Preschool — a priority for Barack Obama — won’t save disadvantaged students who go on to second-rate schools, writes Lisa Snell of the Reason Foundation.
Yes, several studies that show preschoolers enrolled in universal preschool make modest gains in kindergarten and the early grades. For example, a 2007 study of five state preschool programs, by the National Institute for Early Education, found that children entering kindergarten who went through a universal preschool program made significant gains in early language, literacy, and math.
Unfortunately, these gains have not translated into lasting, higher academic achievement for the states who have invested heavily in universal preschool. The overlying problem: our broken, under-performing public school system can’t maintain any gains that early education may provide. By the fourth grade all of the gains are washed away. So until we fix the public schools, universal preschool is a waste of precious education resources.
I think the waste comes in offering tax-funded preschool to all children instead of focusing resources on the disadvantaged, whose parents aren’t teaching them the skills and behaviors they’ll need. These kids need good preschools and good elementary schools, middle schools and so on.