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Preschool        < Previous        Next >

 

Should Government Provide Preschool At All?

 

Q. It's easy to see that well-educated, high-income parents are jockeying to get their children into the very best preschools. So preschool must be a good thing! We all know that poor kids come to kindergarten with smaller vocabularies than their rich peers, and they don't know their letters and numbers as well. They have social and emotional deficits that keep them from succeeding. So high-quality, "free" preschool, provided by the government, seems like a good idea. Shouldn't poor kids get the same benefits, with financial assistance from the government where warranted, as rich parents can give to their own kids?

 

Everything in moderation! "More" is not better! That's the key. Insecure parents who think that the "best" (most expensive, all-day programs with staff who have master's degrees) preschools are going to pay off in the long run are misguided. The very best way to prepare a child to excel in school is to have a great parent-child relationship at home, and develop the child's heart ever bit as much as his or her head. That doesn't cost a dime extra.

 

"Out-sourcing" that to others -- putting children in out-of-home preschool or day care all day, every day, whether in a ritzy neighborhood or one in the 'hood, is what is destructive. Part-time preschool or day care can actually be very, very good for both the child and the parent, since it is associated with better academic skills and adjustment to the school setting as well as a happier, more fulfilled parent, usually the mother, who gets the best of both worlds by balancing part-time work with full-time motherhood, rather than trying to work one or sometimes two full-time jobs to make ends meet.

 

To the extent that low-income parents need financial aid in providing part-time preschool experiences for their children, it is hard to disagree that taxpayer dollars and private-sector philanthropy ought to support their desire to give their children a strong start - with a moderate, part-time approach.

 

Speaking of a "head start," did you know that the most famous "Head Start" program doesn't help poor kids at all, and actually, is setting them further behind? The test scores, high school graduation rates, and college enrollment rates are all lower for kids who were in Head Start, and their arrest rates remain higher, compared to low-income children who were NOT in a Head Start program.

 

This is why Congress attempts periodically to scrap the program entirely. Head Start costs over $6.6 billion a year, with 900,000 preschoolers enrolled at an average cost of $7,000 apiece.

 

Head Start was designed to give the children of poverty some of the developmental experiences and benefits that children from middle-class homes enjoy. The goal was to make them be just as ready for kindergarten as their peers in the suburbs, with a level playing field in the game of academic success.

 

The trouble was, Head Start quickly became politicized. There is no accountability structure built in, to make Head Start workers prove how the money taxpayers are investing in Head Start is paying off for kids. Therefore, it is NOT paying off for kids. Instead, Head Start has became an entitlement for social liberals who let money, power, and the lack of accountability interfere with goals involving cognitive development.

 

Soon, special interest groups of all kinds had a hand in the till. The "sociocultural context" becomes key. Instead of knowledge, the goal is shaping behavior. Instead of productive early childhood activities that would get the kids ready for reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic, they were either being merely "warehoused" - free day-care for poor parents - or given a daily dose of social engineering, such as "anti-bias curriculum" to make these preschool age children "appreciate" homosexuality and so forth. And all of this wasted effort was at taxpayer expense.

 

There is no doubt that any form of taxpayer-provided universal, "free" preschool would extend this outrageous situation to ALL early childhood education in this country. That, of course, is unacceptable.

 

Head Start appears to be glorified, socialistic babysitting at taxpayer expense, unfortunately. Proof is found in the paragraphs below.

 

And if you don't believe that too much preschool and day care are bad for kids of any socioeconomic status, consider the wisdom of Edward Zigler, professor of psychology at Yale University, who is considered the father of Head Start. That the government-sponsored early childhood education program that has been in existence since the 1960s. Zigler administered the Head Start program when it was first created, but wrote this letter on June 4, 2002:

 

"(There) is great individual variation in the course of early development. Most two-year-olds, and indeed, many threes, simply are not ready for formal schooling. In the normal course of development, the physical, cognitive, and emotional skills necessary for school emerge at various rates and times in each child. The child who has not yet achieved one developmental activity or another will be disadvantaged by premature school entry. Children whose first exposure to school brings negative experiences may be doomed to a negative -- and lasting -- attitude toward education. It is best to make school for such young children a voluntary matter to be chosen when parents and educators agree that it is in a child's best interests."

It is also important to note that in the late 1990s, the federal government's General Accounting Office (GAO), which is in charge of determining whether government programs work and whether our tax dollars are well spent, reported that current research does not demonstrate that the Head Start program has a significant impact on children.

 

After reviewing about 600 separate studies on Head Start, the GAO stated:

 

"Little is known, however, about whether the program has achieved its goals. Although an extensive body of literature exists on Head Start, only a small part of that involves program impact research. Because of these researched studies' individual and collective limitations, this body of research is insufficient for use in drawing conclusions about the impact of the national program."

 

Homework: For more on this topic that is pro-Head Start and compulsory preschool, see www.naeyc.org (National Association for the Education of Young Children), and for information that is anti-Head Start and compulsory preschool, see www.hslda.org/docs/nche/Issues/E/Early_Education.asp, read www.educationnext.org/20041/26.html or search "Head Start" on www.cato.org

By Susan Darst Williams www.ShowandTellforParents.com Preschool 09 2008

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