To the Editor:
In his Feb. 8, 2006, letter to the editor, Walt Gardner refers to Rob Reiner’s Preschool for All measure in California as “an important step in recognizing the potential of reaching children at an age when they stand a chance of overcoming the circumstances of their environment.” In the ongoing debate about pre-K education, I’d like to make three points:
A 2005 report issued by the Goldwater Institute, “Assessing Proposals for Preschool and Kindergarten,” points out that U.S. 4th graders routinely outperform their European peers in reading, math, and science, in spite of the fact that the French, for instance, enroll nearly all their 3- and 4-year-olds in government schools. It is not in the early grades that American children lose out; it is what happens as they move through the K-12 system that turns them into D-earning students by the 12th grade.
To underscore the problem, the report also shows that even though Georgia’s 10-year-old universal preschool program has served 300,000 children at a cost of $1.15 billion, children’s test scores are unchanged.
Since the effects of pre-K education dissipate shortly after children enter the dysfunctional K-12 system, expanding resources for a program that eventually leads to failure cannot be justified. Fixing K-12 education must be a priority before we embark on an entitlement that will drain already limited dollars away from that task.
Furthermore, entrusting the implementation of such a program to the same people who brought us the current public school system is the definition of insanity—to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results.
Proponents of pre-K education such as Rebecca Rimel, the president of the Pew Charitable Trusts, claim that it “gives kids a huge jump start—all kids, rich kids, middle-class kids, and poor kids.” But the great tragedy, the great scandal, the great crime in education in this country is being perpetrated against poor kids—they’re the ones who should be enrolled in high-quality, expensive preschools.
Under the Reiner initiative, they will, once again, get the short end of the stick. Funds will flow to those neighborhoods and those parents who know how to work the system, and the poor kids will get the dregs.
San Francisco, Calif.
A version of this article appeared in the February 22, 2006 edition of Education Week as Reiner Preschool Proposal Perpetuates Old Mistakes