- The Washington Times - Monday, July 27, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

According to Susan Urahn, managing director of the Pew Center on the States, “more and more states are funding pre-K because there is solid evidence that a quality early education benefits children from every background” (“Pre-K is OK,” Letters, July 20).

The fact is that Chester E. Finn Jr.’s new book, “Reroute the Preschool Juggernaut,” addresses the benefits and drawbacks of preschool, but it concludes that universal pre-kindergarten would be a misguided use of taxpayer dollars. Numerous studies have shown that although there may be benefits for disadvantaged children, the academic benefits for middle- and upper-class children are far from clear.

In addition, behavioral problems, which often are still present in children at the third-grade level, are particularly evident in children who spend or have spent a significant number of hours in a pre-K program of any kind. Add to these drawbacks the rise in the communicable disease rate, primarily respiratory illness, often seen in the preschool or day care environment, and it is readily apparent that any push toward universal preschool or day care needs to be reconsidered.

In truth, many of the drawbacks, including the lack of significant academic improvement among preschool children (exclusive of those children who are very economically or socially disadvantaged) are commonly known in our society. However, this awareness of the lack of clear success with all manner of preschool programs has not diminished the enthusiasm and continued push for free child care for all.

As I see it, the reason for this continued push is threefold. First, many of the same people who report or comment on the numerous scientific and not-so-scientific studies have children who would be enrolled in a free government child care program if one existed; these parents would benefit financially from the establishment of a universal preschool program and thus have a dog in this fight, as they say. Second, the public school system probably would expand even further with universal, fully funded preschool, which is why public school administrators typically support universal pre-K. Finally, it is very easy to drum up support for any program that appears to benefit children and education, even if there are better ways of helping children.

In my opinion, a much better use of taxpayer money would be an increase in funding at the middle school level, when standardized test scores show a clear decrease in abilities. Perhaps the funds could be targeted to lower the teacher-student ratio in middle schools, to buy more and better textbooks and to increase student accessibility to computer programs. Such funds also could go to re-establish the parent-liaison program in area middle schools and fund more mentoring programs involving the business and scientific community.

JENNIFER WOLFF

Bowie


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