Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Ding-Dong, the Meathead's Dead

It's morning in California! Children in every city are singing joyously, festooning May Poles in spring colors, tossing flower petals from baskets…Ticker tape is floating down from every skyscraper and freeway overpass…Bells are ringing in courthouse squares…Church choirs are singing the Hallelujah Chorus…

And Ah-nold is standing in the Capitol Rotunda, proclaiming: "Let da joyous news be spread, the vicked old Meathead at last is dead."

Film director Rob Reiner resigned Wednesday as chairman of the state children's commission he helped create, and a Democratic lawmaker said he would ask state auditors to broaden an investigation to look at what he called "a potential pattern of coordination between a political agenda and the commission's work.''

Reiner and the First 5 California Children and Families Commission are under scrutiny for a publicly funded advertising campaign last year touting the benefits of preschool that partially coincided with Reiner's effort to gather signatures for a June ballot measure that would provide free preschool to all 4-year-olds.

Lawmakers already have asked state auditors to look at the relationships between the ads and the political campaign.

Specifically, it appears that Reiner's commission may have spent more than $23 million in public funds to run advertisements boosting Prop 82, Reiner's own state-funded voluntary preschool initiative, slated for the June ballot. How did First 5 get the money? In 1998, California voters stupidly passed Prop 10, a Reiner-backed initiative that slapped a 50-cent tax on every pack of cigarettes sold. The money, Reiner said, would go to create "an integrated, comprehensive and collaborative system of information and services to enhance optimal early childhood development."

Not only did it chap the libertarian quarter of my hide that Reiner duped the public into taxing one segment of the citizenry (smokers) to pay for his crackpot concept of nanny-state childrearing, but I and every other California parent with a television set have been, ever since, subjected to the Meathead's lies about the wondrous glories of preschool.

What's the secret to academic success, a lucrative career, and staying out of prison? According to advertisements now running in California, it's preschool. Television and radio spots sponsored by First 5 California, a tax-funded early-childhood commission headed by actor-activist Rob Reiner, claim children who attend preschool perform better academically during their K-12 years. Such students also are more likely to attend college, land good jobs, avoid criminal activity, and even be happier than kids who don't attend preschool.

Every time I watch or hear one of these freaking ads, I just about blow an artery: Rob Reiner is using millions of dollars in public money to tell the public that they if want to keep their kids from morphing into burger-flipping felons on Prozac, they'd better send em to preschool. Better that than keeping little kids home with incompetents like themselves. (Do I seem bitter?)

The most galling part of all this is that First 5 bases its ads on research that used as its cohort a group of poverty-stricken children with subnormal IQs:

As with most educational issues, the universal preschool debate involves dueling research studies. In 2002, the Committee for Economic Development, an influential group of industry leaders and prominent academics, issued a report called Preschool for All: Investing in a Productive and Just Society.

The report, which reads like a pro-preschool manifesto, cites results at the Perry School, where researchers followed 123 African-American children in Ypsilanti, Mich., from age 3 through 41, beginning in 1962. Researchers selected all the kids from poverty-stricken neighborhoods in Ypsilanti's Perry School District, assigning some to a special preschool program, and others to a control group that did not attend preschool. The study found a positive correlation between preschool attendance and subsequent educational success, economic success in early adulthood, and a reduced number of criminal arrests throughout their lives.

But critics of the Perry research -- a study that universal preschool advocates quote often -- note that all children in the study were from families living in poverty. Thus differences between the school-age and adult experiences of the preschool and control groups may not predict the effect of preschool -- or the lack thereof -- on children from other socioeconomic groups. Also, Perry Preschool teachers paid weekly 1-hour visits to students and their mothers, a service not typical of a normal preschool experience. Finally, all students in the Perry study had IQs between 70 and 85; the "normal" range is 85 to 115.

During the 1998 Prop 10 campaign, Reason's Nick Gillespie observed the risks of Reiner's amassing millions in tax money: "The possibility that such unrestricted largess might lead to wasteful, haphazard, and duplicative programs does not seem to faze Proposition 10 enthusiasts."

Nor did it seem to faze them that the ultraliberal Reiner would become the Grand Poobah of early childhood development, with a war chest that would set even Hillary Clinton drooling. And now here we are with allegations of financial shenanigans:

Assemblyman Dario Frommer, D-Glendale, who originally asked for the [First 5 spending]review, said Wednesday he would expand the request to make sure auditors look at past ad campaigns from the commission.

His request comes after a Chronicle review of actions by the commission in 2003 that showed that it also paid for pro-preschool commercials during a period when Reiner and the state teachers union began promoting an initiative that would have raised some property taxes to pay for K-12 education and preschool programs. The initiative eventually was scrapped, but Frommer said the 2003 example again showed signs of an overlap between public expenses and a political campaign.

Heavy support for Prop 82, Reiner's June 2006 voluntary preschool initiative, comes from labor unions like the California Teachers Association and the Service Employees International Union.

Now why in the world would that be? Because, as noted at the website of the California Secretary of State, "The proposition extends the collective bargaining rights currently offered to public school teachers to all employees working for providers of the new preschool program." By 2014, teachers must have a college degree, and by 2016, preschool teachers must hold an early learning teaching credential or the equivalent. Curriculum would be determined by the state and the program would be administered by counties.

California is already a closed-shop state for teachers. So guess what? The state's violent, gang-infested, social-engineering, bottom-dwelling public school system, already locked in the corrosive grip of left-wing unionism, is trying to extend its reach downward, pulling in children at younger and younger ages.

But it's for the children, right? Wrong (see previous "bottom-dwelling" comment): It's for several more million dollars in annual union dues that would flow from the influx of new, credentialed teachers required by Prop 82.

So, today I'm gloating over Reiner's fall from power. But in June, unless Golden State voters wise up, the education sinkhole that is California may get a whole lot deeper -- even with the Meathead gone.

- VINCENT