Lessons on Universal Pre-K from Tennessee

President Obama would like to extend universal preschool from a few states to all of them, presumably including Kansas. Would that be a good idea? Let’s look at what has happened in the states that have tried it on their own.

One such state is Tennessee.  Elizabeth Cook, of the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, writes,  “Pre-K simply does not live up to its hype and may even produce harmful results.”

Among the problems she sees:

  1. The benefits tend to be among the economically disadvantaged–so why spend the money on making it available to everyone?
  2. The benefits that do exist fade out for children by the time they reach 2nd grade, suggesting that money spent on pre-K is simply wasted.
  3. Pre-K programs do have some long-term effects: Children who have been in them are more prone to being aggressive and bullies by the time they reach middle school.
  4. Pre-K tends to substitute the values and preferences of people who control the programs (which, being funded by government, are political in nature), rather than parents.

She concludes, “Education reform should concentrate on remedying our nation’s failing K-12 public school system, rather than expanding it by adding pre-K pro grams. Universal pre-K merely burdens this already-stressed system.”

The group Tennessee Alliance for Early Education, naturally, sees things differently. Yet even it notes the temporary benefit of state programs. Here’s an excerpt of an item from their news feed, titled “STUDY: PRE-K ACHIEVING ITS GOALS,” and dated March 30, 2010.

A new government report indicates Tennessee’s pre-kindergarten education program is doing what its supporters intended — getting children prepared to learn and thrive in kindergarten and first grade.

Conducted for the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office of Research and Education Accountability, the report suggests that students who attend state-funded pre-kindergarten classes performed better in the first two years of school because of the experience.

And what happens after two years?

Cook and the Tennessee Alliance both point to a report from the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office of Research and Education Accountability which you can find as a PDF file here. Kudos to Tom Humphrey of KnoxNews.com for not only writing a story about an important issue, but providing a link to the original report.

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