The Iowa Department of Education released the 3rd edition of early learning standards. The state standards, designed for the development and learning of children below kindergarten age, were revised to be relevant to parents, families, and caregivers in addition to educators.

The standards, first released in 2006 and last revised in 2012, were written through a partnership of stakeholders who make up Early Childhood Iowa that includes the Iowa Department of Education.

“The new version aims to be more useful to parents, families, and other caregivers who play a key role in a child’s development and instruction,” Iowa Department of Education Director Ryan Wise said. “I’m grateful that through collaboration with our early childhood partners we have a set of tools to help all Iowans understand how a child develops and how they can contribute to that development.”

Rick Roghair, professional development manager for the Iowa Association for the Education of Young Children, noted that the early childhood partners share an understanding that birth through age 5 is a window of opportunity to set every child on a path toward success in life.

“As a former teacher, school principal and child care center director, I saw every day how critical the first five years are in the life of every child,” Roghair said. “We have only one opportunity to provide valuable experiences. The standards can help every adult in Iowa learn more.”

Iowa’s early learning standards, aligned with the K-12 Iowa Core academic standards (that include the controversial Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards), focus on eight content areas that include: physical well-being and motor development, approaches to learning, social and emotional development, communication (including language and literacy), math, science, creative arts, and social studies.

In 2007, Iowa established a statewide voluntary preschool program for four-year-olds. School districts participating in this program are required by administrative rule to implement the Iowa Early Learning Standards.

While the state of Iowa has increasingly emphasized early childhood education, critics remain skeptical of its perceived benefits.

“Given the continuing studies (most recently from Brookings and from Tennessee) showing the worthlessness of government pre-K, it’s interesting that any government would put out pre-K standards as if it were some sort of authority on early-childhood education. Parents and caregivers would be better off trusting their instincts rather than trying to follow a set of bureaucratic standards heavily weighted toward faddish social-emotional learning,'” Jane Robbins, a senior fellow with American Principles Project, told Caffeinated Thoughts.

“Having state defined preschool content standards, especially that include controversial social-emotional skills and attitudes like gender roles and family structure diversity, is a major usurpation of parental rights and family autonomy. Because Iowa’s and every other state’s preschool standards are mandated by the federal Head Start Act, they are also unconstitutional under the Tenth Amendment,” Dr. Karen Effrem, President of Education Liberty Watch, stated.

Effrem referred to a randomized control trial of Tennessee’s voluntary pre-school program by Vanderbilt University researchers that showed that academic gains achieved by students in Tennessee pre-K classrooms began to fade out by first grade and reversed by second and third grade. Researchers also noted more disciplinary infractions and special education placements by third-grade than students who did not enroll in pre-school.

Tennessee’s voluntary pre-K program was hailed as a national model.  In fact, a summary of the study found at the Arnold Foundation’s Straight Talk on Evidence notes that Tennessee’s “program’s quality appears to be fairly typical of state pre-k programs around the country.”

A Brookings Institution report on state Pre-K programs notes, “Convincing evidence on the longer-term impacts of scaled-up pre-k programs on academic outcomes and school progress is sparse, precluding broad conclusions. The evidence that does exist often shows that pre-k-induced improvements in learning are detectable during elementary school, but studies also reveal null or negative longer-term impacts for some programs.”

The Head Start Program, funded by the federal government, doesn’t fare much better.

A 2014 study conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration of Children and Families noted, “We find little evidence that quality matters to impacts of Head Start using the available quality measures from the study across two age cohorts, three quality dimensions, five outcomes, and several years. The one exception is that for 3-year-old program entrants low exposure quality, defined as less exposure to academic activities during Head Start participation, produces better behavioral impacts in the short-run than more exposure to academic activities. Even so, there is no indication that either high-quality Head Start or low-quality Head Start in any dimension leads to program impacts lasting into third grade.”

In 2012, ACF found, “Looking across the full study period, from the beginning of Head Start through 3rd grade, the evidence is clear that access to Head Start improved children’s preschool outcomes across developmental domains, but had few impacts on children in kindergarten through 3rd grade.”

The 2012 study also noted, “For children in the 4-year-old cohort, there were no observed impacts through the end of kindergarten, but favorable impacts reported by parents and unfavorable impacts reported by teachers emerged at the end of 1st and 3rd grades.”

Effrem noted that there is much research that demonstrates not only does pre-K programs lack long-term academic benefits, but that short-term benefits fade and pre-K students have behavioral and academic setbacks.

“The emotional harm is particularly concerning and ironic, because preschool is the grade level that has had social-emotional standards in every state and for the longest period of time. Research also shows that it is early academic and attention skills, not social-emotional skills, that are most predictive of long-term academic achievement, but also shows that children who are allowed to play and creatively explore do much better than those subjected to standardized learning at this age,” Effrem said.

“The best thing that Iowa could do for the state’s children and families is to get rid of these standards and rote, mechanized learning and let them be kids,” Effrem added.

Read the revised standards below:

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