The Colorado Preschool Program is underfunded, sets low qualifications for teachers and doesn’t reach enough children, Rutgers University Professor Steven Barnett testified during the Lobato v. State school funding trial Tuesday.
Barnett, co-director of the National Institute for Early Education Research, testified as an expert witness for the two groups of plaintiffs who are suing the state, claiming Colorado’s school funding system doesn’t meet the constitutional requirement for a “thorough and uniform” education. He also prepared a 32-page written report on Colorado’s preschool system.
“The resources are not there, the teacher quality requirements are not there, the infrastructure is not there” in the Colorado program in order to have a significant impact on children’s development, Barnett said.
His report reinforced that conclusion, saying, “The state has already taken some steps toward providing these, but these steps fall far short of what is necessary to have a widespread, substantial impact on school readiness and achievement.”
“I think it s likely the program has some benefits,” Barnett said, noting there’s not enough data available to know for sure. He said the state program probably has the “same impacts or smaller” as those produced by the federal Head Start program. He said research indicates Head Start produces “very modest” increases in the cognitive abilities of its students.
“The root of the problem is you’re not willing to pay for a high-quality teacher,” he said.
Barnett’s report notes, “The primary reason for having low preschool teacher qualifications requirements in Colorado is that this is all that is feasible given the low level of funding.”
He also praised the benefits of full-day kindergarten. Nearly 65 percent of state kindergarteners are enrolled in full-day programs, according to state data, but not all districts offer it.
The written report recommends “offering intensive high-quality preschool education and full day kindergarten to all children, raising standards for teachers and teacher assistant qualifications and limiting class size in kindergarten, implementing a strong continuous improvement process for preschool education, assessing and removing barriers to participation in preschool, and supporting comprehensive reforms to adjust K-12 education to maximize progress built upon the learning and development gains provided by more widespread and effective early childhood programs.”
Barnett spent a lot of time at the start of his testimony talking about research on the general value of preschool and his opinions about that.
“I don’t want to give the impression that it’s a miracle cure” for later academic problems, he said. But he noted the future economic benefits of preschool “can be very, very large.”
He repeatedly stressed that to be effective, preschool programs need to be “reasonably high quality and high intensity.”
Highlights of the day:
QUOTE: “It’s not by any means the worst preschool program run by the states,” Barnett said of the Colorado Preschool Program.
MANEUVERING: During nearly an hour of cross-examination, Senior Assistant Attorney General Carey Markel worked to pick away at Barnett’s testimony, including his criticism of Head Start; she pointed out past writings of support for the program by Barnett.
Starting out questions with phrases like “Were you aware…” or “Do you agree …,” she also questioned his statements about educational requirements for preschool teachers, how his annual national report on preschool education is compiled and about the depth of research in his report on the Colorado Preschool Program.
COLOR: The day in court ended with Stefan Walsh, a 2007 graduate of Center High School, narrating a video he shot of several small-town schools across Colorado, from the San Luis Valley to the eastern plains. The video shows boarded-up businesses, modest homes and schools with leaky plumbing, structural problems and outdated computers.
For contrast, one segment showed nice facilities at the new Battle Mountain High School near Eagle. Other videos show by Welsh were shown earlier in the trial. (See his video in the player below.) He’s the son of Center Superintendent George Welsh. The Center district is a plaintiff in the case.
On cross-examination, Stefan Welsh acknowledged that some of the districts shown in the video aren’t plaintiffs in the case. The video, a college project, was admitted as evidence – although lawyers for the state objected to wording of some of the titles, and those will not be evidence.
UPCOMING: Wednesday’s expected witnesses include Henry Levin, an economics professor at Columbia University Teachers College; former state Sen. Sue Windels and former state Rep. Jack Pommer. Windels was chair of the Senate Education Committee, and Pommer was chair of the Joint Budget Committee.