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Preschool’s impact debated

  • Published Monday, June 9, 2014, at 12 a.m.

“Preschool has never been more popular,” Kirsten Weir writes in the May issue of Monitor on Psychology, pointing to President Barack Obama’s Preschool for All initiative and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s efforts to expand preschool access in the city.

“But in many ways, the national conversation about early education is just getting started,” she notes. “The top question about universal pre-K – whether it is worth the cost to taxpayers – remains up for debate. That’s partly because studies of early education have found mixed results.”

Two long-term studies have been most influential: The Abecedarian Project in 1970s North Carolina and the Perry Project, which followed 1962 preschoolers in Michigan for several decades.

But these studies were intensive and expensive, making them difficult to update and to use as models in an era of lean education budgets, Weir says. Today, she points out, researchers are trying to build on what we already know. For example, she cites a 2013 meta-analysis of 84 studies of preschool programs conducted from 1965 to 2007: It concluded that early education produced gains in language, reading and math skills that was equal to about a third of a year of extra learning.

Other studies, she notes, have raised concerns about return on investment of such programs. For example, a report released in December by the Department of Health and Human Services concluded that third-graders who had been in Head Start before kindergarten showed “no clear benefits in cognitive or social-emotional development.”

The full article, with links to the research, is available at the magazine’s Web site, www.apamonitor-digital.org.

Running to relieve stress

White House counselor John Podesta arguably has had some of the most intense jobs in Washington. Serving as chief of staff during President Bill Clinton’s second term was a particularly stressful time, he says in an interview in the May issue of Runner’s World – and it was then that he “started running with a vengeance. . . . I had to melt the stress off.” He and Clinton “had a very honest relationship. . . . He’d yell at me. I’d yell at him. But the stress is incredible. You’re always on edge.” After a tough morning on “Meet the Press” with Tim Russert, Podesta says, “I’d come home, throw my shirt off, and go outside and run and forget about whether I said something good or something bad. I just had to get rid of it.”

Podesta took up running in his late 30s and ran his first marathon at 52. Now, at 65, he averages “a half-dozen races a year, mostly 10-K, 10-mile or half-marathon.” In an online video accompanying the article, Podesta explains the appeal of the sport. “I’m a man of simple pleasures. I like playing cards. I like watching old cop shows on TV. I like cooking and I like running,” Podesta says as he prepares a no-frills pre-race Italian meal – pasta with a walnut sauce, a simple marinara – to serve to his running group, the Progressive Ninjas.

Podesta says President Obama, who is said to exercise on a treadmill, ought to “overrule the Secret Service and find a place to run outside.” Podesta enjoys running along the National Mall and in Washington’s Rock Creek Park, where, he says, he received his most valuable running tip, from a stranger: “Keep your head up, you’ll run faster.”

Washington Post

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