“I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America. … Let’s do what works, and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind. Let’s give our kids that chance.”
– President Barack Obama
Preschool education has received much national attention in the last several years. President Barack Obama, as part of his “Race to the Top” education initiative has increased awareness of the benefits of Preschool education and mandated additional federal funding to increase preschool enrollment across all income and cultural lines. The President’s Fiscal Year 2015 Budget Proposal allocates $1.3 billion in mandatory funding as part of a $75 billion commitment of making preschool education available to everyone. In tough economic times, it is imperative that we take a critical analysis of what we are getting for our tax dollars. Let’s take a look at some of the key issues related to preschool education, including advantages and disadvantages of preschool education.
The United States currently ranks 28th in the world in the enrollment of 4 year olds in early learning, or preschool education. France, Netherlands, Mexico and Belgium are examples of nations with 100% enrollment of 4 year olds in early learning programs. These countries rank 1st, 2nd, 4th and 5th respectively in the world for early learning enrollment. In the United States as of 2005, nearly 70% of 4 year olds are enrolled in early learning programs. Participation by ethnicity is as follows:
69% of White 4 year olds enrolled in early learning programs.
75% of Black 4 years olds enrolled in early learning programs.
59% of Hispanic 4 years olds enrolled in early learning programs.
81% of Other 4 years olds enrolled in early learning programs.
Participation by income levels is as follows:
62% of 4 year olds in households with incomes under $10K are enrolled in early learning programs.
89% of 4 year olds in households with incomes over $100K are enrolled in early learning programs.
55% of 4 year olds in households with incomes between $20-30K are enrolled in early learning programs.
62% of 4 year olds in households with incomes between $40-50K are enrolled in early learning programs.
According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) , the average per child expenditure in the United States for both private and publicly funded programs is about $8,400. Now let’s look at the advantages and disadvantage we are realizing for our preschool investment.
Teachers are trained in Early Childhood development and are able to assess children developmentally and alert parents to a need for early intervention for speech, behavior, social or a variety of other issues.
Children gain basic skills earlier, typically learning their alphabet, numbers, and perhaps even learning to write their names and some simple words.
Children benefit from early social development by interacting with their peers. Children may develop a core group of friends that will move on with them to the classroom as they begin their primary education.
Preschools typically provide a lot of fun and engaging activities to stimulate your child’s learning and interests and teach them different skills.
Preschools can often provide a form of reliable childcare that working parents must depend on. If a teacher is sick, there is typically another staff member to replace that teacher for the day. Babysitters, relatives and others provide a lower degree of reliability.
Research has shown that preschool early learning programs may have far-reaching positive paybacks for society, such as increased high school graduation and college attendance rates, lowered crime rates, less juvenile delinquency, and even positive health effects, such as a lower rate of smoking among those who attended early learning programs.
A certain degree of conformity is required in a preschool setting. For example, children are routinely required to be fully potty trained and need to be able to function as part of a group. For children progressing outside the pace of the mainstream, they may not fit in easily in the preschool setting.
Some children feel a great deal of stress in the preschool environment. Days are often regimented by segments of activity such as play time, story time, nap time, lunch / snack time, computer lab time, learning time, etc. Many children struggle in transitioning from activity to activity or staying with the schedule in relation to eating, sleeping, etc. Often times, these schedules are very different from what the child experiences at home. This, combined with the absence of a loving and supporting parent there for them throughout their school day can result in an unduly stressed child who may act out in any number of ways, including manifesting sadness, anger, aggression, or withdrawal.
A child’s need for individual attention can vary greatly from child to child. A child who needs a great deal of individual attention is unlikely to succeed in the preschool setting.
Children sometimes learn at their own pace. A child of above average intelligence may be bored and restless engaging in some of the age appropriate group activities. A child struggling to keep up with the group may find themselves hopelessly left behind.
Private preschool programs may have high fees and strict requirements regarding a child’s ability to participate in their program. In many of today’s suburban communities there is much competition for top tier private preschool placement and social status can be lost or gained based on which private preschool your child attends.
Much research has shown there is a phenomena at play called the “Fade Out Effect.” The Fade Out Effect shows that children who attend preschool begin Kindergarten more prepared than their peers who didn’t attend preschool. However, they may lose their edge in reading and math within just a few years as the other children catch up.
To sum up, each family must weigh the advantages of preschool early learning programs for themselves and make a decision in their child’s and families’ best interest. Much like a family, we as a nation must also decide if these programs benefit us in such a manner as to outweigh the ever growing costs.
- Push for Preschool Becomes a Bipartisan Cause Outside Washington (nytimes.com)
- Democrats unveil plan, and funding, for step toward universal pre-K (ctmirror.org)
- Research Links Preschool Program to Third Grade Reading Success (eyeonearlyeducation.com)