergarten in improving academic performance.

Testing of second graders showed those who had attended all-day kindergarten as 5-year-olds scored an average 3 percentage points higher on standardized tests than kids who attended only a half-day of kindergarten, the district said.

And the improvement was even more striking among “at-risk” kids. (State Sen Bob Beers says the Legislature defines “at-risk” kids as those whose family incomes qualify them to receive a “free or reduced-price lunch” -- and “at-risk schools” as those with a high percentage of such at-risk kids. The school district disagrees, saying officials there define “at-risk kids,” in this instance, as those who show a low aptitude for literacy -- possibly a new entry in the endless series of euphemisms for the children of illegal aliens.)

However “at-risk kids” are defined, they showed an 8 percentage point improvement over similar kids who had only gone to half-day kindergarten, the District said.

But Sen. Beers, R-Las Vegas, an accountant by trade, noticed a number missing from this report.

“Imagine a group of six students who average five and a half feet tall,” is the way Sen. Beers explained his thinking in a March 1 press release. “Three of the students are six feet tall. How tall do you think the other three students are?

“I immediately set the legislative staff to work finding out from the school district what the 'improvement’ was amongst the rest of the second-graders in the full-day kindergarten group who were not labeled 'at-risk’ -- essentially, those from lower-middle-class homes and wealthier,” Beers explained. “The district stonewalled.

“Finally, after a month of mounting pressure, the district lifted its veil of secrecy this week and confirmed what common sense was telling me,” Sen. Beers said in his press release. (In person, he told me the truth was actually extracted, bit by bit, only after the legislative staffers “heroically dogged their asses for the last month.”)

“Second-graders not 'at-risk’ who attended full-day kindergarten performed 3 percent” " 3 percentage points, presumably " “worse on standardized tests compared to the half-day kindergarten group,” Sen. Beers reports. “The district offered no theories as to why this was true, nor any reason for refusing to provide the rest of the study results until now.”

“Are you saying the school district purposely misled us about the scores?” I asked Sen. Beers last Friday.

“Yes,” he replied over his cell phone as he returned from Carson City.

“What incentive would they have to do that?” we asked.

Sen. Beers laughed. At which point I lost my connection with the senator, somewhere near the lobster crossing in Mina. Regaining his signal in Tonopah, he called back to reply “They may not know why they do things like this any more. Or it could be that it might result in the Legislature appropriating more money.”

The most significant fact here is not that a large group of second-graders turn out to do worse on standardized tests after attending all-day kindergarten as 5-year-olds, when compared with a control group of second graders who attended only half-day kindergarten.

Although that result (and the results of more truly “longitudinal” studies, showing zero net academic impact by high school, “possibly because learning to recognize your shapes early doesn’t help you learn algebra,” as Sen. Beers puts it) should certainly be taken to heart by legislators who were about to be led down the primrose path to funding this dangerous expansion of government meddling in the rearing of our kids.

Since kindergarten is mostly about learning to play well with others and raise your hand when you need to go to the bathroom, these results could turn out to mean not much, beyond the obvious fact that non-English-speaking kids do better if they’ve been immersed in English for an extra half-year.

The results could equally well mean that learning among English-speaking kids is retarded in direct ratio to the amount of time kids spend in today’s unionized government schools -- a seemingly counterintuitive thesis which is nonetheless born out by the relative academic success of home-schoolers when compared to the public-school cohort, even when those home-schoolers’ only “teacher” is a parent who never finished high school.

Given the vast treasure we pour into the government schools -- and the increasingly unimpressive results -- these questions are all worth further debate.

But the most important fact here is that the Clark County School District is now revealed to be not an objective and reliable judge and arbiter when it comes to measuring the efficacy of all-day kindergarten, but rather a lobbyist for said program, willing and able to massage and manipulate facts and figures to “come out right” in an attempt to get this program approved.

Why? Could it be -- as Sen. Beers suggests -- because all-day kindergarten would beef up these administrators’ annual budgets by tens of millions of dollars?

This is like asking whether naval officers would rather command a larger fleet.

And just as civilian oversight -- particularly fiscal oversight -- is judged necessary when the Navy demands more ships, so is it once more made clear that someone who doesn’t stand to profit from the outcome had better carefully review any further school district “statistics” supposedly proving the “efficacy” of all-day kindergarten.

“I think it’s shameful first of all that they would solicit favorable coverage of the partial findings that they released a month ago, and in the second place that they’d think they could get away with it,” the senator concludes. “And really the tragedy is that by throwing the citizenry a steady diet of red herrings, we never get around to discussing the real problems (with school performance) and what the solutions might be.”