BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
Summer programs and year-round schools might benefit the education system if the dozens of federally-funded early-childhood education programs in existence would unite, according to U.S. Rep. Phil Roe.
Roe, R-1st, of Johnson City, serves on the U.S. House of Representatives Education & Workforce Committee.
During a conference call with area news media earlier this week, Roe said he had just left a hearing on early-childhood education.
While the coming year's federal appropriations have increased funding to Head Start, Roe said he would like to see a consolidation of the 45 different early-childhood-education programs that the federal government funds.
"We need to combine them and focus on the group that really needs help," he said.
Citing his Christmas-break reading of "I Got Schooled," by filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan, Roe said he has been shocked to realize the impact poverty has on the nation's international rankings.
The Program for International Student Assessment uses standardized testing of 15-year-olds in countries around the world to rank education systems.
In the latest rankings, released in December, the United States scored somewhere in the middle of those countries considered to be "developed."
"Each and every one of us has read [...] how awful we're doing, how bad we're behind," Roe said.
"If you do one thing -- if you take schools in America that have 10 percent poverty or less in that school -- we have the highest test scores in the world, period," the congressman said. "Bar none, there's nobody even close to us.
"The problem is poverty. It's getting to low-income, that bottom quartile," Roe added. "We need to focus on that like a laser beam."
While Head Start programs can help enable low-income students to enter some early elementary grades at the same level as middle- or upper-income students, research shows that the effects are not long-lasting, according to Roe.
That, he said, is because middle- and upper-income students may actually gain academic ground over summer vacations, while lower-income students are more likely to lose ground during those periods.
"We're going to have to look at programs in the summer so these kids don't do that," he said. "Or, change the school year to year-round so we don't have these huge gaps and breaks."
Roe also said during the conversation with media representatives that he is supportive of Gov. Bill Haslam's recent "Tennessee Promise" proposal, in which the governor said the state would pay for high school graduates' first two years at a community college or career technical institute.
"I think that's a great idea," Roe said. "I think the community colleges are the ones that really hold the key."
He noted students' ability to then transfer to a four-year school, if they so desire.
As for technical schools, he said that percentages are as high as 90 percent when it comes to graduates of these institutions' finding jobs.
"That's amazing in this economy!" he added.