Universal preschool hasn't helped most students

Universal preschool hasn’t improved educational outcomes, argues Lisa Snell and Shikha Dalmia of the Reason Foundation. Oklahoma saw fourth-grade scores fall after offering universal preschool; Georgia stayed about the same. Tennessee invested $250 million into expanding a high-quality state preschool program three years ago.

A comprehensive study last month – commissioned by the government itself – concluded that, barring at-risk kids, there was “no statistically significant difference” between the educational performance of second-graders who attended preschool and those who did not.

Meanwhile, research on Head Start, the federal preschool program for poor kids, also shows few gains. Studies show minor initial cognitive gains – but a near-complete fade out after kids begin elementary school.

High-quality, intensive programs help disadvantaged children prepare for school; most children get what they need at home from their parents.

Many preschool programs will not develope your child for kendergarden.

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  1. During the debate over Prop. 82 in CA a few years ago, there was a study done by I believe it was RAND that found 92% of the costs associated with the program would be due to the cost of children switching from their existing private preschool programs to the new government-run ones.

    A much better use of taxpayer money would be to provide vouchers to low-income families so that they could afford to send their children to the preschool of their choice.

  2. Margo/Mom says:

    I am not familiar with universal pre-school in Oklahoma: how long it has been in existence or what the quality is. What comes to mind first is a long string of research into child care. Low quality child care doesn’t help kids development, or may impede it. High quality doesn’t hurt, and may improve it. I also do not know how even is the quality of education from kindergarten through fourth grade, or if there were any changes during the time being studied.

    One of the benefits of universal pre-school in some countries is that it makes it easier for single parents to work–uplifting the family income. This may or may not be the case in Oklahoma (Head Start for instance traditionally was a half day program–resisting connection to “day care” programs–and not well poised to allow for employment).

  3. Why should the taxpayers have to subsidize childcare for moms who choose to work while their kids are young? If ANYTHING should be subsidized, it should be maternity leave. Young children ought to be raised by a loving parent, not outsourced to some impersonal institution.

  4. Margo/Mom says:

    Most industrialized countries do a better job than the US of maternity/paternity leave as well. I have worked all during my children’s lifetimes–we just like eating too well. Most moms I know also work, and for the same reasons.

    I have never found that the choice was between loving parent and impersonal institution. At the earliest stages we had (loving and) competent in-home care. When there was a need for increased socialization and learning, we were fortunate to have a selection of (caring and) competent center-based care. But I would say that we were very fortunate. The field of child care/pre-school is a very difficult one. The pay rate is incredibly low, hours long, requirements and expectations very high.

  5. Homeschooling Granny says:

    Margo/Mom, I see a very tough question hidden in your comment. Does it actually benefit the true interests of children for them to live in one parent households or do children genuinely benefit from the support and attention of two parents, if not an extended family of involved grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and so on? When we tax all incomes, including those who keep an adult with their children, to support those who are away from their children at the vulnerable age when they are learning attachment and trust, do children benefit?

    To benefit children, the message should be: Keep someone who has a permanent vested interest in the child with the child. If that adult could benefit from some input on how to create a stimulating, nurturing environment for the child, educate that adult.

    For years we have had as our goal the educating of all the children of all the people, but this can not be achieved unless we also educate all the parents of all the children as to their responsibility for the education of their children. –Lewis Alderman (1872-1965)

  6. Homeschooling Granny says:

    I guess that we are not a rich country after all. We are so involved in the scramble to keep food on the table and a roof over our heads that we do not have time to be with the youngest and most vulnerable in the years when they are learning what love, trust, attachment, and family are.

  7. Margo/Mom says:


    You are not likely to guilt me into buying the selfish mom who chooses to work when she should be at home with her children bonding. First–I grew up with a stay at home mom and I have always been aware of what it cost both of us. She suffered in terms of ego and self-esteem, which certainly affected all of us. As her daughter, I was fortunate to have other working women within our circle of acquaintance to serve as role models, but I still grew up believing in the mom vs professional paradigm.

    But in my own life, the choice to stay at home with children and also eat and have a roof was never available. I could have stayed childless and self-sufficient (ever hoping for Mr. Wonderful to show up and provide both children and food), or I could work and raise children. I chose the latter and have no regrets. But I will say that most of the working women I know had less clear options than I. Many had children within marriage and ended up shouldering the whole weight anyway when Mr. Wonderful left, became a burden or was dangerous. Not to mention the numbers of Mr. and Mrs. Wonderful who just need two incomes–or those who have a greater contribution to make by working and paying someone to help with childcare.

    We do, I believe, have the national wealth to support more at-home time with children. But we are largely opposed to this kind of thing. We reject it along with universal health care, universal pre-school and other trappings of welfare or socialism.

  8. Homeschooling Granny says:

    Margo/Mom, I had absolutely no intention or desire to send you on a guilt trip. I do, however, believe that we, as a culture, are not doing a good job of making young people aware of what parenthood involves and what very small children need. I encounter a goodly number of people who have children after having already acquired debt in the form of college loans, home mortgages, and credit card and discover that they cannot rear their children as they would like to. They don’t have the choice anymore. Some of these people rearrange their lives so that one parent can stay home with the second child as was not possible with the first.

    I believe it is important the funding for pre-school for those who need it be done in such a way that it does not undermine the ability of a stay-at-home parent to stay at home. Perhaps if their are subsidies for preschool, there should also be subsidies for parents caring for their children at home.

  9. Today’s stay-at-home moms are not much like previous generations so it’s unfair to use them as scare tactics. Most of us did not marry straight out of school and had several years in the workforce (these days often a decade or more) prior to becoming moms. And the majority of us are planning to return to the workforce on at least a part-time basis once our kids get a bit older and more independent. That’s a far cry from the situation prior to the women’s revolution. We can still be good role models for our daughters even if we choose to sequence our careers rather than pattern them after the traditional “male” model.

    Also, the risk of divorce is overblown by the media. The rates have come down dramatically from their peak in the late ’70’s/early ’80’s. A recent study found that among women who are college graduates, nearly 5 out of 6 of them will NOT wind up divorced. So much for the claim that half of all marriages end in divorce (if that was ever true, it certainly isn’t now for educated women).


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