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Education Liberty Watch president rebuts its portrayal in articles on the defeat of pre-K initiatives

Education Liberty Watch president rebuts its portrayal in articles on the defeat of pre-K initiatives

In response to the June 7th, June 9th and June 10th articles by Beth Hawkins posted on MinnPost regarding early-childhood issues, particularly the quality rating system (QRS) and Education Liberty Watch's opposition to them, I am flattered that MinnPost believes that our group had such a big influence on the Legislature. However, it is deeply disturbing that a) she thinks that legislators are not able to think for themselves about the merits or lack thereof of a given proposal in order to represent their constituents and b) that it is somehow sinister for individuals or groups to exercise their constitutional rights to bring information to or make their beliefs known to their elected representatives.

Dr. Karen Effrem
Education Liberty Watch
Dr. Karen Effrem

I find the level of journalistic bias that runs through the writing on this topic and MinnPost's lack of oversight absolutely breathtaking. The articles make it seem as though any opposition to these initiatives is anti-child, un-American, and has no intellectual basis whatsoever. This bias reached its peak in the June 9th reprinting of the complete letter from Duane Benson [executive director of the Minnesota Early Learning Foundation (MELF)] to legislators attempting to rebut our statements. His letter did not contain a single link to any evidence bolstering his point of view, the reporter did not even link our article to which Benson responded, nor were there any links to any of the extensive evidence that Education Liberty Watch has provided to legislators and the public all session. (See Evidence on Effectiveness of Quality Rating Systems, Myths and Facts About Early Childhood Education & Quality Rating Systems (QRSs), Studies on Effectiveness of Early Childhood Programs, Quotes and References Regarding the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment. To her credit, she did link one of our articles: Preschool Actually Harms Reading Achievement).

This lack of reporting is also true of my extensive testimony and writing for the Legislature and the Congress and international groups regarding home visiting and government mental screening of children, particularly poor and minority children. Part of that opposition to mental screening was fueled and bolstered by the tragic story of Aliah Gleason, a 13-year-old African-American girl forcibly institutionalized and drugged with powerful, dangerous antipsychotics at the behest of Texas school and child protection authorities after a school based mental screening as reported in Mother Jones magazine.

While the negative data about all-day kindergarten is reported, the lack of link in the June 10th article makes it appear that it is my opinion instead of the results of a study by the respected and oft-quoted Rand Corporation. I can also mention the lack of reporting on the longstanding bipartisan opposition to No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and the Common Core Standards instead of the deceptive portrayal of paranoid fear of big government.

I will first respond to Benson's letter.

1) He attempts to change the subject regarding our statement about the failure of quality rating systems (QRS) to improve child or program outcomes. Here are two of the quotes I used to make that assertion, including one from MELF's own study of Minnesota's Parent Aware QRS:

 "The design does not permit us to determine if Parent Aware causes outcomes for programs, parents, or children. We can look at patterns of associations, but causation cannot be determined." (Parent Aware Third Year Review, MELF, November 2010, PowerPoint, p. 9)

"Despite their growing popularity, there is little information available about how well QRISs work. A logic model presented in this report posits a clear path to improved provider quality and better child outcomes, but it is largely untested. We do not know how well QRISs measure what they purport to measure, whether parents pay attention to ratings in selecting care, whether providers that participate in QRISs actually improve the quality of the care they provide, or whether children benefit from the improved care they are receiving as their provider receives quality-improvement support." (Zellman, et al, Assessing the Validity of the Qualistar Early Learning Quality Rating and Improvement System as a Tool for Improving Child-Care Quality)

2) Benson uses polling data that can be easily skewed depending on how the questions are asked to completely sidestep the evidence from MELF's own evaluations regarding the lack of popularity of QRSs with both parents and providers after 3 years and millions of dollars spent on the pilot project. This lack of awareness of the rating system by parents with children in these rated programs and the lack of desire of especially home care providers to be rated show what a waste of tax dollars and an unnecessary expansion of government this QRS would be:

“The overall participation rate of eligible programs is 14%, with higher participation rates found (between 30 and 45%, depending on the pilot area) for center-based programs.” (MELF, Year 3 Evaluation, p. 130, emphasis added)

“One-quarter of parents with children in Parent Aware-rated programs had heard of Parent Aware in the fall of 2009. This percentage was slightly larger than the 20% of parents who had heard of Parent Aware in the fall of 2008.”  (MELF, Year 3 Evaluation, p. 133.)

3) Benson and other QRS proponents continue to distort the data from Minnesota Department of Education's Kindergarten Readiness evaluations as evidenced by these quotes from the most recently available reports:

Children's rate of development varies, therefore, the goal of the study is to assess a cohort of children's proficiency within and across these developmental domains and not establish whether or not children are ready for school with the use of a composite "ready" or "not ready" score. 2009 Readiness Study Report, MDE, April 2010 p. 4 of pdf, emphasis added

"The total percentage [3-10% for 2009 from chart on page 5 of the PDF] of students rated on average as not yet showing proficiency in each of the five developmental domains has remained consistent throughout the seven years of the study." – 2009 Readiness Study Report, MDE, April 2010, p. 13 of PDF.

