Cohabitation continues between the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER). And they don't appear to be practicing birth control, because every year brings one or two new joint products. NIEER's hot-off-the-presses report—the tenth in its series of annual "state of preschool" data-and-advocacy scorecards—was again paid for via a multi-year sole-source contract from the National Center for Education Statistics, and was released at an event featuring none other than Arne Duncan.
Nobody is making any effort to conceal this romance (which is just as well if you believe in governmental transparency).
Its progeny, however, all seem to look alike. This report is more of the same: a celebration of various increases in state-funded early childhood programs, strong recommendations for yet more increases, sundry state-by-state comparisons, and individual state profiles. The only difference between it and the most recent one published by the Education Department itself is that NIEER's policy advocacy is naked while the federal versions at least wear diapers.
Aside from the question of whether Uncle Sam should be paying for this, my biggest issue continues to be NIEER's woeful definition of preschool "quality." At least eight of their ten "national quality standards" are input-centered, based on credentials, ratios, and such. Yes, they also want states to have "early learning standards," but these are so nebulous that all fifty-three state programs are said to have "comprehensive" ones in place—the only category among the ten for which every state gets a checkmark. And while the NIEER standards call for site visits at least every five years, they seem to settle for the mere act of visiting, not for rigorous monitoring of whether these programs actually accomplish anything. More like bean counting and box checking.
I do not doubt that this relationship will last, at least until the present contract between NIEER and NCES is concluded. It's evident that both parties welcome this efficient alignment of their agendas, and they're surely having fun together. But why hasn't anyone in Congress even asked whether celibacy might not be a sounder public policy?
SOURCE: W. Steven Barnett et al., “The State of Preschoool 2014,” National Institute for Early Education Research (May 2015).