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Report Challenging Federal Pre-K Ideas Gets Sharp Rebuttal

By Linda Jacobson — April 08, 2008 1 min read

A report that questions the wisdom of several federal prekindergarten proposals has drawn a sharply worded response from a leading proponent of public preschool programs.

Released last month by the Lexington Institute, a think tank based in Arlington, Va., the report critiques pre-K proposals made by the Democratic presidential candidates as well as bills introduced in Congress that would expand the federal role in providing preschool.

The authors, Robert Holland and Don Soifer, argue that the case for spending more tax dollars on preschool, particularly for children in middle-class families, is based on weak evidence from research that has focused largely on disadvantaged children.

The report also highlights the findings from some studies about the increase in behavior problems among children in center-based programs. (“New Analysis Bolsters Child Care, Behavior Link’,” April 4, 2007.)

And it suggests that policymakers instead turn to market-based alternatives, such as vouchers that could be used for preschool.

“Given the reality that the vast majority of early-childhood care and education is provided in the private sector, creating a universal, government-funded system of pre-K that supplants such market-oriented solutions seems dubious, at best,” the authors write.

But a review calls the Lexington Institute paper “incomplete, misleading, biased, and inaccurate.”

“Rather than capitalizing on an opportunity to clarify an area of policy that is ripe for change, the report manages to muddy the waters,” writes W. Steven Barnett, the director of the National Institute for Early Education Research, based at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J.

Writing for the Think Tank Review Project, an effort that analyzes studies from various organizations, Mr. Barnett contends that the Lexington report misuses research on children’s behavior outcomes and ignores “alternative explanations.”

He says the authors also depended too much on the view of one economist, the University of Chicago’s James Heckman, who favors limiting public preschool programs to children from low-income families.

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A version of this article appeared in the April 09, 2008 edition of Education Week

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