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The Journal Gazette

  • File Kattie Perez, 4, works with assistant teacher Suzanna Lopez on her robot creation in the Pre-K classroom at Adams Elementary School last spring. On My Way Pre-K at Adams and Bloomingdale elementaries was expanded earlier this year.

Friday, December 29, 2017 1:00 am

Editorial

Keys to success

For youngest learners, they're more likely found in the classroom than on the computer

Gov. Eric Holcomb and Indiana lawmakers are rightly declaring preschool expansion among their 2017 achievements. The state's dismal record in providing early childhood education opportunities makes any investment in preschool a welcome one.

Make that almost any investment. The $1 million appropriated for “technology-based in-home early education services” is a wasteful and discouraging use of taxpayer dollars. Legislators who consider themselves fiscal conservatives should be embarrassed for their support of an unproven education investment – even if it amounts to a fraction of the total school-spending bill. After years of insisting parents – not teachers – should be entrusted with early learning, it's disappointing to see lawmakers give some of the work to software companies.

The legislative session that begins Wednesday isn't likely to see more money directed to online pre-K, but the worrisome $9.3 million in cuts K-12 programs are facing because of an enrollment miscalculation could be $1 million less without the money diverted to online pre-K.

The General Assembly did the right thing in increasing funding for On My Way Pre-K, the pilot program already in place in Allen County through Early Childhood Alliance and other providers. With expansion from five to 15 counties, DeKalb and Kosciusko counties are also now covered.

On My Way Pre-K, which targets children from low-income households, has shown impressive results. A Purdue University evaluation in the fall of 2016 found significant benefits from the program. Participating students demonstrated growth in academic and social measures, while parents were able to work or attend classes while their children were at preschool. An additional $1 million invested in this proven approach would have made far more sense than the money handed out for UPSTART, a computer program created by a Utah-based nonprofit.

“I had hoped that whatever investment the state would make in pre-K would be in classroom-based pre-K that would be in a quality setting and led by a skilled teacher,” Ted Maple, CEO of Early Learning Indiana, told the Associated Press after the UPSTART program was funded.

Technology has transformed education and created opportunities for learning never imagined. But it doesn't come without drawbacks. The American Academy of Pediatrics urges parents to allow no more than one hour of screen time per day for children ages 2 to 5. 

“It is important to emphasize to parents that the higher-order thinking skills and executive functions essential for school success, such as task persistence, impulse control, emotion regulation, and creative, flexible thinking, are best taught through unstructured and social (not digital) play, as well as responsive parent-child interactions,” reads the academy's statement on preschool media and learning. 

Visit the preschool program at Fort Wayne's Bloomingdale Elementary School, for example, and you won't find a classroom filled with laptops or computer monitors. You won't find a teacher drilling students on numbers and letters or administering a standardized test. Instead, there are the hallmarks of a high-quality early-learning program – an inviting reading area, space to create hands-on art projects and play centers for make-believe and exploring.

Keep an eye on the money flowing to educational technology. The companies creating and selling it are generous campaign donors eager to convince lawmakers they can deliver services at a lower cost than educators. The governor and General Assembly should wait for results before claiming they've made a wise investment in online pre-K.