It’s NOT about the children

The push for all-day preschool is not what it pretends to be

By Steven Miller
  • Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Let’s say this ad appeared in the jobs section of your local newspaper:

“Have 30-year record of pronounced failure in field. Wasted billions of Silver State taxpayers’ dollars, while stunting the development of hundreds of thousands of Nevada school kids. Now seeking expanded career opportunities targeting your community’s four- and five-year-olds. Please reply to the address below….”

How would you respond?

Nevada’s government schools establishment thinks state lawmakers, faced with enough noise, will respond positively — going weak in the knees and throwing open the door to the state treasury.

Education bureaucrats and teacher union bosses also apparently believe that Silver State parents are ignorant dullards who, given enough evasiveness and prevarication, can easily be conned into handing their little ones over to the tender mercies of a greedy state school monopoly.

That, however, may be a serious miscalculation.

When it comes to the welfare of their toddlers, parents instinctively grow cautious. And highly credible research that’s available on the Web to parents reveals that extended preschool can do small kids lasting harm.

Yet that’s an issue that the special interests beating the drum for universal compulsory all-day kindergarten are ducking.

One highly important study — titled “How much is too much?” — was published just a year ago by a joint research team from the University of California at Berkeley and Stanford University. Analyzing comprehensive national data from the federal government’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), researchers found that, for middle-class kids especially, preschool hinders social development and fosters poor social behavior. Bullying, aggression and indifference to classroom activities all increased for otherwise mainstream youth.

The study used data from the NCES Early Childhood Longitudinal project gathered from 14,000 kindergarteners, their parents and teachers. It found the negative patterns — acting up or having trouble cooperating — were strongest among white children from high-income families who attended preschool at least 15 hours a week. But, the authors noted, the patterns were also “particularly strong for Black children and for children from the poorest families.”

Another study, released in Canada this February, found similarly troubling results. Economists from the C.D. Howe Institute for public policy looked at results from the universal preschool program of the province of Quebec. Drawing on data from Canada’s National Longitudinal Study of Children and Youth, it compared outcomes for more than 33,000 children between 1994 and 2002.

“Several measures we looked at suggest that children were worse off in the years following the introduction of the universal childcare program,” wrote the study authors. “We studied a wide range of measures of child well-being, from anxiety and hyperactivity to social and motor skills. For almost every measure, we find that the increased use of childcare was associated with a decrease in their well-being relative to other children.”

There is much more that the special interests seeking compulsory all-day kindergarten for everyone’s kids aren’t coming clean about:

  • Most of the research finding academic benefits from all-day preschool is concentrated on children considered to be at high risk of school failure. Studies looking at mainstream children generally do not show such benefits. David Weikart, past president of the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation that operates the famed and respected Perry Preschools, says that, “For middle-class youngsters with a good economic basis, most programs are not able to show much in the way of difference.” A 2005 RAND Corporation study yielded similar findings.

  • Even for children considered to be at high risk of school failure (children of language minorities, for example), the benefits of extended preschool programs appear short-lived. A study from the University of California at Santa Barbara this January concluded that, “because the achievement impact of preschool appears to diminish during the first four years of school … preschool alone may have limited use as a long-term strategy for improving the achievement gap” of minorities. The UCSB research is just one of many such studies — going back to extensive federal research on Head Start as early as 1985. That’s when U.S. Department of Health and Human Services researchers reported, “In the long run, cognitive and socioemotional test scores of former Head Start students do not remain superior to those of disadvantaged children who did not attend Head Start.”

The push for all-day kindergarten that Nevadans are currently witnessing is not at all about the welfare of Nevada children.

Sadly, it’s just one more disingenuous ploy from an insatiable public education establishment — one that will try anything to avoid facing its real problems.

Steven Miller is policy director for the Nevada Policy Research Institute.

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