Organizations and lawmakers across the country are leading the charge for publicly-funded, universal pre-kindergarten.
Last month, “Pre-K Now” held its annual satellite conference, reaching more than 1,500 supporters in 35 states. The event included live interviews with the Governors of Connecticut and Tennessee, and legislators from Texas and elsewhere—all of whom heralded the benefits of pre-K for all children.
Advocates claim universal pre-K will result in increased test scores, lower dropout rates, and students who are better prepared for a global economy. The evidence suggests otherwise.
United States fourth-graders perform well compared to their international peers – including France, whose fourth-graders trail the United States despite having access to universal preschool. But by the time American students reach high school, they rank near the bottom of all industrialized countries. At the same time, we spend more educating each student than almost any other country in the world.
Our education bureaucracy is spending vast resources for dismal results. Further expanding this ineffective system to encompass toddlers is the last thing we should do – especially when evidence suggests our focus should be on the upper grades.
Numerous researchers have studied the academic effects of preschool. While some studies have found positive effects for disadvantaged children, these benefits do not apply universally. Only one study has examined the long-term benefits of preschool on non-disadvantaged children. Its conclusion: children in programs not targeted to disadvantaged populations were no better off than those not attending any preschool.
In fact, research has shown preschool can actually hinder social development, especially for children from the poorest families.
In cases where students do benefit, the results are typically short-lived. Researchers at the University of California at Santa Barbara – in the largest-scale longitudinal research of its kind – found that the academic gains made