New book: Is universal preschool really a good idea?

Among many educators and public officials in Ohio, and across the U.S., there is a drumbeat for "universal pre-school"-and for government to provide it to all 4-year olds so as to close school-readiness gaps and prepare kids to succeed in kindergarten and beyond.

In his newest book, Reroute the Preschool Juggernaut (Hoover Press, 2009), Fordham's president Chester E. Finn, Jr. takes issue with this conventional wisdom, examining some fundamental questions. Which children really need preschool that aren't already getting it? Will a universal program help the kids who need it most? Will it be a costly windfall for millions of other families? What about Headstart? What defines "quality" in this area and who should provide these services? Is this more about extending the mandate of public-school systems or furnishing needy young children with important skills? 

President Obama has stated that early childhood education is one of his top priorities and the federal government should spend an additional $10 billion per year on it.

"Before taxpayers commit tons more money to this venture," says Finn, "we should think twice about the benefits, tradeoffs and alternatives. Highly targeted preschool for the neediest girls and boys would be a far wiser investment of scarce dollars than a vast new program for everyone. Reshaping existing efforts like Headstart would be even more productive."

Reroute the Preschool Juggernaut examines all the crucial angles of this debate and finds major flaws in the "universal" approach to preschool education:

  • It is expensive, with much of the cost a needless subsidy to families making their own preschool or daycare arrangements.
  • It does not deliver the education services that would do the neediest kids the most good.
  • It evades responsibility to retool existing programs.
  • Preschool experts cannot agree on the intended outcomes of such programs.
  • Preschool benefits don't last unless corollary reforms are made to the public schools.

A pdf version of the book is available here.

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