Case for Universal Preschool Lacks Compelling Evidence

March 15, 2013

President Obama announced during his State of the Union address that universal preschool would cure the country's social ills. Obama claims that universal preschool will help American students perform at grade level, graduate high school and hold a job. Evidence from Oklahoma and Georgia, two states that adopted universal preschool in the 1990s, suggests that Obama's plan to expand preschool would have few meaningful effects, says Shikha Dalmia, a senior analyst, and Lisa Snell, director of education policy, at the Reason Foundation.

  • Preschool became universal in Oklahoma in 1998 and the state, which now spends about $8,000 per preschooler, has well-credentialed and well-paid preschool teachers that use a professionally designed curriculum.
  • Georgia expanded its preschool to all high-risk 4 year olds in 1995 and now gives parents a $4,500 voucher to be used for a qualified preschool.
  • Both states have participation rates that are above the 47 percent national preschool average.

Though the programs have been implemented for more than 15 years, neither state has witnessed any major social benefits. Students from the first year of each program have now graduated from high school.

  • Both Oklahoma and George remain far above the national average for teen pregnancy.
  • Oklahoma went from being 24th in the country in graduation rates in 1998 when it implemented universal preschool to 25th in the country in 2012; Georgia from 46th in 1995 to 45th in 2012.
  • America's national report card, the National Assessment for Educational Progress, shows that Oklahoma fourth graders dropped four points between 1998 and 2011 and went up nine points for Georgia.

Before adopting universal preschool, black students in Georgia and Oklahoma were above the national average in fourth grade math and reading for black student. Now Georgia and Oklahoma's scores are at the national average.

Georgia and Oklahoma's performance creates considerable doubt that universal preschool on the federal level would have the positive effects that Obama claims.

Source: Shikha Dalmia and Lisa Snell, "Government-Funded Preschool Is a Failure that Obama Wants to Spread Nationwide," Reason Magazine, March 6, 2013.

 

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