Krista Kafer Says Take Another Look at the Facts about Preschool

With her column published yesterday, Independence Institute senior fellow and Face The State columnist Krista Kafer drops a fly or two into the early childhood education debate soup:

In Colorado, taxpayers spend $29 million a year on state preschool programs. Denver voters passed a sales tax in 2006 to subsidize preschool. According to a Denver Post article by Jeremy P. Meyer, 3,650 students receive subsidies. James Mejia, director of the Denver Preschool Program, told Meyer that “Studies show that for every dollar you spend on early childhood education, you will get back $10 to $12 in services you would otherwise be spending on social services, incarceration, remediation.”

Sounds great, but upon closer examination, this just isn’t true. The cost-benefit analyses routinely bandied about by advocates come up short. The analysis is largely based on exaggerated claims from a tiny subset of studies misrepresented as the whole. When the vast majority of research is considered, it becomes clear that preschool does not reap the amazing benefits touted by advocates.

Four decades of legitimate research actually shows that the majority of low-income children experience only short-term positive impacts and there is little long-term impact from preschool participation. Research also shows that preschool participation has no positive impact on children from middle or high income families, another ill-supported claim by advocates. Worse, preschool can have negative effects. Researchers at the National Institutes for Health and various universities have found adverse effects on children’s behavior resulting from early childhood education programs.

With the way some people are diving head first onto the universal preschool bandwagon, you’d think this issue were far more clear cut than it really is. Before dedicating public resources to any early childhood education program, people need to step back and take an honest look at the costs and benefits – benefits for kids, not for adults. They may be buying a Matchbox car with a broken wheel.