NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

PRESCHOOL FOR ALL?

October 3, 2007

Despite claims that universal preschool can lead to academic achievement, economic prosperity and law-abiding lifestyles the reality is that the benefits for most kids range from short-term to nonexistent, says John J. Miller in the National Review.

Moreover, universal preschool is a solution to a problem that doesn't exist, says Miller:

  • The National Center for Education Statistics reports that the vast majorities of children enter kindergarten ready to learn, recognizing numbers and grasping a few fundamentals about letters and reading.
  • On recent standardized language tests, U.S. fourth graders finished north of the 70th percentile, topping their peers in 26 of 35 countries; they also scored above average in math and science.  

There's also the troubling economics regarding the funding of universal preschool: 

  • If government funded preschools become a middle class entitlement, they could reshuffle the most talented teachers from existing programs that serve at-risk children to new ones that serve the well off
  • There would also be a harmful ripple effect on care for infants and toddlers who function as loss leaders at childcare centers because they require more adults per child. 
  • If public schools become the primary points of delivery for four-year-olds, the cost of infant and toddler care will shoot up and parents will be forced to foot the bill.

In actuality, says Miller, the problems with U.S. education set in as children leave elementary schools.  If anything, it's an argument for reform of the upper grades -- and probably in the direction of market-based alternatives that weaken government's near monopoly on K-12 schools.

The good news is that efforts to install universal preschool aren't inevitable, says Miller.  In California last year, voters considered Proposition 82, an initiative pushed by movie maker Rob Reiner.  It would have hiked taxes on high earners by $2.4 billion to fund state-run preschools, but failed by a three-to-two margin. 

Source: John J. Miller, "Preschool for All," National Review, October 8, 2007.

 

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