fotosearch-kindergarteners-paa186000022The push for universal pre-K echoes from the White House on down and nowadays is the talk all about town. As Education Secretary John B. King put it, “Because of historic investments from the Obama administration, states and cities, more children-particularly those who have been historically under-served–now have access to high-quality early learning. We must continue our collective work so that all children have the foundation they need to thrive in school and beyond.”

Those efforts have, of course, come with a price tag, which includes:

  • $1 billion in federal Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge grants to 20 states and jointly administered by the U.S. Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services;
  • 18 grants totaling $226 million to states;
  • $75 billion over 10 years in Obama’s proposed 2017 budget for the “Preschool for All” initiative providing preschool for all 4-year-olds from moderate and low-income families via a $0.94 cigarette/tobacco taxes. Overall, about $90 billion is spent on the program, along with an expansion of home visits for children.

As for the results, along with information being more accessible to parents and an enhanced rating system, promoted benefits include improved:

  • Quality of learning
  • Chances for future education achievement
  • Childhood experiences
  • Odds of social and economic success
  • Higher test scores

But it’s that last item that seems to get most of the headlines.

Take for example the OECD’s Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) given in math, reading, and science. As the Huffington Post‘s Rebecca Klein has reported, on the whole, [OECD] students who attended preschool performed, on average, more than 20 points better on the PISA than those who did not, even after accounting for socioeconomic differences.

And that, for many, makes the case for universal pre-K, but not everyone’s on board, including Nancy Carlsson-Paige.

This early childhood development expert and author of Taking Back Childhood is a professor emerita of education at Lesley University where she’s taught teachers for more than 30 years. She’s also the founder of the university’s Center for Peaceable Schools and helped start the Defending the Early Years nonprofit which commissions early childhood research and advocates for kid-appropriate policies.

Moreover, this mother of two has earned the Legacy Award from the Robert F. Kennedy Children’s Action Corps and most recently the Deborah Meier (a renowned educator) award from the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, aka FairTest.

In other words, she knows what she’s talking about and is distressed by the current push to get all of our youngest kids well-schooled.

Indeed, she started off her FairTest acceptance speech by saying, “Never in my wildest dreams could I have foreseen the situation we find ourselves in today. Where education policies that do not reflect what we know about how young children learn could be mandated and followed. We have decades of research in child development and neuroscience that tell us that young children learn actively-they have to move, use their senses, get their hands on things, interact with other kids and teachers, create, invent. But in this twisted time, young children starting public pre-K at the age of four are expected to learn through ‘rigorous instruction.'”

Moreover, she “never thought she’d see a time when we would…

  • Have to defend children’s right to play… ;
  • Fight for classrooms for youngsters that are developmentally appropriate… ;
  • Be up against pressure to test and assess young kids throughout the year, often in great excess and often administering multiple tests in kindergarten and even pre-K… “

Her bottom line about these test- and data-driven times: “Some people call this abuse, and I can’t disagree.”

What say you?