Friday, February 15, 2013

On Universal Pre-School in the US

President Obama's universal pre-school program suggestion has provoked much discussion.  The impact of pre-school on later success in life is a research field I have not followed, but this article suggests that there are proven benefits for lower-income children:

The Perry Preschool Study has one of the furthest-reaching data sets on this. In the early '60s, the experimenters placed 123 poor black students in Chicago into either a preschool program or no preschool. They have been tracking this group for more than 40 years.
In striking ways, the achievements of those in the preschool program exceeded those who did not attend.

Another, much larger 25-year study showed similar findings. In a group of 1,400 low-income children, those who had been exposed to preschool at age 3 were 9 percent more likely to have graduated from high school and were 22 percent less likely to have been arrested by age 28.
Preschool has also been shown to enhance IQ in disadvantaged children by 4 points or more.
The article points out that the benefits are unlikely to be equally large for children who come from higher-income families, at least if we define benefits the way that study did.  One might be able to make a case that some of the benefits could be societal in ways which are hard to capture in concrete numbers.

A different argument for pre-k universality has to do with the possibility that it benefits parents:

  • I'm not sure what research has or has not been done on this topic, but here are some fascinating things. A 2011 report from UC Berkeley's Labor Center on the "Economic Impacts of Early Care and Education in California" highlighted some important points. Having access to a dedicated, high-quality preschool can reduce absenteeism and turnover for working parents. Child care arrangements often break down, usually on short notice, which causes work absences as well as other problems. Headaches over child care issues can reduce productivity.
 Both of those benefits would truly only work if pre-school is more than a few hours a day, by the way.  I haven't looked at Obama's proposal to see what it prescribes.

Then we can also step in the hornet's nest of asking how the right would respond to such proposals.  My guess is that they would be very opposed.   We are not supposed to depend on the government. Mothers are supposed to home-school children and fathers are supposed to pay for that. 

What's fascinating about that is that it conflicts with their demands for greater fertility (at least by white American women).  France, for instance, started early schooling in part to provide women the kind of help which would allow them to have more children.

These are disjointed musings.  My apologies for that.  I think universal pre-school is a much better use of funds than unending wars, in any case.