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Subject:

Education Policy

From:

Norman Stahl <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Open Forum for Learning Assistance Professionals <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 20 Oct 1999 17:00:03 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (256 lines)

Two pieces of commentary that folks may find to be quite interesting.  They
are of interest given Tom's outstanding work over the years in adult
literacy and workplace literacy work.



>From: Thomas Sticht <[log in to unmask]>
>
>Research Note 10/19/99
>
>Could An Ounce Of Cure Be Worth A Pound Of Prevention?
>The "Fade Out" of Literacy in the Perry Preschool Children at Age 19
>
>Thomas G. Sticht
> Applied Behavioral & Cognitive Sciences, Inc.
>
>Findings of national adult literacy surveys over the last thirty years
>have revealed tens of millions of adults whose literacy skills are
>poorly developed. The minor  approach to remedying this problem at the
>national level has been to provide a small amount of federal money, less
>than $400,000,000 in 1999, to "cure" the problem through adult literacy
>education.
>
>But the major strategy has followed the homily that "an ounce of
>prevention is worth a pound of cure." So we have tried to  "prevent" the
>problem of poor adult literacy over the long run by improving  the
>literacy skills of children in the K-12 school system. This has included
>the present federal spending of some $7,000,000,000 on Title I
>compensatory education. But because this has proven a costly and not
>entirely satisfactorily program, it has been argued that Title I is too
>late, and that we need to improve children's learning before they get to
>school. So we presently invest  close to $4,000,000,000 in Head Start
>preschool programs. But since this has been found to not produce the
>hoped for long term improvements in learning, it has recently been
>argued that age 3  is too late, we need to start with birth. So now we
>have committed billions of dollars to Early Head Start for children from
>birth to age three years.  In short, what we have done is to spend "a
>pound on prevention and an ounce on cure."
>
>But now there is some evidence that our investment strategy  in
>preschool education may not produce the desired results, that is, adults
>who are "functionally" literate. New analyses of the results from the
>only study available that measured the functional literacy skills of
>preschool children and a control group of children who did not receive
>preschool when they reached young adulthood (age 19) indicates that the
>two groups were not significantly different with regard to literacy
>skills - and both groups were "functionally illiterate" by contemporary
>standards.
>
>The famous High /Scope Perry Preschool study (reported in the Changed
>Lives book, Berrueta-Clement, et. a., 1984) is frequently cited as
>having produced young adults who were more literate than the
>non-preschool control group (Brizius & Foster, 1993, p. 56). However
>that conclusion is wrong because the functional literacy assessment and
>the analysis of results was faulty on several counts.
>
>(1) A total of eight of the 19 year old young adults refused to take the
>Adult Performance Level (APL) functional literacy test because "they
>could not read" (Berrueta-Clement, et. a., 1984, p. 34). Five of these
>eight were from the preschool group and three from the control group.
>That is almost nine percent of the preschool group compared to five
>percent of the control group who said they could not read.
>
>(2) The researchers omitted the eight people who said they could not
>read from the analysis of the literacy skills of preschool and control
>groups. However, that is an inappropriate procedure. Instead, the eight
>illiterates should have been given scores of zero and then these scores
