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Preschool        < Previous        Next >


Should Preschool or Kindergarten Be Compulsory?


Q. In my day, you didn't HAVE to go to school at all, until age 8. Now, you read about places that are requiring children as young as 3 to go to preschool. That doesn't sound very much like educational freedom. Has compulsory education reached down to the sandbox set?


Yes, unfortunately, in a few states as well as European countries and Canada. It doesn't help children of any socioeconomic level, and it's outrageously expensive. Fortunately, the negative results coming in from these are slowing or stopping the "universal preschool" movement elsewhere in the United States, most active in Los Angeles, Chicago, Georgia, Florida, New Jersey and Oklahoma.


Why did universal preschool get started? It is because of misguided philanthropists who noticed that low-income children are at an academic disadvantage in kindergarten that is measurable throughout the school years. They assumed the academic deficits were due to the lack of attendance in organized preschools. So, they reasoned, if free preschool is made available to all children, there wouldn't be a stigma attached to it - as if free preschools were "only" to help low-income children - and then there would be a "level playing field" established that will equalize educational achievement socioeconomically.


However well-intentioned that view might be, compulsory preschool has disastrous consequences for the very low-income children it's designed to help. Furthermore, whenever free preschool is offered, children from middle-class and upper-class families participate, and their experiences in organized preschools are demonstrably WORSE than they would have had, if they had remained at home or participated in part-time preschool experiences on a parent-pay basis.


                     These consequences are often concealed for political purposes. Consider:


  • A study of 14,000 United States preschoolers by the University of California-Berkeley and Stanford University, far from being conservative institutions, found that the earlier a child was put in preschool, the slower the pace of his or her social development. Furthermore, white, middle-class children did worse in measurements of cooperation, sharing and engagement in classroom tasks if they spent more than six hours a day in preschool, vs. their peers who stayed at home. U-Cal Berkeley's Bruce Fuller was a co-author; see:


  • A Harvard Longitudinal Study found that day-care children were damaged throughout life by an inability to form psychological attachments and again, the younger they entered day-care and preschool settings, the worse their attachment problems were, resulting in defiance, depression and academic underachievement.


  • Studies indicated that there was no improvement in academic outcomes of children who attended the free universal preschool programs in Oklahoma and Georgia. In a well-designed study that used a comparison group (many pro- pre-k studies do not), Georgia State University researchers Dr. Lorene C. Pilcher and Dr. Marsha Kaufman-McMurrain found that by the end of the first grade, there was almost no statistically significant difference between children that attended Georgia's pre-k and those that did not. 

  • Despite the multimillion dollar taxpayer investment in universal preschool in Oklahoma and Georgia, the reading scores of fourth graders ranked among the bottom 10 on the National Assessment of Education Progress tests. It is important to note that none of the 10 best-performing states had universal preschool programs.


  • Another program often cited by pro-universal preschool forces, Smart Start in North Carolina, has been a disappointment, too. The Frank Porter Graham Child Development Center at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill found the majority of Smart Start expenditures had no statistically significant effect on children's readiness to learn.


  • A University of California-Santa Barbara study found that academic gains made by children in preschool vanished by third grade.

  • The costs of universal preschool are staggering, and almost always underreported when it is first introduced to the voting public. In Quebec, a study found the final price tag for Quebec's day care program to be 33 times what was originally projected. It had grown from a projected $230 million over five years, to annual costs of $1.7 billion. Much of this increase was attributed to higher operating costs, including large wage increases for day care workers (40 percent increase over four years).


  • There are also frequently tradeoffs that hurt low-income families more than the expected benefits of free universal preschool provide. Again, looking at Quebec, low-income households lost their child care tax deductions because they were discontinued in order to finance the universal preschool program. Access problems and waiting lists also resulted in half of the day care spaces being taken by families in the top 30 percent income bracket, squeezing out the very people the program was intended to "help," even though in the long run, it doesn't "help" children after all.


         Among many other issues, there's the basic justice issue, since government-funded preschool will drive private-sector preschools, notably in churches, out of business, and that's the opposite of the American way - especially since studies of faith-based preschools show that children are better off as a result of their experiences there than their peers who had no preschool, vs. children in government preschools who are shown to be worse off than their at-home peers.


What's the answer? If you want to provide preschool to disadvantaged children and believe it will help, great. But don't support mandatory, universal, compulsory preschool. Work for voluntary programs paid for by the private sector, not tax dollars. Support faith-based facilities because they are proven to work for disadvantaged children. Don't use tax dollars and government coercion to destroy faith-based and private-sector early childhood education. And if you are middle class or upper class, minimize your child's time in preschool to just a few hours a week; the best prekindergarten skills and attitudes are formed at home, not away from home.


Homework: For information that is FOR free preschool and compulsory kindergarten:


National Institute for Early Education Research (funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts, a liberal nonprofit organization):



For information that is AGAINST free preschool and compulsory kindergarten:


The Homeschool Legal Defense Association:

By Susan Darst Williams Preschool 03 2008


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