Is Universal Preschool Beneficial? An Assessment of RAND Corporation’s Analysis and Proposals for California

Christopher F. Cardiff
Edward P. Stringham
Policy Study, 345
Reason Foundation
May 2006

In 2006 the state of California attempted to pass a universal preschool initiative. This piece refutes a study done by the RAND Corporation in favor of the initiative. According to Cardiff and Stringham, the RAND analysis "largely overlook[ed] the negatives and rel[ied] heavily on the most favorable [preschool] studies" in order to promote a state-run preschool. The Reason Foundation's analysis expresses concern over the increased costs to taxpayers and the damage such a law would do to private preschools.

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After briefly examining the outcomes of government funded and operated preschools, John Hood recognizes that their benefits are minimal and virtually non-existent. Hood declares that "[t]here is no great mystery as to why government programs like Head Start...

Commenting on Chester Finn's book, Reroute the Preschool Juggernaut, this piece seeks to...

In this article, Chester Finn reports on congressional attempts to expand federal aid to early childhood education programs. Finn applauds legislators for not pursuing universal preschool, but then condemns them...

This brief study compared preschool-age children and elementary-age children in Montessori schools and traditional schools. The researchers "evaluated the social and academic impact of Montessori education" and discovered that children in the Montessori schools did...

According to this piece, tough economic times are forcing the government to focus their preschool efforts on low-income rather than middle-class children. Tomsho describes how low-income children generally benefit far more from preschool education, and then...

According to Darcy Olsen, Canadian implementation of a nationwide early childcare/education program will not necessarily boost academic achievement scores in later life. Olsen compares Canadian test scores to those of nations with universal...

According to Isabel Sawhill, early childhood education helps to solve many of the major educational problems that America faces today. This assertion causes Sawhill to urge more federal funding and oversight of early childhood education. Ms. Sawhill...

In an article which discusses the problem of preschool expulsion rates, Jennifer Steinhauer suggests that the push for higher educational attainment might be the culprit in this problem. Steinhauer explains that preschool children need to be active and...

This piece lays out information on the various preschool programs around the country. Goldsmith and Rees do a quick analysis of whether or not preschool education should be an extension of the public schools, or a system of educational choice where the money follows the child. The...

According to Dalmia and Snell, the ambitious preschool plans of politicians are not as rosy as they seem. This article details how preschool does little to boost achievement scores long term and actually encourages negative behavioral problems. The authors...

Commenting on President Obama's plan for "universal preschool," Chester Finn reports that the idea is not as good as it sounds. Finn points out some of the myths involved with current preschools and then proposes alternative ways to help young children learn better.

In this piece, Joel Waldfogel argues that investment in preschool will bring huge returns for the American public. Waldfogel believes that these investment returns will especially be seen in the reduction of incarceration rates. This article admits that governmental preschool programs...

After describing the attempt to expand universal preschool in the Washington D.C. school district, S.M. Oliva opines that the move is really an attempt to expand the control of the state. Although many reports cited by universal pre-K advocates declare...

Despite arguments to the contrary, David Kirp and W. Steven Barnett argue that early childhood education has lasting positive effects. The authors take issue with an...

This article reports on California's recent attempt to provide an interim kindergarten program for children whose fifth birthdays occur in the Autumn after school officially begins. Finn believes this is really an attempt to get...

Commenting on California's ballot initiative regarding universal preschool, Dan Lips briefly lists several problems with preschool education. His concerns center around research which suggests that preschool can negatively effect the...

Chart or Graph

"Table 1 presents estimated and projected expenditures for the major federal early childhood programs."

Although preschool education is quite popular, many preschool programs are still funded through private means. As the title implies, this map shows the percentage of four-year-olds in each state who use state-funded preschool services.

"From 1965 to the present day, the United States underwent a sea change in formal early education. Preschool, then uncommon, is now the mode."

"The High/Scope Perry Preschool study is a scientific experiment that has identified both the short- and long-term effects of a high-quality preschool education program for young children living in poverty. ..."

"According to the National Institute for Early Education Research, in 2006 states spent $3.3 billion on pre-K programs, up from $970 million in 1992."

Table 6 presents the weighted national prekindergarten expulsion rates by child age, gender, and race/ethnicity.