>should have been used to calculate the average scores of the two groups.
>
>In the "Changed Lives" report, the mean scores for preschool and control
>groups on the total test of 40 items were given as 61.5 percent and 54.5
>percent respectively. However, the new mean scores with the five zero
>scores added to the preschool group and the three zero scores added to
>the control group's scores produced scores of 56 percent and 52 percent,
>respectively, scores that placed  both groups almost a standard
>deviation (SD) below the norming group, at about the 16th percentile.
>The norming group of the APL test was made-up of students in adult basic
>education courses, of whom some 78 percent had no high school diploma.
>The preschool and control groups scored well below this norming group,
>which, itself, represents a lower level of skills than expected of a
>more representative sample of adults in the United States.
>
>(3) On page 183 of the "Changed Lives" report, a three-way analysis of
>covariance that adjusted for differences in preschool and control
>children's IQ's, their family socioeconomic status, mother's education
>and mother's employment at study entry is presented. The results
>indicate no significant difference between preschool and control groups
>on the APL at age 19, even with the eight illiterates excluded. But in
>the body of the report the researchers ignored this multivariate
>analysis and instead relied on simple two-way tests of significance
>which ignored the fact that 30 percent of control group mothers worked
>outside the home while only about 9 percent of preschool mothers worked
>outside the home (Berrueta-Clement, et. al, 1984, p. 8). This  means
>that there could have been many more oral language and emergent literacy
>interactions among mothers and their children in the preschool group.
>
>(4) An additional problem that renders the use of the APL findings
>inappropriate, is that, instead of young adults taking the tests
>unaided, as called for in the administration procedures of the APL, in
>the Perry Preschool study, "Othe interviewer read each of the items to
>the respondent and could repeat them upon request" (Berrueta-Clement,
>et. al, p. 34). The report goes on to state that, "Reading skills were
>still required, however, to decode and interpret, the supplementary
>information needed for some of the items." (Berrueta-Clement, et. al,
>p.34). However, since the APL was not  administered according to the
>standard conditions under which the test norms were developed, the
>results cannot meaningfully be interpreted in terms of the norms given
>for the test.
>
>All this raises an important policy question, is it possible that
>starting early childhood education at birth is too late? Suppose that
>the real head start starts with the heads of the parents and that over
>the last three decades if we had invested "pounds" in our "cures" by
>putting billions of dollars into the compensatory education of
>adolescents and young adults, we might have prevented many unwanted
>pregnancies, led many mothers-to-be to find and obtain good prenatal
>care and have fewer and healthier babies, and made it possible to have
>to prepare many fewer children for school through institutional
>interventions.  Possibly, given the many multiplier effects of investing
>in the education of adults, a few more "ounces of cure" with adults may
>have been worth many "pounds of prevention" with children.
>
>References
>
>Berrueta-Clement, et. al (1984). Changed lives: The effects of the Perry
>Preschool Program on youths through age 19. Ypsilanti, MI: The
>High/Scope Press. (data for the figure comes from pages 32-36)
>
>Brizius, J. & Foster, S. (1993). Generation to generation. Realizing the
>promise of family literacy. Ypsilanti, MI: High/Scope Press. (p. 56)

