Mom, apple pie and universal PreK? Not so fast argue Shikha Dalmia and Lisa Snell of the libertarian Reason Foundation in today’s Wall Street Journal. With the exception of “very intense interventions targeted toward severely disadvantaged kids, “there’s little statistical evidence that strapping a backpack on all 4-year-olds and sending them to preschool is good for them.” While U.S. preschool attendance has gone up to nearly 70% from 16% in the last half century, they note, fourth-grade reading, science, and math scores on the NAEP have stayed flat since the early 1970s.
Preschool activists at the Pew Charitable Trust and Pre-K Now — two major organizations pushing universal preschool — refuse to take this evidence seriously. The private preschool market, they insist, is just glorified day care. Not so with quality, government-funded preschools with credentialed teachers and standardized curriculum. But the results from Oklahoma and Georgia — both of which implemented universal preschool a decade or more ago — paint an equally dismal picture.
Dalmia and Snell maintain that preschool gains don’t stick because the K-12 system “is too dysfunctional to maintain them.”
“Our understanding of the effects of preschool is still very much in its infancy. But one inescapable conclusion from the existing research is that it is not for everyone. Kids with loving and attentive parents — the vast majority — might well be better off spending more time at home than away in their formative years. The last thing that public policy should do is spend vast new sums of taxpayer dollars to incentivize a premature separation between toddlers and parents.”
Update: Richard Whitmire, guesting over at eduwonk, is having none of this.