NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Cato Study Finds No Evidence That Preschool Programs Work

March 12, 1999

State legislators who are pondering whether to require public school districts to offer no-fee prekindergarten classes for three- and four-year-olds should realize that "there is no empirical evidence" that such programs pay off, according to a recent analysis from the Cato Institute.

Georgia and New York have implemented universal preschool programs for four-year-olds, and other states have taken steps in that direction. Those programs are voluntary so far, but there have been calls for mandatory participation.

According to Darcy Olsen, author of the study:

  • Extensive research during the past 35 years has established that preschool programs provide no lasting benefits to disadvantaged children.
  • They do not reduce the number of children who perform poorly in school, become teenage parents, commit criminal acts or depend on welfare.
  • Both the General Accounting Office and the Department of Health and Human Services found that the Head Start program -- the closest current counterpart to proposed public preschools -- had no lasting impact on the cognitive or socioemotional test scores of enrollees.
  • There is also evidence that middle-class children gain little, if anything, from preschool.

Olsen points out that the public school system -- which is failing to adequately educate children in kindergarten through 12th grade -- should not be further burdened with preschool duties.

Source: Darcy Olsen, "Universal Preschool Is No Golden Ticket: Why Government Should Not Enter the Preschool Business," Policy Analysis No. 333, February 9, 1999, Cato Institute, 1000 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20001, (202)842-0200.


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