Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Universal Pre-K

Too many kids -- especially poor and middle-class kids -- have very little stimulation when they're three or four years old. Their minds are absorbing everything around them; problem is, all too often there isn't much around them.

The LA Times ran an Op-Ed today from Professor David L. Kirp today that cites a new study from the National Institute for Early Education Research:

The research examined the effect of a good preschool experience on the academic skills of children entering kindergarten in five states representing a cross section of the country. Its findings are eye-opening.

On vocabulary tests, children who attended state-supported preschools scored 31% higher than a similar group of youngsters who didn't participate — the equivalent of three months of learning. On tests of early math skills, the state preschoolers outscored their peers by 41%. A recent study of state pre-kindergarten classes in Tulsa, Okla., showed essentially the same result.

Kirp also cites research from a longitudinal study of a preschool program in Michigan:

The landmark study of Perry Preschool tracked a group of poor African American youngsters from when they attended pre-kindergarten in Ypsilanti, Mich., in the early 1960s until they were well into middle age.

The findings are astonishing: a $17 return to the individual and society for every dollar spent on their early education. Those who went to Perry were considerably more likely than children who didn't attend preschool to have graduated from high school and married, significantly less likely to have gone to prison multiple times and to have been on welfare. They're earning an average of $20,800 a year. That's 25% more than similar children who lacked the preschool experience — enough of a difference to lift them above the poverty line.

Given the hundreds of billions spent on education every year, the few billion it would cost to give Pre-K to every child in America hardly seems like a lot. And the return would be astounding.

Universal Pre-K is the single most affordable, practical, and smart policy that could be enacted to improve education in America today.


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