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March 17, 2009

Pre-K Painted Yellow

John Stossel's recent attack on voluntary public preschool has all the indicators of Yellow Journalism. I almost feel like I shouldn't respond to Stossel's arguments against publicly funded pre-k, but I feel that, just in case you were sucked in by the shrill discourse in his recent story, I should give you a handrail to hold on to as you climb out of the muck Mr. Stossel has raked.

Here are the major challenges mentioned in Stossel's piece and grounded policy responses to them:

The movement for universal pre-k is another example of government intrusion into private matters; parents are responsible for early education of children. Comprehensive government reform in K-12 failed so this will fail too.

    • Universal pre-k is not an  instruction into private matters at the family level because it is entirely voluntary. On a financial level, the cost of paying for public pre-k is far outweighed  by its benefits to the family and the community.

    • The public pre-k movement is grounded in the push for higher quality care for young children, especially for the almost 75% of children already enrolled in early childhood settings.

This country needs more businesses succeeding, not fewer of them, and government-funded pre-k takes private providers out of business.

    • The libertarian argument against public pre-k is most soundly beaten by the argument that the benefit to the country is greater than the benefit to the family. The public education system was founded because individuals would never invest in their own children's education at a rate that would benefit the nation.  It is also a financial nightmare for parents to try to pay for the type of education they would choose. Also, expanding the pre-k market will increase public awareness of pre-k's importance, thereby helping all kinds of programs, both public and private.

    • The market based approach assumes that privately owned pre-k would create better experiences. However, over the past thirty years that has yet to happen. In fact, the poor and middle class are priced out of what would be the basic level of service offered in public settings.  By increasing access to public pre-k states would force private pre-k to increase quality or lose money. Many states have measures that would allow private pre-k providers to receive state money after meeting certain quality indicators.

Pre-k advocates talk as if it is the solution to all education ills – you are over-selling the benefits. Comprehensive government reform in K-12 failed so this will fail too.

    • Public pre-k should be part of an overall effort at improving quality in education. There are numerous quality indicators discussed in public pre-k circles. If these indicators were a part of the K-12 debate, we would have much different discussions about accountability and what constitutes a quality education.

    • Pre-k research is not only made up of these three studies. The Perry, ABC, and Chicago studies are seminal works in a broad and deep world of research on the benefits of pre-k that have taken place over the course of 40 years. Some other studies include studies by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER), the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS) conducted by the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES), as well as studies conducted by states of their implementation of universal preschool including Georgia and Oklahoma.

    • This argument is just silly but here is a little quote from the ASCD blog Inservice , "The place to fix the 9th grade problem is in preschool, he reiterated. 'The hill gets higher as we climb it . . . It is time to see the problem as the moral and ethical issue it is.' This is not a new argument. If you want to "fix" public education start by providing high quality experiences from the beginning and follow those with effective instruction all the way through.

Parents are responsible for early education of children.

    • Parents are the first and most important teachers. Every public pre-k teacher in the country would likely tell you the same thing. In fact, we communicate more with parents than any other grade level often conducting home visits as well as parent conferences in order to better meet the needs of every student.

You may remember the inflammatory
Besharov and Call op-ed in the New York Times I wrote about recently. Ideological politics does not offer a valid argument against pre-k when it comes to the pragmatic need to help kids. At no time in these arguments are alternatives offered to what organizations like Pre-K Now propose. These types of attacks do not aim to help kids, they aim to help an argument. I challenge the Reason Foundation or any other organization to come up with a better way for parents to prepare kids for their future than the option of preschool. Libertarian organizations like the Reason Foundation believe parents should raise their own kids and not expect the government to do it. I agree in theory, but this is an ideological view point. If both parents didn't need to work to feed their family and provide them health care, it might be a great preschool solution. I challenge them to offer something, anything, besides suggesting parents should stay home and not work to support their families, because this argument is not grounded in reality.


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