Graduate Center for the Study of Early Learning

The University of Mississippi School of Education

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Another Case of Ill-Informed Pronouncements on Education in Mississippi

Bill Crawford has recently written several pieces on how to best train Mississippi’s work force. He makes his point by using the research generated by the Nobel Prize winning economist, Dr. James Heckman, who has shown that the greatest return on investment (ROI) in educating the workforce of the future is through high quality early childhood education. I suppose Grant Callen missed that memo since he has now pronounced that pre-kindergarten programs are an entitlement, and not the core of high quality education for children in the state who we hope someday will be productive workers.

Pre-K is an entitlement. Just not the type of entitlement Mr. Callen is trying to disparage. High quality early childhood education is a work force investment tool that is what all Mississippians are entitled to receive. The 13:1 ROI when reviewing life events over time cannot be ignored, especially by Mr. Callen, who has no research of this caliber to support his opinion. The newest data from Professor Heckman and colleagues finds a 13% ROI for comprehensive, high-quality, birth-to-five early education. This research analyzes a wide variety of life outcomes, such as health, crime, income, IQ, schooling, and the increase in a mother’s income after returning to work due to childcare.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, a report released in 2017 shows the second largest and longest-standing U.S. voucher program, in Milwaukee, offers no solid evidence of student gains in either private or public schools.  Numerous research reports on school choice that have been generated by all types of think tanks still cannot make the argument for the connection between choice and massive improvements in student outcomes.  For Mr.Callen to try to confuse the two issues is an old trick designed to divide and conquer. This time, the data is not there to support his entitlement claim, other than to say, all children in our state are entitled to a high quality early childhood education. It is the way to support workforce development and keep Mississippi brain power at home.

Mr. Callen writes “School choice is not a silver bullet, but it offers the most promise for the least money and the least amount of effort.” In my opinion, that statement is the best reason anyone could give for dismissing the entire voucher movement. Education does require effort. Education does require money. If Mr. Callen did not think so, he would not have worked to appropriate more funds for vouchers per child to use for choice than the amount the state was willing to fund per pupil for public schools.

by Dr. Cathy Grace

Where is Mr. Rogers When You Need Him?

I did not intend to eavesdrop at the gym last week, but it was striking that two very athletic young men were having a conversation about Mr. Rogers. Yes, that Mr. Rogers…the guy on television that helped raise generations of children in America. The young men were wishing there was a modern day Mr. Rogers who could make sense of growing up for today’s children as he did for them years ago.

People who followed Fred Rogers know he was a puppeteer and ordained minister who became the host of the TV program Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood . What many don’t know is that as a young boy he was shy, suffered from asthma and overweight. Due to his asthma, he was required to stay inside a great deal and felt socially isolated. These early experiences obviously made a lasting impact on how he chose to live his life and shaped his message of the importance of friendship and compatibility with others. Even after his death, his messages of hope, compassion, and acceptance of those different from ourselves is carried on through his center.

In December 1998, in a rare display of anger, Mr. Rogers filed suit against a Texas store for using his likeness on T-shirts, which contained a handgun and the slogan, “Welcome to my ‘hood.” Rogers didn’t simply want the T-shirts discontinued; he wanted them destroyed.  There was no place for violence in his neighborhood and he did not want any confusion about his position. If he was alive today, he would be 90 years old and by all accounts still showing children and their parents an alternative to the meanness we hear and unfortunately see as our children continue to kill one another.

According to a report published in the Washington Post there have been more schoolchildren killed at school this year than military deaths during the same time period. The men who were in conversation at the gym were reminiscing about their childhood experiences and each mentioned how Mr. Rogers set the tone for early socialization in ways their parents couldn’t. He taught young children through puppets and stories about how friends were made and kept, even if they were not always nice or if they looked and acted differently. It was a much gentler time, and authority figures spoke with reason and exercised power through consensus building. During the days of Mr. Rogers, young men and women who were in the armed services were killed doing their duty, fighting in battles for our country, not as high school students going about their daily activities. During the days of Mr. Rogers, young people had disagreements and even came to blows, but with fists, not guns. Sadly, those days are gone. Young people are being killed in greater number on school yards by our own citizens than on battle fields by our enemies.

