Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Universal Preschool: A Stifling "Freebie"

In Washington state, there is not yet universal free preschool, but I predict it will be considered soon. Since my kids are of preschool age or will be soon, and my home state of Iowa is in the process of implementing government-funded universal optional preschool, I became interested in this topic.

Recently I read an article entitled More Government Preschool: An Expensive and Unnecessary Middle-Class Subsidy. I found the article a tad repetitive, and it didn't really address whether or not preschool has any academic benefit. But you can scan the main points in the top right, and I found the last 3 paragraphs worth reading.

If you would like to read more research on this topic, read this report summarizing the findings of many studies about preschool and all-day kindergarten.

The main reasons that I am against legislation for universal preschool are:

  • I don't want to pay for it with my taxes. Flawed as the public school system can be, I am somewhat OK with my taxes paying for public education that I don't plan to utilize, because it is in the best interest of the country to have educated citizens. Given that preschool has no proven educational benefit for the average kid, it seems like a waste of money. High taxes makes it hard for me and others like me to choose to work part-time (or no paid work) and focus on caring for our own children.
  • Discourages innovation and healthy variety in education. I like research, but there is not one proven "right way" to do education. Many typical private preschools would be edged out of business by government-funded ones, and that is too bad. It is the non-typical ones I'd be especially sad about: completely outdoor preschools? Montessori? Groups of families that get together for Joy School? ECHO (a Christian homeschool co-op) that Toby attends? Boldly Christ-centered preschools? They'd likely have trouble aligning with the regulations and "academic standards" required to get government funding, and the number of people willing to pay privately would go down.
  • It's deceptively hard to say no to. Everyone wants free. Most middle class people feel that money is tight; sometimes it is. Many families desire preschool for one reason or another (either they believe it is academically or socially beneficial, fun, or would serve as child-care for a parent to take on a part-time or full-time job). Legislators don't know much about education and don't want to look bad by voting against something that will supposedly help children and families. I anticipate that universal optional preschool would face very little political or grassroots opposition.
  • Honestly, I'm not convinced that it will always be optional. Will future families have to fill out special paperwork to "homeschool" their 3 or 4 year olds and prove that they are providing quality academics at home? I hope not, but the trend seems to be strongly towards more paperwork required, lowering the age of compulsory education, etc. 

Watch the legislation in your state (and at the federal level), stay informed even if you don't have preschool children, and continue to ask thoughtful questions about how we can best support families with small children (how about universal someone-comes-and-cleans-my-house-weekly...just kidding).

I am not categorically anti-preschool. I don't believe it is necessary or an academic boost. We live far from extended family, 15 minute drive or more from most church friends, and almost all the homes on our street are retired people. It can be kind of isolating. I do like the opportunity for Toby to get to know other kids and try new activities; he attends preschool for 3 hours a week for part of the year while I teach music classes. Other families might have other reasons for choosing preschool or no formal preschool and it is their choice: I oppose universal "free" preschool because I want them to continue to have a variety of choices.

1 comment:

Bobo said...

Great point Hannah and thank you for researching this and bringing it to my attention. I think you need to put this up on Facebook as this issue is being raised in our state and people need to be informed.