Research Note 9/25/99
>
> The Myth of the Early Years: All Is Not Lost By Age 3:
> Adults Can Learn and Their Brains Can Grow
> Thomas G. Sticht
> Applied Behavioral & Cognitive Sciences
>
>
> On Sunday, October 13, 1991 The San Diego Union newspaper reprinted an
> article by Joan Beck, columnist for the Chicago Tribune that argued for
> early childhood education because, "Half of adult intellectual capacity
> is already present by age 4 and 80 percent by age 8, the great education
> researcher Dr. Benjamin Bloom reported in scholarly studies in the 1960s
> that helped establish the importance of early learning. No matter how
> good schools are, how capable and caring the teachers, they will not
> have as much effect on a child's permanent level of intelligence as has
> the environment in which he has lived before he started to first grade."
>
> Behind this widespread belief is another belief based on (faulty)
> understandings of newurscience that the brain and its  intellectual
> capacity  is   developed   in   early   childhood and this has important
> implications for cognitive development over the lifespan. Even the First
> Lady of the United States has weighed in with the pronouncement  that ,
> "The first three years of life are crucial in establishing the brain
> cell connections. ...By the end of three or four years, however, the
> pace of learning slows... The process continues to slow as we mature,
> and as we age our brain cells and synapses begin to whither away.
> ...With proper stimulation, brain synapses will form at a rapid pace,
> reaching adult levels by the age of two and far surpassing them in the
> next several years." (Clinton, 1996, pp. 57-58).
>
> It has been aruged that if children's early childhood development  is
> not properly stimulated, then there is likely to be underdevelopment of
> the brain and that can lead to lower intellectual ability, poor school
> learning and to a life characterized by  social problems such as
> unemployment,  criminal activity, teenage pregnancy and welfare. It will
> be difficult if not impossible to overcome the disadvantages of
> deficiencies in early childhood stimulation later in adulthood. And so,
> some might argue,  "Why should we invest in adult literacy education?
> Letis put our money into early childhood programs. An ounce of
> prevention is worth a pound of cure!"
>
> But now  trends in both brain science and cognitive science have
> converged to bring about revisions to these ideas from the conventional
> wisdom. For over a decade, the James S. McDonnell Foundation in St.
> Louis has supported extensive research in neuroscience. Recently, John
> Bruer, President of the Foundation has written a new book entitled "The
> Myth of the First Three Years" (The Free Press, 1999) in which he
> explains that the findings of neuroscience do not support the claims
> made above by Mrs. Clinton or Joan Beck or other claims for early
> stimulation of infants and children under three years of age. He further
> argues that most neuroscience is  irrelevant for early childhood and
> in-school education (1997, 1998). Following is a brief summary from
> earlier articles of what Bruer regards as major misconceptions that
> educators have of brain science (see my paper Beyond 2000: Future
> Directions for Adult Education  in the Full Text Documents page at
> www.nald.ca for references  to articles by Bruer):
>
> (1). Claim: Enriched early childhood environments causes synapses to
> multiply rapidly. Bruer states, "What little direct evidence we have n
> all based on studies of monkeys  - indicates these claims are
> inaccurate....The rate of synaptic formation and synaptic density seems
> to be impervious to quantity of stimulation. ...Early experience does
> not cause synapses to form rapidly. Early enriched environments will not
> put our children on synaptic fast tracks"(1998, pp. 13-14).
> (2). Claim: More synapses mean more brainpower. Bruer states, "The
> neuroscientific evidence does not support this claim, either.
> ...Synaptic densities at birth and in early adulthood are approximately
> the same, yet by any measure adults are more intelligent, have more
> highly flexible behavior, and learn more rapidly than infants" (1998,
> pp. 14-15).
> (3). Claim: The plateau period of high synaptic density and high brain
> metabolism is the optimal period for learning. Bruer states, "The
> neuroscientific evidence for this claim is extremely weak. The
> neuroscientists who count synapses in humans and monkeys merely point
> out that during the plateau period, monkeys and humans develop a variety
> of skills and behaviors. ...We do not know what relationship exists
> between high resting brain metabolism and learning, any more than we
> know what relation exists between high synaptic numbers and ability to
> learn."(1998, pp. 15-17.
>
> Bruer goes on to say that, "Truly new results in neuroscience, rarely
> mentioned in the brain and education literature, point to the brainis
> lifelong capacity to reshape itself in response to experience"(1998, p.
> 17). In his new book (1999) he references work in adult literacy to make
> the point that, "Adult literacy programs provide additional evidence
> that acquiring and improving literacy skills is not time-limited or
> subject to critical period  limitations." (p. 112).  He says, "The
> limiting factor in vocabulary growth, and presumably for some of the
> other things Verbal IQ measures, is exposure to new words, facts, and
> exxperiences. The brain can benefit from this exposure at almost any
> time-early childhood, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and
> senescence."(p. 177)
>
> For adult literacy educators, Bruer makes the important policy argument
> that with a better understanding of the limitations of present day
> neuroscience for understanding education, "We might question the
> prudence of decreasing expenditures for adult education or special
> education on the grounds that a person's intellectual and emotional
> course is firmly set during the early years." (p. 26, This is a myth he
> rejects and it is an important point in light of the current budget
> activites in Congress which place tens of billions of dollars in early
> childhood and in-school compensatory programs and less than $400 million
> in programs for educating adults.
>


>
>



*********************************
Norman A. Stahl, Acting Chair
Department of Literacy,
Intercultural and Language Education
GH 223c
Northern Illinois University
DeKalb, IL  60115

Telephone:
(815) 753-9032 {office}
(815) 753-8563 (FAX)

Email: [log in to unmask]

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