Inappropriate and ineffective decisions are more likely to be made when the populace is removed from the process of participation. The strength of participatory and representative democratic action is that it allows information and opinion to be fed into the decision making process. I understand that there are potentials for abuse and misuse in this system - and it is important to address those problems - but we don't strengthen our policy development by removing public input and leaving important decisions buried deep within emergency budget extension bills.
I don't mean for this to become a political rant - I want people to understand how this has a direct impact on people's lives. I am thinking about early childhood education in particular this morning and how this applies.
California's budget woes are perhaps more widely publicized than New York's budget woes, but I believe that is because California has not been as successful as NY in developing a workaround to political log-jamming and legislative paralysis. I recall reading a recent California proposal that would increase the entrance age for kindergarten to five years of age. The appeal of this is that it effectively saves the state millions of dollars by delaying entrance into the system - and although it is a short term solution it is an appealing money saving trick because it is easier to cost shift onto the general populace than it is to confront the state pension system or teacher unions, for example.
The justification used for these policy decisions often comes out of think-tanks. Sometimes think-tank work is really sound and helpful; other times it is judgmental and politicized and of dubious quality. The justification cited for the California proposal is a Rand study completed a few years ago that states that delaying kindergarten results in higher math and reading scores. What the study doesn't explain as well is things like:
- Standard error of measurement on tests, particularly for that age group
- The tests used are often developmental, meaning that it is expected that a five year old will likely have better 'readiness' and subsequent academic progress than a four year old.
- These tests tend to have poor predictive validity for children who have difficulties
- School readiness factors are complex and interact with a multitude of influences that are not fully considered or discussed in this study.
To make matters worse, there is the natural lazy tendency that fosters the thought that 'if State X is doing it then they must have really looked at it and studied the issue so it might be a good idea for State Y.' There is no more insidious spread of poor decisions than that caused by lazy politicians who are simply following the herd. This brings me full circle to the original point - we are shut out of decision making and there is limited opportunity to provide input.
So when I see information from think-tanks being 'passed around' and I see the flawed decision making process flow from California toward New York, and as I see limited opportunity to counter incorrect information I just get a little nervous. Some days it feels like we are struggling to climb and reach for an objective and there are a multitude of forces (some inadvertent and others purposeful) that are greasing the mountainside.
We have a lot to fix with our process. I encourage occupational therapists and other professionals to become more educated and more engaged so that better information can be considered and better decisions can be made. It is not acceptable to just let decisions be made without public input and democratic participation. We all need to do more to make sure our voices are heard and that there is appropriate conversations about forming policy.
Kindergarten readiness bill passes State Senate. Retrieved June 28, 2010 from http://www.senatorsimitian.com/entry/kindergarten_readiness_bill_passes_state_senate/
Datar, A. (2003). The Impact of Changes in Kindergarten Entrance Age Policies on Children’s Academic Achievement and the Child Care Needs of Families. Retrieved June 28, 2010 from http://www.rand.org/pubs/rgs_dissertations/2005/RGSD177.pdf