Perils of universal preschool

Universal tax-paid preschool will be a costly one-size-fits-all system, argues Karin Klein in the LA Times.

(Rob) Reiner’s initiative would create standardization where now there is parental choice. It would insist on bachelor’s degrees and credentials for teachers — and require, insanely, that they be paid on par with high school science and math teachers, though there’s little evidence that the education or expense is necessary. It would not raise test scores. And it would almost certainly push more and more academic work into the laps of younger and younger children.

. . . Parents now choose from a patchwork of public, private, church and family preschools. These reflect the wildly varying interests and needs of children and their families. There are academically oriented preschools and old-time nursery schools. Some focus on learning languages, some on art and some simply on a hearty game of “capture the flag.” They’re warm and cozy in a family living room, or big and exciting at a center with a huge jungle gym, for kids who might go twice a week, or three times, or five. And they’re efficient: Many an excellent preschool costs far less than the $5,900 or so per child the Reiner initiative would spend.

Let parents decide what’s quality care for their child, Klein writes.

Consider (Pre-K Now director Libby) Doggett’s description of what happens in a quality preschool class:

A little boy is happily building with blocks. The teacher (who has a bachelor’s degree, of course) comes up to talk with him about the structure he’s building. She suggests that he bring some model cars over to incorporate with the blocks. If the blocks make a roadway, how would the cars get to the road? In this way, Doggett says, the child is engaged in critical thinking on how to build a ramp. (In reality, he probably decides with the perfect wisdom of his age that cars can fly.)

Some parents might love this little “teachable moment” scenario. I feel like screaming, “For pity’s sake, can’t 4-year-olds play with blocks anymore without some teacher trying to turn them into future transportation planning administrators, GS-12, Level B?”

While preschool is supposed to pay for itself by preventing other problems, the research can be read differently, Klein argues.

A cost-benefit study in Washington state found that each dollar invested in preschool saved taxpayers money down the road — but that a nurse-visitation program for families was twice as good an investment. Parents who are visited tend to seek more education themselves. They learn such child-rearing basics as the importance of cuddling, reading and singing, and are more likely to stay involved in their children’s education. Instead of building bureaucracy, home visits build families.

As I read the research, high-quality preschools that develop language skills benefit children from disadvantaged families but aren’t needed for most children.

In a letter to Education Gadfly, W. Steven Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research, questions the Yale study on preschool expulsions.

(Chester) Finn is right on target when he says we should not shun intellectual and cognitive development in preschool. Hard data do not bear out the charge that preschool programs are overly academic and neglect social and emotional development. In preschool, cognitive and socio-emotional development go hand-in-hand, as do play and learning. Preschool is part of the solution, not the problem.

By contrast, Barbara Atkinson, writing in the Christian Science Monitor, says underpaid, undertrained preschool teachers are trying to do too much.

About Joanne


  1. Richard Nieporent says:

    He wasn’t called Meathead for nothing. Why don’t we just remove all children from their parents and send them to government education centers. I sure with the proper education that we can raise a generation of Leftists.

  2. BadaBing says:

    Uncle Rob, pray for us sinners. We know not which way to turn lest ye shew us the way, lest ye enlighten us by the divine light that only you possess. Forgive us for the ignorant way we have raised our children. Here, take these little ones and place them in government pre-schools that equal results may be had by all. Amen.

  3. ragnarok says:

    A noble soul, Rob Reiner, unflinching in his determination to save us from our baser selves.

    I’ve pointed out to several of my progressive friends that there’s really no need to waste time waiting for the somewhat intellectually-challenged California Legislature or the initiative process; they have an inalienable right to overpay their taxes (or donate money) so that their dreams become reality *now*.

    Alas, most of my friends were so overcome that they could hardly speak; many of them were only able – via an upraised middle finger – to signal how much they appreciated the idea.

  4. More Prussian authoritarianism in a velvet glove, in the name of educating the poor children.

  5. What’s really kind of neat about Reiner’s proposal is that it’s DOA and already smelling pretty bad.

    My guess is that most incumbent Dems will make polite noises about this idea while they’re trying to shake down Reiner’s fellow entertainment industry liberals but otherwise they’ll equivocate where they can’t shy away from the idea altogther.

    The trick is to see where this idea is in six months.

    When liberals don’t get their way on some crusade on which hinges the future of humanity they simply edit it out of their memories. Evidence the “homelessness” crisis.

  6. nailsagainsttheboard says:

    Hey Meathead….

    It doesn’t take a village to raise a child…it takes two loving, mature, responsible and committed parents. They are the best preschool teachers of all.