No one knows what has triggered the actions of the killers who have targeted their peers or what they hoped to accomplish by murdering them. But questions have to be asked “Why this year? “What is different now that is resulting in record numbers of school shootings?” “Are guns easier to get than they were 5 years ago?” Mr. Rogers probably would not attempt to answer the questions posed, but it is safe to say, he would stress the need for additional funding for more mental health services for children, increased supports to families that would reduce domestic violence and addictions such as drugs, alcohol or gambling, and stronger partnerships between parents, physicians and teachers in creating a safe neighborhood like the one Mr. Rogers did all those years ago.

by Dr. Cathy Grace

 

Word of the Day: Agnotology

 

Agnotology: The study of culturally induced ignorance or doubt; derived from agnosis, the Greek word for ignorance or “not knowing”.

Stanford University professor Robert Proctor coined the term in his 1995 book(p. 8) that explored the creation and dissemination of false information and intentionally hiding the truth in the interest of power and financial gain.

One example is how the tobacco industry spent billions of dollars to cast doubt on the scientific evidence regarding negative health effects of smoking. It seems to be universally accepted now that smoking has detrimental effects on one’s health, but by purposefully obscuring the truth and keeping people ignorant, the tobacco industry made billions of dollars in the process.

Winston Churchill, British Prime Minister during World War II,  said, “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”  With the prevalence of social media, that statement is clearly relevant today. A complete falsehood based on fictitious information can go viral and be accepted as true by thousands of people, most of whom are unconvinced by clear evidence that contradicts their beliefs.

We are living in what some are calling a “post-truth” or “post-reality” culture, when many people base their beliefs on emotion and what they want to be accurate rather than on actual facts. It’s what comedian Stephen Colbert calls “truthiness.”

Central elements of our democracy are Freedom of the Press and Freedom of Speech. Open, honest exchange of ideas provides citizens with evidence on which to make informed decisions. The question for our time is whether deliberate misrepresentation for financial gain is protected as free speech and, if so, at what cost? We have a responsibility as citizens to discern facts from fiction.

George Orwell’s dystopian novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, published in 1949, imagined a “Big Brother” government where the government is the master producer of propaganda that  casts doubt on scientific facts and sows distrust in science and intellectualism.  A privileged elite are in charge and the “Thought Police” punish citizens for independent thinking and individuality. In the novel, the Ministry of Truth is responsible for propaganda and historical revisionism (e.g, deleting or editing news articles to replace the truth with, as Kellyanne Conway would say, “alternative facts.”)

Hm. Leaders who cast doubt on scientific facts? Let’s look at a few of the popular myths in our society today that have no basis in fact.

  • Global warming is not real. For a concise, objective representation of what scientists know, see https://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/  By the way, this week it was reported that carbon dioxide levels in the Earth’s atmosphere have reached the highest levels in 800,000 years.
  • If we cut regulations and taxes on big corporations and the wealthy, they will reinvest the savings in more jobs and better wages for employees which will offset the cost of the tax cuts (also known as “trickle-down economics”).
  • Adding work as a requirement in order to get “food stamps” will force lazy people to get to a job and enable them to get off government assistance. See Dr. Grace’s recent post on this topic here.
  • The state cannot afford high quality child care and preschool for all families in Mississippi.
  • (And similarly) If we provide good childcare to all children, other public services will need to be cut.

The work of Nobel laureate Professor James Heckman shows the economic benefits far outweigh the costs of quality child care and education in the form of higher educational attainment and earning potential, lower rates of incarceration, reduced need for special education services, and lower heath care costs.  His research has found at whopping 13% annualized return on investment in high quality early learning programs. (The rate of return on government bonds as of today is around 3%).

U.S. News and World Report just issued a report showing Mississippi’s economic growth ranked 46thin 2017. The economy grew at a dismal 0.3% last year.  In other words, our state economy is smaller than it was in 2008 when adjusted for inflation.

For almost 14 years we’ve been told the current economic policies implemented by our state’s leaders will grow jobs and invigorate the economy. There’s been plenty of time for that experiment to be proven true. If the strategies were valid, they would’ve worked by now. Winston Churchill also said, “Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened.” There has been very little attention given to the recent economic report; apparently, we have hurried off as if nothing happened.

So, do we even care about truth anymore? If the truth doesn’t match our political or religious ideology, do we just look the other way? If the truth does really matter, we must not incentivize and perpetuate the intentional misrepresentation and promotion of ignorance.  We should all become agnotologists.

In times of universal deceit…telling the truth is a revolutionary act.