"The National Academy of Science reports that even in upper grades, extreme caution is needed in relying exclusively on child assessment and that for children birth to five ‘even more extreme caution is needed.’ ” – 2009 Readiness Study Report, MDE, April 2010 p. 12 of PDF, emphasis added

4) MELF can try to portray the polling data and bill authors' support for the QRS as bipartisan all day long, but it does not change the facts that there were more Democrat sponsors of the House bill than Republicans, 92% of the House Republicans voted to take the QRS language by Rep. Loon out of the House education finance bill and 100% of the Senate Republicans (p.16) voted to keep it out of the Senate education bill, including the author, Geoff Michel. Nor does it change the fact that the initiatives are promoted by big businesses that seek to benefit by having the taxpayers cover their child-care costs and that these groups have pushed tax increases and other big government programs.

Here are some of the multiple factual inaccuracies in the Hawkins articles, which would have been easily avoided by even the most cursory conversation with me before publishing:

1) I was called a "religious activist" in the June 9 story with no explanation, evidence or attribution. I have never used religious scripture, doctrine, or theory in statements or testimony on behalf of Maple River, EdWatch, or Education Liberty Watch. Nor was I speaking or working on behalf of any particular religious group when I became involved with Maple River. My motivations seem to have been deceptively mischaracterized so as to create the impression that there are only religious arguments undergirding opposition to these education schemes that are somehow intellectually or otherwise less valid than any other type of argument.

2) With regard to vaccinations, the statements I made regarding vaccines were not on behalf of EdWatch, nor have I ever been opposed to all vaccines. In 2006, I testified against adding new at the time, relatively untested vaccines, the chickenpox and pneumococcal vaccines to the required vaccine schedule due to concerns about side effects, the increase of resistant strains, and potential increase in shingles for the elderly, all of which have been brought up by researchers in the medical literature. I also testified in favor of bills requiring physicians to offer people a choice, when available, of mercury-free vaccines, given that mercury is a known neurotoxin that has been removed from vaccines and other pharmaceutical products in many other countries around the world. Again, this was not a blanket opposition to all vaccines.

3)  Allen Quist was never an officer or board member of the Maple River Education Coalition or EdWatch as described in the June 7th article.

4) The name of our organization was the Maple River Education Coalition, not the "Maple River Education Association" as written in the June 7th piece.

5) The infamous and universally despised set of state standards which the Minnesota Legislature adopted and which Maple River/EdWatch successfully opposed was called the Profile of Learning, not the Profiles of Learning.

Education Liberty Watch is always ready to participate in a vigorous debate of the issues. Hopefully that can proceed in a more open and respectful manner in the future.

Karen R. Effrem, MD, is the president of Education Liberty Watch.

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Comments (7)

Reading through some of these links, the depth of this woman's dishonesty starts to really come through. The biggest problem with just about everything produced by this group is the failure to distinguish between correlation and causation - the conclusions drawn are basically all nonsense. As to materials not produced by her group, such as the Rand study, they are badly cherry-picked, and when examined in their entirety, contradict other things this group is saying.

Good for Minnpost for giving her a response. But with the exception of a few minor factual corrections, this does nothing to refute the excellent work by Beth Hawkins in exposing this group and the garbage they are pushing on our legislators.

Dr. Effrem states:
"I find the level of journalistic bias that runs through the writing on this topic and MinnPost's lack of oversight absolutely breathtaking. The articles make it seem as though any opposition to these initiatives is anti-child, un-American, and has no intellectual basis whatsoever."

That strident bias also appears in coverage of other topics. MinnPost is clubby and insular, with deference toward advertisers regarding certain ethically challenging content.

@Nancy Hokkanen: Please share examples

Dr Efrem states: "I have never used religious scripture, doctrine, or theory in statements or testimony on behalf of Maple River, EdWatch, or Education Liberty Watch."

The only place I can find Creationism is in religious scripture. It's not in any scientific material.

Dr. Effrem is carefully stepping around some educational landmines, and being even more careful in her choice of words. I look forward to a response from Ms. Hawkins.

John, Nancy is an an anti-vaccine crusader who relies on a lot of the same tactics as Ms. Effrem. The "ethically challenging" content is the false anti-vaccine claims she posts every time there is a vaccine story here. By "clubby and insular" what she actually means is that Minnpost writers and (most of the commenters) rely on science and facts, which poses a problem for her fact-independent views on vaccines and autism.

Will, one plus from posting an op-ed from the lunatic fringe is that it does generate a few comments for a Community Voices article.