Once again, the bad arguments in favor of universal pre-school arise from the dead like a vampire. I feel like Dr. J, the Vampire Slayer: I’ve been arguing against the high-quality-low-cost-universal preschool crowd for years. How many times do I have to shoot this thing? But this time, the universal preschool argument has a $2 billion dollar price tag attached to it.
Rob Reiner and his liberal allies have created Proposition 82, the "Preschool for All" Act. If approved by the voters of California on June 6, this proposition would create an entitlement for government funded preschool for all four year-olds for at least three hours a day. The fate of Proposition 82 matters, even if you don’t live in California. Bad ideas have a way of oozing out of California and into the rest of the country.
Supporters claim that the $2.4 billion spent on preschool education will be cost effective for the state because "studies show" that attending "quality" preschool will improve reading, school achievement, reduce the drop out rate, teen pregnancy, drug use and crime. Supporters say that Prop 82 will have no cost for 99.4% of California taxpayers.
These arguments for Prop 82 are fatally flawed.
The proponents of universal preschool consistently overstate its benefits. Their favorite study is a Rand Corporation study that extrapolates the benefits obtained by a program in Chicago in the 1980's. The results of that particular preschool study have nothing to do with the results the average family could expect, or with the results the entire state of California would be likely to achieve.
The Chicago preschool program was targeted at low-income, high-risk children, most of whom had unmarried parents. Finding that high quality preschool helped this group of people says absolutely nothing about the impact of preschool on the children of middle class, married-couple households. Most of those kids are already in preschool programs anyway;overall, 65% of California children are in some form of preschool. It is pointless to spend taxpayer dollars subsidizing kids who are already well-provided for by their own parents.
These same kinds of studies are used to browbeat stay at home mothers into placing their kids in preschools or daycare centers. "Am I harming my child by depriving him of the enriching preschool experience?" mothers ask me all the time. No, I always reply. Just pay attention to what your child needs, and trust your instincts. Ignore the studies, unless they apply to your situation very specifically. The studies touting universal preschool are based on non-universal samples and have nothing to do with the experiences of most families.
Jennifer Roback Morse, Ph.D., is the author of Smart Sex: Finding Life-long Love In A Hook-up World. She blogs at jennifer-roback-morse.blogspot.com
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