                                 George Orwell

By Dr. Melody Musgrove

 

Working Our Way Out of Poverty? It’s Not Likely in Mississippi

  • As the 2018 Farm Bill makes its way through Congress, many on both sides of the aisle say it is the beginning of the reduction of the Federal safety net for families in poverty. The new work requirements for individuals, ages 18-59, to receive SNAP benefits (food stamps) sound good on paper. A 20 hour work week or participation in job training for an adult who is not disabled is being proposed with a strong push for states to provide job training to those in the program. Exceptions in the House version are made for pregnant women, people with disabilities and parents with children younger than 6. The Senate version is yet to be brought to committee.

Who would argue that working a 20 hour week is a bad thing? Well, if the point of working is to support your family or yourself and to be independent of government support, the math just doesn’t add up for Mississippians.  Mississippi is one of only five states with no minimum wage law. The Minimum Wage in our state is $7.25 an hour because it is the requirement set by the Federal government. There are exceptions to the Minimum Wage set in some states such as the one relating to wait staff. The Federal Fair Labor Standards Act allows employees who receive regular tips to be paid less than Federal Minimum Wage (as little as $2.13/hr.) as long as the tips they receive in any given hour plus their wage add up to at least the applicable Minimum Wage. How well the requirement is enforced is another challenge for workers, who may be paid “off the books”.

In 2014 Mississippi had the highest rate of low-wage jobs in the nation. Low-wage jobs refer to the percentage of jobs in occupations with median annual pay below the 100 percent poverty threshold for a family of four ($22,314). One-third of all jobs in the state are low-wage jobs. In other words, 35.5 percent of jobs are in occupations that provide poverty-level wages, considerably higher than the national average for the percentage of low-paying jobs.

Full time minimum wage workers in Mississippi earn a total of $290.00 per week and approximately $15,080.00 per year (based on an 8 hour days and a 260-day work year) before taxes. The federal poverty threshold for a household of two is $14,570 per year. This calculation provides the wage for a full-time employee which is not the case as reflected in the work schedules of the majority of the state’s low income employees. Currently the average SNAP benefit for a family is $125.80 per month. This average amount does not pay the weekly, much less monthly grocery bill for families who strive to eat healthy and balanced meals. In doing the math it is easy to see that working 40 hours a week at $7.25 an hour and receipt of the average $125.80 in food stamps a month is not the ticket out of poverty for those this is intended to help become self -sufficient. Until the state raises the minimum wage to a decent one, and employers decide to employ more low wage workers for full time positions, we are kidding ourselves if we think Federal work requirements on any social program are going to measurably reduce poverty in our state.

Dr. Cathy Grace

The Rate of Return in Investments in Preparing the Workforce through High Quality Early Childhood

The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal reported on April 6 that incentives paid by the state to persuade companies to relocate to the state are paying off. A study conducted by State Auditor, Stacy Pickering’s office found the state has had a return of $12 for every $1 invested in the five incentive programs operated by the Mississippi Development Authority, even when taking failures into account.  This rate of return is almost as high as that of investing in high quality early childhood education as a work force development strategy according to Nobel Prize winning economist Dr. James Heckman. Dr. Heckman, who spoke with Mississippi’s work force development leaders at a meeting several months ago, was direct in his message-work force development begins with infants and toddlers. His work points to a 13.7% per annum rate of return for individuals experiencing high quality early childhood education when factoring income, family stability, health and social status of individuals over their life trajectory. 

As Pickering’s report points out, his office studied 243 projects going back to 2010 that were awarded incentives by the state. The audit cited 11 failures and 5 programs considered successful. The five studied that were considered successes have generated 36,000 jobs and $8 billion in investments they have offered.  This report, in conjunction with Dr. Heckman’s economic analysis of where work force development funding’ s greatest return in investment is realized, sets a new course for work force developers. This is an alignment of facts which provides a clear map for allocating work force development funds to grow workers with the needed skills to perform the jobs coming to town. 

While Mississippi is not considered in the top tier of Republican states that have invested state funds in significant amounts toward early childhood programs, the potential of an infusion of work force dollars in addition to the Federal funds the state receives for providing child care for children living in low income homes where parents work is a no-brainer for the education of the next work force. This investment, along with Head Start funding and state funds for pre-kindergarten collaboratives, makes for an evidenced based strategy that will result in the prepared work force the state is going to need if jobs are filled. Honest assessments of current early childhood systems or lack of them as well as thoughtful planning that holds agency and program entities accountable to correct missteps is critical. This, along with carefully designed programs targeting very young children, such as the Coleman Parenting Center in Petal, holds the key for a new Mississippi led by highly trained workers who attended Mississippi Schools and graduated at the top of their classes.

By Dr. Cathy Grace

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