February 21, 2013

USA TODAY: Despite State Of The Union Hype, Universal Preschool Isn’t The Answer.

Before the checks go out, it would be wise to consider a broader question: Can the middle-class experience be replicated that easily? The evidence says universal preschool alone won’t get the job done.

A few small, high-quality programs have shown enduring benefits for at-risk kids. But intensive study of Head Start, the nation’s largest and oldest preschool program, finds that the beneficial effects, which are real, wear off by third grade.

The probable reason is not hard to deduce. Children are most likely to succeed in school when pushed by parents who provide stability, help with schooling, and instill an education and work ethic. But for decades now, the American family has been breaking down.

Two-fifths of children born in the USA are born to unmarried mothers, an eightfold increase since 1960. Many succeed thanks to the heroic efforts of strong, motivated single parents and other relatives. But research shows that children of single parents suffer disproportionately high poverty rates, impaired development and low performance in school.

Yep. Related: David Hogberg: Can We Be Really Hard-Headed About Pre-School? “What if there is nothing the government can do for low-income children to improve their educational performance? That’s a question that needs asking. . . . In short, the practices that endow children with lasting educational benefits begin at home. Low-income families are less likely to engage in those practices. And the research on Head Start shows that there is not much these programs can do to overcome what isn’t present in the home.”