Universal means low-quality

Universal pre-school is the coming fad. High-cost, high-quality pre-schools help poor children do better in school and in life. But when it comes to subsidized pre-schools for all children, the record of success is murkier, reports the Boston Globe.

For example, a recent study of Oklahoma’s statewide program to provide preschool for 4-year-olds found large benefits for children poor enough to qualify for a subsidized or free school lunch, and almost none for children who could afford to pay full price.

Hispanic children boosted their test scores by 54 percent in one year, probably because they learned English. Black children improved by 17 percent. There was no detectable difference for white children.

The problem with the research, said David Blau, a professor of economics at the University of North Carolina and author of “The Child Care Problem,” is that it focuses on very high-cost, high-quality programs unlikely to be duplicated in a broad public system. “What we don’t know,” he said, “is whether, if you scale it down, you get proportionally smaller but similar kinds of benefits. If you cut the costs in half, do you get half the benefits? Or is there some threshold before you get benefits?”

Blau is right on target. Head Start and state-funded pre-schools for the poor rarely provide a high-quality program; it costs too much, even for a small group. “Universal” pre-school inevitably would be the sort of program that duplicates what happens in middle-class homes and isn’t intensive enough to help truly disadvantaged children.

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  1. Jack Tanner says:

    More babysitting paid for by Joe Sucker Taxpayer.

  2. So what’s this univeral preschool really going to be about?

    Is attendance going to be mandatory, like regular school? If not, it ain’t “universal”. If it is, I don’t see any justification for it.

    And what’s the deal with making bennies “universal” anyway? Such things really ought to be reserved for those who can’t pay for it themselves, assuming it makes sense to give it to anyone in the first place.

  3. “Universal” means open to all students on a voluntary basis — possibly free to parents, like kindergarten, more likely with fees on a sliding scale.

  4. But, like Head Start, we will have created another group of agencies, with no sunset. It will not be necessary that they accomplish anything; like Head Start they will squirm and writhe away from any meaninful measurment of their effects.

    Do we really imagine that the same establishment that has given us nearly terminal mediocrity in our public schools will do any better here?

  5. Of course there’s no sunset: it’s not as if there won’t be children in the future.

    But yes, of course the lowest common denominator rears its ugly head once something becomes obligatory. It’s almost as shocking as finding out that half the children are below average!