NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 25, 2008

Is strapping a backpack on all 4-year-olds and sending them to preschool good for them?  Not according to available evidence, say Shikha Dalmia, a senior analyst, and Lisa Snell, director of education policy at the Reason Foundation.

  • In the last half-century, U.S. preschool attendance has gone up to nearly 70 percent from 16 percent.
  • But fourth-grade reading, science, and math scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) -- the nation's report card -- have remained virtually stagnant since the early 1970s.

The results from Oklahoma and Georgia -- both of which implemented universal preschool a decade or more ago -- paint an equally dismal picture, say Delmia and Snell:

  • A 2006 analysis by Education Week found that Oklahoma and Georgia were among the 10 states that had made the least progress on NAEP.
  • Oklahoma, in fact, lost ground after it embraced universal preschool; in 1992 its fourth and eighth graders tested one point above the national average in math. Now they are several points below (ditto for reading).
  • Georgia's universal preschool program has made virtually no difference to its fourth-grade reading scores.
  • And a study of Tennessee's preschool program released just this week by the nonpartisan Strategic Research Group found no statistical difference in the performance of preschool versus nonpreschool kids on any subject after the first grade.

If anything, preschool may do lasting damage to many children, say Dalmia and Snell:

  • 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.

Source: Shikha Dalmia and Lisa Snell, "Protect Our Kids from Preschool," Wall Street Journal, August 22, 2008.

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