The Case for Universal Preschool
But the studies clearly show benefits for preschool kids in kindergarten. In a study of 3,500 incoming kindergarteners in Oklahoma, researchers at Georgetown University's Public Policy Institute and Center for Research on Children in the United States found that as the kids entered kindergarten those enrolled in the state program had better reading, math, and writing skills than kids who were either not enrolled in preschool or who spent time in the federally funded Head Start program. The benefits even extend beyond lower income groups.
The benefits dissipate because the pressures of life for lower income kids increase as they get older and because of the failures of elementary schools. It seems coldhearted to deny kids those early benefits just because other obstacles interfere with long term benefits. Perhaps Kalmia and Snell would refuse a dehydrated man a bottle of water in a desert just because he's going to die of thirst anyway.
In addition, the other benefits of preschool -- the socialization for both the kids and the parents -- can't be summarized in a quantitative study. Yet, parents must be aware of these gains. Why else would 70% of kids attend preschool at enormous sacrifices by parents? Mothers and fathers are not illogical. They make these sacrifices because they see gains.
The fact is that preschool is no longer a luxury. Middle-class families sacrifice vacations and second cars in order to afford to give their kids three hours a day of pre-kindergarten. Government funded universal pre-k can aid struggling working families.
Preschool education is an area that would benefit from a voucher program. Unlike regular education, there are many private programs already operating in church basements and YMCAs across the country. There is no need to build new infrastructure or hire new workers. Just give families a voucher to attend one of these existing programs provided they passed certain accreditation standards. This voucher program can be limited by income in order to keep costs down.
The benefits of preschool are obvious to parents. Nearly every family who can afford it sends their kid to preschool. Let's give a hand to those who are struggling to give their kids the opportunities that should be available to all.