Pre-K payoff

Children in New York City are healthier since the start of Pre-K for All, study finds

PHOTO: Jessica Glazer

The launch of Pre-K for All led to improved health outcomes for low-income children. That’s according to researchers at New York University who analyzed Medicaid data for New York City children who were eligible to enroll in free pre-K versus those who just missed the cutoff because of their age.

In a report released this month by the National Bureau of Economic Research, using data from 2013 through 2016, researchers found that the children eligible for pre-K were more likely than their peers to be diagnosed with asthma or vision problems after the rollout of Pre-K for All. They were also more likely to have received immunizations or be screened for infectious diseases, both of which are requirements for enrolling in the city’s program.

Proper medical screening could have implications beyond physical well-being, the researchers suggest. Diagnosing and treating chronic health problems earlier could help students “cope with challenges, feel less frustrated or overwhelmed in the classroom, and communicate with peers and educators more effectively,” the study found.

One of the most significant findings, according to authors Kai Hong, Kacie Dragan and Sherry Glied, was that children were also more likely to receive treatment for vision and hearing problems. Vision impairments, which are prevalent among poor children in urban environments, have been correlated with poor performance in school, the study notes. Meanwhile, school-based support for children with hearing problems can help them develop on par with their healthy peers.

The findings could help explain why other studies have shown that pre-K can lead to long-term advantages such as increased chances of finding a job and decreased chances of teen pregnancy, according to the study.

“If a young student’s health conditions are well-managed — particularly sensory problems that could impede learning — then the child may have the chance to develop successful long-term learning strategies or problem-solving capacities in comparison to a child who remains burdened by undetected or poorly-managed conditions early in their education,” the researchers note.

Other studies that have looked into the health impacts of pre-K have produced mixed results, said Glied, a coauthor of the study and the dean of the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at NYU.

New York City’s program offered researchers with the opportunity to conduct a “more rigorous” analysis, given its scale and quality, she told Chalkbeat. About 70,000 students are now enrolled in Pre-K for All, the program Mayor Bill de Blasio began ramping up in 2014.

“This was a good opportunity,” Glied said, “to nail down the effects of universal pre-K.”

reasons vs. excuses

Westminster schools loses on appeal seeking higher performance rating

A student at Westminster’s Hodgkins Elementary in 2013.

The state’s quality rating for Westminster Public Schools will not change after an appeal to the Colorado Board of Education Monday.

The board unanimously voted to deny the appeal after minimal discussion mostly criticizing the district for blaming poor performance on minority and disadvantaged students.

“The ‘why’ students are not performing at grade level is an excuse, but what it should do is give us a roadmap to remedy that failure,” said board member Steve Durham. “It’s our job to identify poor performance and further find remedies regardless of the reasons.”

Pam Swanson, Westminster’s superintendent and school board members said the state board members’ comments were ridiculous.

“We have very high expectations,” Swanson said. “Every teacher listening to that comment was disgusted because we know that we have high expectations. We know all of our kids can get there it just takes them longer.”

The district has argued that their annual performance evaluation was not legal because it discriminated against the district’s population of large numbers of English learners, mobile students and those who qualify for free or reduced price lunch.

They also contend the state isn’t making allowances to account for Westminster’s so-called “competency-based” learning model, which does away with grade levels and moves students instead based on when they’ve learned certain education standards. The district believes that by placing students into traditional grade levels based on their age for testing means they aren’t measuring what students are learning.

State education department officials disputed the district’s appeal stating in part that the district has the flexibility to determine student grade levels for testing purposes.

The decision means Westminster now must go through with an accountability hearing where the state board will be required to vote on action to turnaround the district. Proposed plans for that hearing on May 4 have already been prepared.

The meeting was packed by Westminster employees. A crowd of educators from the Westminster district were watching the meeting from outside the boardroom.

Looking for options

State board raised questions over plan for Pueblo schools and management partners

Charlotte Macaluso, right, speaks with Pueblo City Schools spokesman Dalton Sprouse on July 22, 2016. (Pueblo Chieftain file photo)

The Colorado Board of Education on Monday asked Pueblo City Schools and state officials to submit slightly different plans for three struggling schools by mid-June.

While the district already planned to partner with two outside companies to improve student performance at the three schools, the board directed state officials to give the outside companies more of a management role in the next version of the plan.

While the board approved improvement plans for several other schools and districts this month, its request for changes to the plan for Pueblo schools was unusual. It also means that in June the board will have two plans to choose from for a final order.

Board members on Monday asked district officials about the work the district has done in the past few years trying to improve performance with an innovation zone — or a group of schools granted similar waivers from some laws and policies — about leadership changes in the schools and at the district level and about whether there have been any successful “bright spots” in recent years.

Board members also questioned district officials on the role of the external companies, Achievement Network and Relay Graduate School of Education.

Charlotte Macaluso, Pueblo City Schools superintendent said the management companies would not govern the schools.

“They would serve as a partner to identify needs,” Macaluso said.

But board members weren’t sold on a partnership of equals, and directed state officials to create a governance plan outlining how the companies would work with the schools. They also expressed frustration at the lack of a formal vetting process for the companies that would work with the schools. The same issue came up at hearings for Greeley schools earlier in the day.

The three schools include Heroes Academy, a K-8, Risley International, a middle school, and Bessemer Elementary, where barely 9 percent of third-graders passed the state’s English test last spring.

The initial state and district proposals call for the three schools to work with two external companies. For Heroes and Risley, the recommendations also suggest allowing the schools to waive some district and state rules.

Risley got innovation status in 2012, giving it such flexibility. So far, the status has not improved the school’s performance. For Heroes the autonomies would be new.

A year ago, Pueblo City Schools was expected to pose the biggest test of the state’s school accountability system. A dozen of the city’s schools were on the state’s watch list for chronic poor performance on state standardized tests. However, most of the city’s schools came off that list last year.