NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Academic Preschools Prep Young Learners

October 20, 2000

A new federal study of 16,000 kindergartners shows that when children attend academically rigorous preschools, they get the advanced reading, math and fine motor skills that allow them to enter first grade prepared to learn reading, writing and math. Today, 41 states support some kind of early education program.

However, some observers believe governors and legislators setting up these preschool programs have been under pressure not to make them more academically challenging, but less. Opponents of academic-oriented preschools claim they harm young children from high poverty families by ignoring their mental health needs. However, the government study confirms that pre-kindergarten programs that emphasize academic readiness work better than day care centers or Head Start, which ignore academics.

  • With preschool, 69 percent of students are likely to recognize letters.
  • Without preschool, that figure drops to 56 percent.
  • With preschool, 32 percent are likely to identify the beginning sounds of words.
  • That figure drops to 22 percent without preschool.

Among cities pushing academics, Houston has had success with preschoolers. More than half the city's four-year-olds are enrolled in either half- or full-day school programs that push literacy skills. Students from the city's high-poverty Acres Home neighborhood scored at the same high levels on standardized tests as upper-middle-class students.

Source: Editorial, "Pablum Preschools Cheat Young Learners," USA Today, October 20, 2000.


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