Sunday, August 24, 2008

Universal Preschool

I'm on record as being completely against mandatory/universal preschool. It's nice to have some more facts to back up my position.

But is strapping a backpack on all 4-year-olds and sending them to preschool good for them? Not according to available evidence....

Why don't preschool gains stick? Possibly because the K-12 system is too dysfunctional to maintain them. More likely, because early education in general is not so crucial to the long-term intellectual growth of children. Finland offers strong evidence for this view. Its kids consistently outperform their global peers in reading, math and science on international assessments even though they don't begin formal education until they are 7. Subsidized preschool is available for parents who opt for it, but only when their kids turn 6.

If anything, preschool may do lasting damage to many children. A 2005 analysis by researchers at Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley, found that kindergartners with 15 or more hours of preschool every week were less motivated and more aggressive in class. Likewise, Canada's C.D. Howe Institute found a higher incidence of anxiety, hyperactivity and poor social skills among kids in Quebec after universal preschool.

The only preschool programs that seem to do more good than harm are very intense interventions targeted toward severely disadvantaged kids.

I have no problem targeting "severely disadvantaged kids". That wouldn't be "universal", and neither would it be "mandatory".

Kids with loving and attentive parents -- the vast majority -- might well be better off spending more time at home than away in their formative years. The last thing that public policy should do is spend vast new sums of taxpayer dollars to incentivize a premature separation between toddlers and parents.

Hear hear.


Melissa B. said...

My kids both started school as 4-year-olds. I can't think of a better way for a kid to get a jump-start on life! BTW, don't forget it's Sunday, and you know what THAT means--S4 is underway today!

Eric W. said...

I went to preschool, and I think I turned out alright.

Ronnie said...

If only "Kids with loving and attentive parents -- the vast majority" was a true statement. This whole article seems to live or die by how good the parents are, and in this country I've rarely seen great ones.

rightwingprof said...

Pre-school didn't exist when I was that young. How does fingerpainting work out as an advantage, anyway? I suspect kingergarten is a waste of effort, much less pre-kindergarten.

School in the school year, CYO and 4-H camp in the summers.

Darren said...

Ronnie, you're too young to be so cynical about parenthood. Like students, most parents are decent people--and a few well-publicized bad ones make everyone else look bad.

I'm not quite sure what your standard of parental excellence is, but based on your comment it seems pretty extreme.

Ellen K said...

I remember a little short story called "The Children's Hour" discussing the indoctrination of young children to communism. Call me crazy, but we have already mandated early childhood education for low income, minority and inner city children. I see very little that these programs do other than provide free daycare paid for by taxpayers. And not all can join, because in many districts the color of your skin determines eligibility. Hispanic students get first dibs, then African Americans, then everyone else. Having had young kids at one point, I seriously wonder what "school" looks like at this age when few of them are anywhere near reading or doing math. It's daycare, say it. And the cost for these pie in the sky programs are astronomical. The student teacher ratio is very low meaning more teachers, more classrooms, more administrators and yes, more paperwork will be involved. It's a job program for early childhood education majors. And I also wonder why this is preferred over mothers staying at home or having conventional daycare or family care. I treasured the time with my kids. We made economic choices to do without new cars and big houses so we could make that happen. And since low income kids already have access to these programs, I can only think that this is a way for the liberals to inoculate children early into the same liberal ideals that have crept into Sesame Street, Disney and network TV.