Universal preschool is not a silver bullet, writes Lance Izumi of the Pacific Research Institute, taking on Rob Reiner, who’s pushing a California initiative to fund preschool for all four-year-olds. Reiner cites a RAND report that concludes preschool provides money-saving social benefits in the long run. But sample size was small in one study; in a larger study, children weren’t randomly assigned to preschool or the control group.
RAND also cites the federal Head Start program, a long-running government preschool program for disadvantaged children. RAND admits that the program has had mixed results. In fact, a Health and Human Services department study found that any gains made by Head Start children diminished or disappeared once children entered regular school.
There’s no evidence that preschool helps middle-class children.
Further, the evidence from Georgia, one of only two states with a statewide preschool, is not encouraging. In 2003, Georgia State University researchers found that after tracking students for five years, any test score gains from preschool “are not sustained in later years.”
RAND suggests political support would be stronger for government-funded preschool if it was available to everyone, not just disadvantaged kids.
On Eduwonk, Sara Mead warns against mandatory preschool paranoia, in response to a Washington Times column on preschool’s perils. Only nine states mandate kindergarten attendance, Mead points out. There is no mandatory preschool movement — except in Malaysia.
My fear is that the poor kids who could benefit from a high-quality preschool will get the watered-down budget version so middle-class parents whose children don’t need preschool can cut their child-care bills.