Pre-school isn’t magic
Despite its budget crisis, California has $100 million from a cigarette surtax to spend on pre-schools.
“For every dollar invested in preschool, we get $7 back in reduced crime, welfare and special-education costs,” (Rob) Reiner, chairman of the First 5 California commission, said at press conferences in Sacramento and San Mateo.
Actually, that’s not true. The 7:1 ratio comes from the Perry Preschool experiment, which included home visits to help very poor mothers do better with their children. There’s also some evidence that very intensive, very expensive day care — starting with newborns — can improve the prospects of very poor children. Ordinary pre-school — “quality” or not — doesn’t transform poor children, and it certainly doesn’t change the futures of working-class and middle-class children, who’d be included under “universal access.”
Pre-school can help prepare poor children for school — if the child development specialists don’t get in the way. (They think little kids will stress out if an adult tries to teach the alphabet.) Pre-school can be fun for kids who’d otherwise be stuck in front of the TV all day. But universal pre-school isn’t magic.