Start Choice Early
I went to preschool for one year, when I was four. Religion is one of those topics that’s off-limits on Show-Me Daily, so I can’t tell you much about my experience other than to say that I spent a lot of the time sitting on a carpet sample in a circle on the floor. I certainly didn’t study any subjects that No Child Left Behind tests you on.
This burst of nostalgia was inspired by an article about universal preschool in the New York Times. (Expanding preschool education is one of those education reforms that policymakers hope will get rid of that pesky test score gap between black and white students.) The author observes:
Nobody wants a two-tiered system, which isn’t likely to narrow the achievement gap, or a rigid one-size-fits-all system, either.
Those are valid concerns. We’re all familiar with the problems caused by a one-size-fits-all approach to K-12 education, and with the injustices inherent in sending city kids to failing city schools while kids in the suburbs get a better deal.
Preschool education will work only if it isn’t based on that flawed model. There are public preschools in the city of St. Louis, as well as a handful of parents-as-teachers programs, but they haven’t lifted test scores or stemmed the tide of dropouts. That’s not surprising; if a school can’t make progress with five-, six-, or seven-year-olds, it doesn’t make sense to send younger kids there too.
As you might expect, I have a parental-choice solution to that problem:
While there is a strong case for public support for funding interventions in the early childhood of disadvantaged children, there is no reason for the interventions to be conducted in public centers. Vouchers that can be used in privately run programs would promote competition and efficiency in the provision of early enrichment programs. They would allow parents to choose the venues and values offered in the programs that enrich their child’s earliest years.