Last night, President Obama proposed universal preschool for four-year olds. Here’s the section of transcript from last night’s State of the Union:
Tonight, I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America. Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than seven dollars later on – by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime. In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children, like Georgia or Oklahoma, studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, and form more stable families of their own. So let’s do what works, and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind. Let’s give our kids that chance.
Matt Yglesias at Slate raises a worthwhile question:
That sounds nice, but obviously it’s not a very detailed plan. How much money is the federal government going to pony up? What’s the income definition and subsidy level the president has in mind? By what standard are we assessing “high quality”? The quality point is really important, too.
People who consider themselves skeptics of K-12 education “reform” sometimes fall into a trap of thinking that preschool is like some kind of magic wand. But in fact the research on preschools is very similar to the research on K-12 schools. On both levels, some schools are excellent and make an enormous difference in kids’ lives, but there are also a lot of middling to poor institutions that are adding little educational value. We have some intriguing examples of amazing preschools but little experience with bringing them up to mass scale—the exact same problem we have with K-12.