Letters To The Editor
Education Week has frequently carried articles on preschool education, including your story on the High/Scope report ("Major Study Finds Preschool 'Pays Off' for the Disadvantaged," Education Week, Sept. 19, 1984).
Kindergarten used to be where kids went to play, but now pressure is growing across the nation for tougher early schooling. In some areas of the country, kindergarten teachers are assigning homework, holding full days of classes, and giving competency tests to help decide which of the children should advance to the 1st grade.
Skeptics of this earlier and expanded educational program argue that the children are physically and emotionally unready for a full-day schedule. They say that the 1st-grade curriculum has already been pushed down into the kindergarten, where pencils and workbooks claim even more space beside the crayons and toys. Early-childhood specialists state that although some children may be ready for the paper-and-pencil activities in kindergarten, many are not.
Although some children may not be ready for this expanded program, there are many who could benefit. Prompted by the concerns resulting from the 1983 report by the National Commission on Excellence in Education, "A Nation at Risk," some educators are stressing that the first years of school have very serious effects on students' future academic performance. The theory that problems can be corrected at the beginning is backed by the study of preschoolers carried out by the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation of Ypsilanti, Mich.
In the early 1960's, High/Scope researchers followed the progress of 123 children. Some of the children were enrolled in a "high-quality" school program; the others were not. By the age of 19, those who took the preschool course were more likely to have gone on to college, and they were less likely to have had trouble with the law, drugs, or teen-age pregnancies. They also scored higher on standardized exams.
If other people can benefit from this kind of program and achieve the same impressive results as the students in the High/Scope study, wouldn't it be worth it? Beneficiaries of this program would lead more constructive lives with better jobs and society as whole might be improved. As Connecticut's Commissioner of Education, Gerald N. Tirozzi said, "Rather than have the children drop out later, let's have them drop in earlier."
Clara Kim 10th-grade student Irvington High School Irvington, N.Y.
In his recent commentary ("An Argument for Rehabilitating the Property Tax," Education Week, Oct. 10, 1984), John Augenblick correctly states that "the demands of education reform are about to force a return to a greater reliance on [local property] taxes." I disagree, however, with his next statement, that an increased reliance on these taxes "is not necessarily a bad idea."
Mr. Augenblick's argument is based on three questionable assumptions.
First, he assumes that it was problems with the administration of the property tax that led states to reduce their reliance on this source of revenue in the 1960's and 1970's. In fact, the major impetus for increased state funding of education in the 1970's was the school-finance reform movement.
During this period, 28 states enacted new or revised education-aid programs, largely in response to court suits and legislation initiated by a network of researchers, lawyers, public-advocacy groups, and progressive state legislators. These changes drove the average state share of education spending from 41 percent in 1970 to 47 percent in 1978. During the period of the taxpayer revolts, from 1978 to 1981, the state share rose only from 47 to 49 percent.
The second assumption is that the cost of the new education reforms will be spread evenly across all school districts in a state. In fact, many of the reforms will have a heavier impact on those districts least able to afford them.
For example, North Carolina and Minnesota are among states that are requiring all school districts to offer a core curriculum, with a specified number of courses in mathematics, science, foreign languages, and so forth. Most wealthy school districts offer this core and more. The burden of funding increased course offerings will fall primarily on rural districts, many of which have limited property wealth. Instituting or increasing minimum-competency standards for students will force many poor, urban school districts to find additional funds for remedial-education programs.
These obligations would not be unfair if, as Mr. Augenblick assumes, existing state education-aid systems assured adequate and equitable support of education. Unfortunately, this situation does not exist in many states, especially those located in the industrial Northeast and Midwest.
The state share in these states hovers around 40 percent, well below the national average of 49 percent. This level of funding is insufficient to offset variations in education expenditures caused by growing disparities in per-pupil property wealth. In New Jersey, for example, high-wealth districts have 10 times more property wealth behind each pupil than poor districts. Even with state aid, the low-wealth districts raise $1,000 less per pupil than the high-wealth districts but have a school-tax rate that is twice as large. While property-wealth disparities are smaller in New York, only six to one, high-wealth districts spend $1,500 per pupil more than low-wealth communities. These kinds of inequities have spawned new or renewed litigation in New Jersey, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Wisconsin, and Texas.
In short, the problems that remain with how we fund our public schools far outweigh the improvements we made in administering the property tax. State and federal policymakers must look carefully at who will bear the burden of education reform before sending the bill to local property-tax payers.
Margaret E. Goertz Research Scientist Educational Testing Service Princeton, N.J.