The Universal Pre-K Fallacy

October 25, 2013

Universal pre-kindergarten schooling, every progressive's fondest dream, is back in the news. Bill de Blasio, the overwhelming favorite in the New York mayoral race and the likely future head of the nation's largest school system, is pushing universal pre-K as his number one policy proposal. President Obama offered a national version of this idea in his February State of the Union address and has since pushed hard in other settings. Two problems: Such programs would have negligible educational value and they would be massively expensive, says Red Jahncke, president of the Townsend Group.

  • De Blasio wants to raise taxes on the city's rich to collect $530 million annually mostly to fund full-day pre-K.
  • The money would go for 68,000 lower-income New York City children, most of whom already attend publicly-funded pre-K either full- (20,000) or part-time (38,000) at a current annual cost of about $190 million.
  • De Blasio's proposal means nearly tripling the annual cost for roughly the same group of children.

Mr. Obama takes a similar tack by expressing dissatisfaction with the availability and quality of most existing preschool. He says he wants " high-quality"  preschool. What he doesn't say is whether the existing " high-quality"  programs show significant educational gains.

  • There is no research supporting the president's proposition that formal schooling can begin effectively in preschool, even if it is delivered as rigorously as Mr. Obama proposes.
  • By rigorously, the president means by college-educated, certified public-school teachers " paid comparably to K-12 staff," who provide instruction in " small class sizes" following a " rigorous curriculum."

If improving early education is the goal, let's leave formal schooling to begin in kindergarten and first grade, where improvements are needed and can be implemented with demonstrable effects. Most states, including New York, don't require school districts to offer full-day kindergarten.

Source: Red Jahncke, "The 'Universal Pre-K' Fallacy," Wall Street Journal, October 16, 2013.

 

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