"Figure 2 illustrates how the current mix of public and private preschools would change to one where government schools predominate."

"Simulations of preschool expansions in four states have yielded estimates of the revenue gains and program savings from investments in high-quality preschool."

"One measure that federal policymakers could consider in evaluating the success of the Georgia and Oklahoma universal preschool programs is students’ performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress fourth-grade reading examination."

Analysis Report White Paper

This study analyzes the academic outcomes of universal preschool and all day kindergarten programs. Although many people declare that studies show that pre-K programs boost academic standards, Olsen and Snell show how these results are short lived and...

"Prekindergarten programs are expanding rapidly, but to date, evidence on their effects is quite limited. Using rich data from Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, we estimate the effects of prekindergarten on children's school readiness. We find that...

In this piece, Lindsey Burke reports on the pros and cons of universal preschool programs. Drawing on evidence from two states which offer statewide preschool programs (Georgia and Okalahoma),...

"This study estimates the likely benefits of investment in a high quality, large-scale ECD program. Chapter 1 provides a brief overview of the benefits of high-quality ECD programs and reports the benefit cost ratios that have been calculated for four such programs: the Perry Preschool Project, the Prenatal/Early Infancy Project, the Abecedarian Early Childhood...

This piece takes the view that early childhood education and care is beneficial to children, parents, and entire economies. The authors believe that early childhood care should be subsidized by the government and that parents do not always make the best...

"Enrollment in state-funded preschool increased by more than 100,000 children from 2002 to 2005. The rapid growth in programs and growing national awareness of the importance of early education has not only led to increased access, but has generated...

This study surveyed preschool children from a variety of racial and socio-economic backgrounds. The researchers found that preschool and early childhood care programs had mixed effects depending on the background of the subjects. Some children...

"This report analyzes several leading federal prekindergarten proposals, discussing plan details and rationales as well as insights by a range of prominent researchers." Holland and Soifer also discuss the effect that...

"This volume explores whether the nation’s early childhood programs are boosting child development and preparing children for schooling and proposes reforms that would improve the...

In 2006 the state of California attempted to pass a universal preschool initiative. This piece refutes a ...

In this piece, Carrie Lukas argues that universal preschool is an unwise policy choice because it does not necessarily improve achievement, nor does it encourage the growth of private industry. As many recognize, the public schools already have serious...

The underlying idea of preschool education is to help children get ahead academically. According to David Elkind, children may not be ready to learn at such a young age, and many actually do better in school if they are exposed to academic subjects around the ages of six and seven. In addition to these insights, this piece also presents some education philosophies...

In 2006, California was considering a universal preschool ballot initiative. As the title suggests, this piece seeks to persuade the public that universal preschool is not the cure-all that its supporters make it out to be. The authors dissect ten myths...

As the title suggests, this piece studies preschool expulsion rates in a number of "state-funded prekindergarten systems across the nation." This particular study found that preschoolers in state-funded programs are expelled less often than...

In this piece, Douglas Besharov and Craig Ramey answer various questions on the many aspects of preschool education in the United States. Both describe the research studies that have been conducted on the effectiveness of preschool, after which they discuss the need...

Much of the research on early childhood education demonstrates that preschool is only beneficial to low-income children. This study, however, argues that preschool education is beneficial for middle-income children as well, and as such, should be supported by public funds.

"There is increased interest in California and other states in providing universal access to publicly funded preschool education for one or two years prior to kindergarten entry. In considering such a program, policymakers and the public focus on the potential...

"This study measures the effects of Oklahoma’s universal Early Childhood Four-Year-Old Program on entering kindergartners’ academic skills using an innovative research model. Receptive vocabulary, early literacy and early math skills were assessed in a sample...

The Perry Preschool Study is one of the most frequently cited examples of preschool success and is often used to support the claims of preschool proponents. The study followed one group of preschool children into their adulthood and compared their success with that of children in a non-preschool environment. "The major conclusion of this midlife phase of the Perry Preschool...

A favorite chanting point of almost every politician these days is the idea of universal pre-K. Douglas Besharov and Douglas Call analyze why universal pre-K is so popular amongst politicians and teachers, and then suggest the effects that its implementation...

