Swing … and a Miss
Let me preface this post by saying that I appreciate the attention that Henry Waters, publisher of the Columbia Daily Tribune, pays to educational matters. He has written several columns in the past with which I wholeheartedly agree. But he missed the mark in a recent column advocating that public schools should be given responsibility for providing universal preschool.
While there is some evidence (thanks to Janese Heavin for the links) suggesting that preschool might be useful in helping low-income and minority students keep pace with more well-to-do classmates, it would be a terrible idea to make preschool mandatory especially if the task is given to public schools. The communities that would seem to benefit most from exposure to preschooling live predominantly in Missouri’s urban centers. It is no secret that the public schools in those areas are at the same time among the most expensive and the least effective in the state. So why would Mr. Waters ever want to give failing school districts such as Kansas City’s or St. Louis’ even more control over students’ lives?
While not perfect, a far better solution was proposed this past legislative session by state Senator Jeff Smith, whose bill would have granted scholarships for disadvantaged children in unaccredited or provisionally accredited school districts to attend preschool at licensed facilities, at least half of which would not be operated by public schools. Senator Smith’s bill did not go into detail about the degree of choice that parents would have under his program, but the idea has a lot of promise if it could be properly structured.