In his State of the Union speech, Barack Obama made a renewed push for his Preschool for All plan, which would increase federal funding for government preschool programs. With congressional Democrats pushing legislation to implement the plan, the liberal media has dubbed universal government preschool
as the new in thing in education, despite ample evidence showing it doesnt work.
After the presidents speech, The New York Times decided that more government preschool is where its at. In a column entitled How Preschool Got Hot, Times columnist Gail Collins gushed: All of a sudden, early childhood education is really, really popular. Everybodys favorite. If early childhood education were an actor, it would be Tom Hanks or Meryl Streep. If it were a video game, it would be Candy Crush or Angry Birds, minus the spyware.
Collins fellow Times columnist Nicholas Kristof penned a piece where he declared, Against all odds, prekindergarten is gaining ground and sought to discredit skeptics who oppose the new liberal cause du jour. In addition, the Times ran a lengthy news story that attempted to show widespread bipartisan support for increased government preschool programs, highlighting programs in red states like Oklahoma, Georgia and Alabama.
The message from The New York Times and the much of the liberal media is that the government-preschool train has left the station and that critics need to get with the program and accept a political and policy fait accompli. A nice neat scenario, but in reality it is all a house of cards.
First, look at the supposed research evidence supporting universal government preschool. Proponents cite the success of small boutique programs such as the Perry preschool program from decades ago. However, even universal preschool supporters like Nicholas Kristof admit that these small programs may not scale up and may not have an impact as great today if they were rolled out nationwide.
Indeed, a recent rigorous study of Tennessees state preschool program, which includes requirements similar to the presidents proposal, shows that students placed in preschool through a lottery system performed worse overall in
kindergarten and first grade in math, literacy and language than students who lost the admissions lottery and didnt attend preschool.
The New York Times columnists and reporters ignore this critical finding. Instead, Kristof, for example, flatly says, Republican-led states like Oklahoma have been leaders in early education for a simple reason: It works. Yet, the Heritage Foundations Lindsey Burke and the Reason Foundations Lisa Snell, writing in Newsday, point out that on a key national examination, reading proficiency for Oklahomas fourth graders has been unchanged since the universal preschool program was put in place [in 1998].
Obamas proposal calls for expanding government preschool to reach additional children from the middle class. However, there is no long-term evidence that preschool improves graduation rates, crime rates and other indicators for middle-class children. Even Kristof acknowledges this lack of evidence for middle-class children, but that doesnt stop him from bemoaning the fact that the U.S. ranks 28th out of 34 industrialized countries in the share of
four-year-olds in preschool.
Collins, Kristof and the Times also ignore the evidence that increased preschool causes behavioral problems in many children. A massive UC Berkeley-Stanford study of 14,000 kindergarteners found that white, middle-class children suffered declines in their social skills, such as cooperation, sharing and engagement in classroom tasks, after attending long hours of preschool, compared to similar children who remain at home with a parent prior to starting school.
Finally, in terms of politics, universal government preschool is oversold. At a time when grassroots Americans are in open revolt against Obamas national Common Core education standards, a national preschool program pushed by the
federal government will raise red flags with many Americans, even if it raises none at The New York Times.