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
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.
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;
- 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
- 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
- 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.
information that is FOR free preschool and compulsory kindergarten:
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: