In the greatest expansion of public education since kindergarten became the norm after World War I, state leaders are pushing tax-funded pre-kindergarten as a way to narrow the learning gap between middle-class and low-income children, reports the Wall Street Journal.
A new analysis of the famed Perry Preschool Project in Ypsilanti, Michigan claims that program for very poor black children — which was far more intensive than the average preschool — saved $16 for every $1 invested by preventing school failure, welfare and crime. (The old estimate was $6.60, as I recall.) Ypsilanti was the justification for Head Start, which has minimal long-term effect on disadvantaged children.
“The current full-scale Head Start program is having a disappointing impact on kids,” says Douglas Besharov of the conservative American Enterprise Institute. “Pre-K is an important part of the tool chest for reducing the achievement gap…but will the return on investment be as great as people say? I don’t think so.”
Some pre-K advocates want to enroll all four-year-olds, while others want to provide high-quality pre-K for low-income children.
To the extent Head Start has fallen short of its goals, they argue, it is because federal and state funding is inadequate and the staff is sometimes poorly trained.
On This Week in Education, Alexander Russo wonders why, if universal pre-K is “such a great and transformative idea . . . how come Head Start hasn’t done the trick and is being bypassed?” Good question.
Russo also notes the Journal’s reporting on the role of the Pew Charitable Trust, which has bankrolled research and advocacy for universal pre-K. The Hechinger Institute at Columbia Teachers College is a Pew grantee, notes Richard Colvin of Early Stories.
I’d like to see very good — and therefore expensive — preschool and pre-K for very poor children, who aren’t learning social or academic skills at home. Let’s do that right first.