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Orange County Register

 

Universal Preschool Won't Solve Inequality

November 26, 2013

By Kay S. Hymowitz

"Would students in the United States benefit from universal preschool?"

The answer is a very weak maybe.

For decades now, advocates have been looking to preschool as a way to compensate for the disadvantages suffered by poor children.

And it’s true that researchers have often found that attending preschool can generate some gains. Reading and math scores sometimes go up; the kids might become more "school ready."

As Stanford education professor Deborah Stipek summed up the current state of the research; "[A] meta-analysis of more than 80 studies showed that children who had participated in an early childhood education program were about four months ahead in learning at the end of it. Studies showing significant positive effects include large-scale state preschool programs – the kind the Obama plan would expand – in such varied states as Arkansas, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Georgia and Michigan."

But like most preschool advocates, Stipek fails to mention what researchers call "fade out."

Simply put, that impressive four month advantage doesn’t last. With a few exceptions, experts find that by the time they reach third grade, preschool grads’ academic achievement looks no different than that of their less educated peers.

Head Start has notoriously suffered from fade out for its entire 50 year, 170 billion dollar history. Only last year the government released a study confirming the problem has gotten no better.

The truth is fade out plagues not just Head Start kids; it happens to graduates from mediocre, bargain basement programs as well as those from blue ribbon, deluxe models.

While there is only very limited evidence that preschool can bring lasting cognitive gains for young children, it could still lead to other sorts of benefits.

Preschool activists can make a legitimate argument that it can improve low income kids social and emotional development and in so doing even save the public a lot of money in welfare, prison and foregone tax recipes.

Here’s how National Institute for Early Education Research, perhaps the premiere source for all things preschool, describes the findings: "Methodologically sound research has consistently shown that high-quality pre-kindergarten programs have the potential to offer children substantial benefits that are apparent much later in life – including improved achievement and high school graduation rates, and reduced special education placements.

"From an economic perspective, high-quality preschool education programs for children in poverty have the potential to yield benefits that exceed their costs."

The stumbling block is the phrase "have the potential." When it comes to government programs as we’re seeing right now with the roll out of the Affordable Care Act, there’s a chasm between what’s possible and what’s likely.

Preschool optimists rely largely on studies of several expensive, small, carefully devised and difficult-to-replicate programs from the 1960’s, especially the Perry Preschool experiment, which indeed provided benefits greater than its costs. The question is whether localities can set up large systems of Perry quality preschools. To answer that question honestly you have to remember these would be the same systems that produce our nation’s mediocre K-12 schools. Possibly or likely – maybe not at all.

In a world of bottomless resources, full of wonderfully competent bureaucrats, administrators and teachers, preschool would be a no-brainer. But in the flawed, contentious and financially strapped country in which we actually raise our children, preschool is far from deserving the certainty espoused by its supporters.

The billions of dollars required for universal preschool might be better spent on expanding the child tax credit, for example, or more logically, improving the early years of kindergarten through the 12th grade.

History has given us little reason to conclude that universal preschool should be our go-to policy answer to the problems of poverty or inequality.

Original Source: http://www.ocregister.com/articles/preschool-538948-programs-children.html

 

 
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