Preschool hype

Joanne Jacobs comments on a new study of the much overrated Perry Preschool project .

In the greatest expansion of public education since kindergarten became the norm after World War I, state leaders are pushing tax-funded pre-kindergarten as a way to narrow the learning gap between middle-class and low-income children, reports the Wall Street Journal.
. . .
On This Week in Education, Alexander Russo wonders why, if universal pre-K is “such a great and transformative idea . . . how come Head Start hasn’t done the trick and is being bypassed?” Good question.

Russo also notes the Journal’s reporting on the role of the Pew Charitable Trust, which has bankrolled research and advocacy for universal pre-K. The Hechinger Institute at Columbia Teachers College is a Pew grantee, notes Richard Colvin of Early Stories.

I’d like to see very good — and therefore expensive — preschool and pre-K for very poor children, who aren’t learning social or academic skills at home. Let’s do that right first.

I said in the comments:

If you look up the data on the Perry Preschool you will find many things of interest.

It was very small — around 60 children in each of the intervention and control groups.

It was 40 years ago; families, neighborhoods, schools are all very different now, and likely the experiment could not be replicated (and apparently has not been, despite the long period).

The High Scope/Perry Preschool program, which is still selling its materials based on these results, claims that the Perry results depend specifically on their materials used in their entirely, and should not be expected from other preschool experiences.

But the biggest factor is that the children in the study were in the most deprived circumstances imaginable. Though there were some small gains in additional education and increased income (especially for the girls) the most significant factor in the large payoff claimed was that it reduced the percentage of of children who went on to have more than five lifetime arrests from something around 55 percent to 39 percent, a matter of 11 or 12 fewer adults in that category.

If services are expanded to much larger groups of children, most of whom who are unlikely to have five lifetime arrests anyway, the payoff rapidly turns negative.

Denver voters recently approved an increase in the sales tax to fund additional pre-school slots, sold to them by politicians who believed in the Perry Preschool fairy tale and had no clue they’d been duped by advocates.

About linsee

Linda Seebach retired in 2007 from the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, where she was an editorial writer and columnist.
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