So is universal pre-school the great equalizer politicians claim, the silver bullet that ensures academic success for at-risk children? That certainly has been the hope and the justification for schooling our youngest learners and spending a whole lot of money in the process.
Indeed, as reported by Lilliam Mongeau for Education Week, “The 42 states with public preschool programs and the District of Columbia spent $6.2 billion to serve 1.4 million 3- and 4-year-olds in the 2014-15 school year.” And that bears repeating: In just one school year, taxpayers shelled out some $6.2 billion on pre-K education alone.
So, how much bang are we getting for our bucks? Certainly not nearly as much as Obama and his Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr. would have us believe.
As pointed out in an article by Esther J. Cepeda, a 2013 study of 3,000 Tennessee children randomly assigned to either attend pre-K or not, found that, short-term, those attending were more prepared for kindergarten, had better work skills, and enjoyed more positive attitudes toward school than the non-attenders. However, 2015 data showed that…
- By year’s end, their first grade teachers rated them as possessing “weaker work skills, less prepared for and more negative about school.”
- Moreover, at the end of both 2nd and 3rd grade, they did not perform as well on academic tests as those who never attended pre-K.
Concludes Cepeda, “Maybe for the youngsters in question, two extra years of high-stakes education and testing cast school as a drag to be endured rather than experienced happily.”
A better bet, she suggests: effective anti-poverty programs and parenting classes for their moms and dads. Oh, yes, a whole lot less screen time, too. Maybe throw in more book reading and family time, as well.