Barack Obama says he believes in universal preschool and if he's elected president he'll pump "billions of dollars into early childhood education." Universal preschool is now second only to universal health care on the liberal policy wish list. . . . But is strapping a backpack on all 4-year-olds and sending them to preschool good for them? Not according to available evidence.
[T]he results from Oklahoma and Georgia -- both of which implemented universal preschool a decade or more ago -- paint an equally dismal picture.
A 2006 analysis by Education Week found that Oklahoma and Georgia were among the 10 states that had made the least progress on NAEP. Oklahoma, in fact, lost ground after it embraced universal preschool: In 1992 its fourth and eighth graders tested one point above the national average in math. Now they are several points below. Ditto for reading. Georgia's universal preschool program has made virtually no difference to its fourth-grade reading scores. And a study of Tennessee's preschool program released just this week by the nonpartisan Strategic Research Group found no statistical difference in the performance of preschool versus nonpreschool kids on any subject after the first grade. . .
If anything, preschool may do lasting damage to many children. A 2005 analysis by researchers at Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley, found that kindergartners with 15 or more hours of preschool every week were less motivated and more aggressive in class. Likewise, Canada's C.D. Howe Institute found a higher incidence of anxiety, hyperactivity and poor social skills among kids in Quebec after universal preschool. . . .
Even so, the economic gains of these programs are grossly exaggerated. For instance, [University of Chicago Professor and Noble laureate in economics James] Heckman calculated that the Michigan program produced a 16-cent return on every dollar spent -- not even remotely close to the $10 return that Mr. Obama and his fellow advocates bandy about.
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.
Saturday, August 30, 2008
For the Children
Lefties love government-funded "Head Start" and pre-school programs. Are such schemes anything other than taxpayer-supported babysitters? No, say Shikha Dalmia and Lisa Snell in Friday's Wall Street Journal (hyperlinks added):