This paper looks at the effectiveness of government run preschool programs, one of which is Head Start. Schaeffer takes issue with the many studies which claim that preschool is beneficial to children, believing that many of those studies are flawed in their execution. In light of...

"This paper estimates the rate of return to the High/Scope Perry Preschool Program, an early intervention program targeted toward disadvantaged African-American youth. Estimates of the rate of return to the Perry program are widely cited to support the claim...

This paper offers a progressive rebuttal to a Reason Foundation study on universal preschool in California. According to Rocha, early childhood education is necessary to boosting America's academic achievement and will bring huge economic returns to society in the form of reduced welfare claims and incarceration rates. Rocha alleges the success of programs like...

This piece analyzes state preschool programs on a state by state basis. The authors describe enrollment and funding rates, and then advocate for high quality preschool which meets a variety of standards.

Video/Podcast/Media

According to Adam Schaeffer, the push for pre-K is rooted in the monopolistic system of the public schools. Schaeffer contends that universal pre-K is a way to grow teacher unions and for politicians to blame the failing educational standards of the K-12 system. Finally, Schaeffer briefly discusses the key studies pre-K proponents base their argument on and notes...

John Stossel discusses the pros and cons of universal preschool in this short clip. According to Stossel, proponents of universal pre-K often fail to report or comment on the many studies which suggest that universal pre-K may be detrimental to children. Stossel interviews both proponents and opponents of universal pre-K, with some of the latter being...

Briefly expressing his views on early childhood education, Senator Barack Obama declared that preschool is necessary for children to get ahead and not be labeled by their peers. Mr. Obama also advocated for "0-3 learning."

In this brief interview, Checker Finn discusses the "contradictions within the [universal preschool] movement." Finn believes that universal preschool will end up benefiting middle class families rather than the lower-income families that many suggest actually need early education to get ahead.

This brief clip gives the enrollment and monetary statistics of Head Start. The speaker declares that despite the large amount of time Head Start has been given to prove its effectiveness, its results are not impressive.

According to this video, "Head Start has been more or less untouchable for many years primarily because members of Congress are sympathetic to programs for children." Despite its untouchable nature, Head Start's results have not shown that the program is effective.

This video suggests that Head Start has had plenty of time to demonstrate its success. The speaker in this clip implies that the Head Start program may be a very good and easy place in which to cut wasteful government spending.

The Abecedarian Project was a highly regulated survey which followed disadvantaged children from their birth into adulthood. The survey is often used by early childhood education proponents to point to the effectiveness of preschool. This clip describes the program and its...

According to this video, the idea of universal pre-K threatens to expand the reach of the failing public school system and damage free enterprise by shutting down private preschools. This video incorporates the views of advocates and critics of universal pre-K and suggests that "more choice and competition" in preschool is the better option.

As the title suggests, this short clip offers several suggestions for improving federal preschool options.

In this video, the executive director of Pre-K Now, a preschool advocacy organization, takes viewers on a tour of a preschool classroom. The video presents five preschool-aged children and details their learning progress.

Primary Document

In his testimony before the House Budget Committee, Douglas Besharov proposes the following question: "[h]ow [should we] ... invest in preschool programs so that they have a reasonable chance of being a success, or, to borrow a phrase from the investment world,...

This link provides a copy of the current Head Start legislation. According to this legislation, Head Start exists

"... to promote the school readiness of low-income children by enhancing their cognitive, social, and emotional development-
...

In a speech before the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, President Obama addressed a variety of educational topics and concerns. His remarks on early childhood education, which can be found on pages two and three, included the idea that...

In this testimony, NIEER director Steven Barnett declares that "[t]he nation has been making more headway in expanding access [to preschool] than in improving quality. Yet, increasing the numbers of children served with public money is sound policy only when it also provides an effective education." Barnett urges Congress to "ensure that more children receive a...

The Abecedarian Project is one of the preeminent studies on early childhood development and education. Often cited by universal preschool proponents, the Abecedarian Project placed disadvantaged children in a highly regulated environment to discover whether...

This short report produced by the United States Senate declares that "[h]igh-quality preschool programs improve the futures of participants by raising their ultimate educational attainment and earnings levels and by reducing the...

In the eyes of Maria Montessori, "Education is to guide activity, not repress it." This statement expresses the nature of Montessori’s educational views, which are still frequently referenced and...

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