Would Universal Pre-K Really Help Anybody?

This blog recently addressed Gov.-elect Tim Kaine’s proposal to make pre-K schooling universal. A column by Chris Braunlich, published today in Bacon’s Rebellion, questions the utility of expanding the program from the 18,500 tots who already receive subsidized pre-school to all 78,000 four-year-olds in the state.

Although there seems to be agreement that poor children benefit from pre-K, the same does not apply to middle-class children. Apparently, the pre-K schooling makes up for deficits in the poor munchkins’ home life. The same does not appear to be true of their middle-class counterparts.

If Braunlich is right, Kaine’s proposed $300 million initiative would seem to be a solution in search of a problem — and an unnecessary expansion of an entitlement.

For details read Braunlich’s column, “Does Universal Pre-K Work?”

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3 responses to “Would Universal Pre-K Really Help Anybody?”

  1. I don’t get it. I grew up in a home that was filled with books and bookcases, but I distinctly remember learning the alphabet in first grade. We lived in a small town in an otherwise rural areas and kindergarten was not an option, let alone pre-kindergarten.

    By the time I was in third grade I was devouring an entire set of O’Henry, which I still have. By fourth grade I was bored silly with school.

    At one point my fourth grade teacher took to punish me by ordering me to add up all the numbers from 1 to 100. I got in really big serious trouble for being a smart-ass when I looked at her and said 5050.

    I had been reading a book on mathematical tricks. 0 plus a hundred is a hundred, 1 plus 99 is a hundred, 49 plus 51 is a hundred: fifty is left in the middle. 5050.

    What I learned from that is that you get punished for standing out.

    I generally missed the honor roll because my typical report card was two A’s two B’s and an F. Some things I just didn’t care about. I got a kick out of taking a 100 question quiz, leaving ten questions blank and getting a 90.

    It drove my teachers nuts.

    I was nearly expelled from school for vociferously insisting that i be allowed to take typing (then restricted to girls). My typing still suffers from the lack, but I’m reasonably proficient in shop.

    I had the attitude that I wanted to get an A in life, and school was only a small part of that. To my way of thinking anything higher than a B was a waste of effort, and an exercise in diminishing returns. I thought then, and I believe today, that the only thing you learn from a test is the score.

    Grading teachers and schools through the so-called standards of learning is a joke.

    In my entire school career I had four or five teachers that I admired and respected. One of them was my father.

    In spite of a predilection for goofing off when I wasn’t interested and obsessing when I was, I was accepted to top tier schools and paid my way without help. Since my fateher was a teacher, I didn’t have much choice.

    I think it is pretty well accepted that the fastest way to smarts is to surround yourself with people with smarts. As EMR consistently points out, that isn’t always easy.

    Smarts is like money: there is never enough to go around and some people will always be associated with a lesser crowd. Smarts is more qualitative than money though, because there are different kinds.

    Are we better off, collectively, if a few people have a lot of money and a lot of creativity and the rest of us ride on their coattails? Or are we collectively better off if we are all homogenized?

  2. Anonymous Avatar

    A very inspirational story! I was quirky like that and so is one of my daughters. There’s hope for us after all!


  3. Amy Wilson Avatar

    Our family homeschools, and I see Universal Preschool as a step toward a very slippery slope. Kindergarten for five-year-old was at one time considered optional, but it is now part of Virginia’s mandatory attendance statute. Parents can opt a 5-year-old out of kindergarten if they feel the child is “not ready.” If parents choose to homeschool, Virginia’s homeschool statute requires that a Notice of Intent to Homeschool be filed for a child who is five by September 30 of the school year (fortunately, Proof of Progress is not required until the end of the school year in which the child turns 6 on or before September 30).

    I am concerned that if Universal Preschool is adopted in Virginia, it will not be long before preschool, like kindergarten, is no longer considered “optional,” and the mandatory attendance statute may be expanded to include 4- or even 3-year-olds. I am concerned that the rights of parents to educate their children in the way that is most appropriate for their own family may be eroded by programs like Universal Preschool. I am concerned about what will happen to children and our society if parents who might otherwise be able to afford to prioritize full-time parental caregiving for preschool-age children are financially incentivized (by free programs tied to the public schools) to place their young children in programs that take them away from their families and place them in institutions for significant periods of time.

    I have noticed that among my suburban, middle-class to upper-middle-class group of peer parents, preschool has come to be accepted as “the thing to do” to prepare kids for kindergarten (which was once intended as an optional program to prepare kids for school). It seems that where I live in Northern Virginia, very few 3- and 4-year olds are cared for at home full time by family members. I understand that for some families, the reason for this is financial pressure (in some cases, perceived financial pressure), or the importance of careers to both parents (which I respect), the logistical realities of single-parent households, and other reasons. Of course I respect each family’s right to make the decision that suits their family best. But I do not think that this trend is in the best interests of children, families, or society.

    I wholeheartedly support Head Start and similar programs aimed at encouraging educational readiness for children in educationally at-risk situations. And to be honest, I am a bit of a left-leaning sort, who generally supports spending on public programs that I believe will benefit society by assisting those who need help the most. But I think that the idea of Universal Preschool is likely to be more of a boondoggle for the burgeoning educational industry than a benefit for society as a whole — in fact, I believe it could harm society. I especially think it could impact parents’ freedom to choose the best educational situations for their children in the future.

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