The Basis for Expanding Pre-K Is Weak
For this edition of Quality Counts, the Commentary editors reached out to researchers and a policymaker, all of whom are known for their work in early-childhood education. These four contributors were asked:
What’s a research concern that we still need answered about early-childhood education?
What follows is David J. Armor’s response to this question. See more responses.
Leaving aside the serious methodological flaws of the research designs used to study state preschool programs like those in Georgia, New Jersey, and Oklahoma, the first concern is that no one has provided a clear rationale for government subsidy of preschool programs for middle-class students. Not only are middle-class children ready for school by the time they enter kindergarten (at least in comparison to disadvantaged children), but providing preschool to all also negates the strongest argument favoring government-subsidized preschool: to reduce the readiness gap between disadvantaged and middle-class children.
The second research concern is that we lack rigorous long-term cost-benefit studies for the types of preschool being offered today, either Head Start or the so-called "high quality" state-based programs. The best—meaning most rigorous—documentation of long-term preschool costs and benefits has been for the Abecedarian and Perry Preschool projects, but these older, very small programs offered much greater quality and intensity than the typical contemporary program.
Without a clear rationale for government-subsidized preschool for all children, and in the absence of long-term cost-benefit studies for the types of programs actually being delivered today, there is little basis for greatly expanding preschool programs, especially if it requires massive additional government spending.
Vol. 34, Issue 16, Page 31Published in Print: January 8, 2015, as What About Costs vs. Benefits?