The Myth of Universal Preschool

Arne Duncan pushes hard on Obama's preschool initiative.

Two different challenges that I think we have to face,” Duncan said. “One that [HHS Secretary] Kathy [Sebelius] talked about is sometimes you have a cultural piece where people are scared to put their kids in more formal care and they prefer, you know, to do the grandmother, the neighbor, whatever.
“And so how we communicate very directly with families and churches and non-profits to make sure if we build it they will come, there’s some work we need to do there,” Duncan said.
Sebelius said pre-school could make Hispanic children “culturally comfortable” with entering public schools as kindergartners.
And this is the challenge (and the dismissal) by those pushing universal preschool. Who is Arne Duncan to say that people who want their children with them are NOT getting what they need educationally?  It's almost like saying, "we know better for YOUR child."  He is treading into dangerous waters here.

And news flash to Duncan - there will ALWAYS be people who for personal, religious or cultural/ethnic reasons who don't want their kids in preschool. 
It is the same for 1B. There will NEVER be universal preschool or every kid walking into kindergarten "prepared."  Parents get to make choices for their own children. 


dan dempsey said…
Arne Duncan is immune from news flashes and rejects both data and common sense when it requires a different view of the world than his view.

Witness his rejection of WA State's NCLB waiver.... clearly because WA State is not doing some things that Arne wants.

NAEP scores for 2013 have WA State ranked 8th..... Yet WA State does not get a waiver because Arne does not care about results but rather compliance with his wishes.

Teacher evaluation based on Value Added Measures is completely unreliable because of inadequate sample sizes and other short comings ... but that is what Arne wants .... So no NCLB waiver for WA State. Good Results do not matter.

Education is hardly a profession given the current leaders desire for sheep rather than professionals.
Eric B said…
I didn't see the whole context from the quote, but I read it a different way. Sure, he's dismissing people who don't want to bring their kids to preschool, but I read the "to make sure that if we build it they will come" line to mean that it doesn't matter if they build preschool systems if the people most in need don't want to send their kids. That is infinitely more respectful than I've heard Duncan in a long time.
syd said…
This argument against preschool sounds like the anti-vaccination arguments.

Yes I think parents get to make choices...but the choices need to be available. At the moment preschool is not available to most people. And some children not being ready for school affects all the children.
And now Obama:
"During a speech in Rhode Island today, President Obama called for more taxpayer-spending on pre-school in order to "make sure that women are full and equal participants in our economy" and said the following: "

"Sometimes, someone, usually mom, leaves the workplace to stay home with the kids, which then leaves her earning a lower wage for the rest of her life as a result. And that’s not a choice we want Americans to make."

Nah, nothing's up here. Just the President and a cabinet member seemingly saying that maybe they know better what families should do.

Obama's is not out of context. He made it sound like if a mom doesn't go back to work, she may never work again.

I find this all very aggressive and very weird timing.
Charlie Mas said…
Pre-school might be a better choice for the children who arrive at kindergarten least prepared, but it clearly isn't a better choice for the children who arrive at kindergarten most prepared.

In each case, the neighbor and grandma need to be compared to the other options. In some cases the neighbor or grandma might be the better choice.

Also, the drop-offs and pick-ups may be better.
Anonymous said…
Cynical Parent,

Don't worry. The same people pushing this Pre-K agenda have been systematically destroying teachers' unions.

If you don't like teachers' unions, or think they are at fault, stick with Gates, Walton, and their lap dogs on education policy--Duncan and Obama.

--enough already

Anonymous said…
Start at pg.12 with the required blending of all available funding streams. Federal Headstart/Early Headstart, state childcare resources, public schools, and other private and public resources.

Seattle Educare

Anonymous said…

Oops. Seattle Educare link :

Anonymous said…

Based on the context provided in the post I’m not sure I follow your logic, unless you’re advocating for the removal of public K-12. And how does anything in this post allow you to draw a conclusion that differentiates between 1A and 1B?

Universal preK isn't about forcing people into programs they don’t agree with. Universal preK is about providing choices to parents who can’t afford to send their children to preschool and don’t have other options.

To make my point I've tweaked your paragraph (my edits in parenthesis):

“And news flash to Duncan - there will ALWAYS be people who for personal, religious or cultural/ethnic reasons who don't want their kids in (public school).

It is the same for 1B (and 1A?). There will NEVER be universal (K-12) or every kid walking into (college and/or job) market "prepared." Parents get to make choices for their own children.”

I'm not suggesting 1A or 1B is perfect, and I do worry about limited k-12 funds being diverted to preK. But public k-12 isn't perfect either (which is why this blog is so popular). However, even in its imperfect state, public K-12 is vital to the well being of children and our country. I think a good public preK system could be too.

-Downtown Dad
I am talking about parents making their own choices -best choices - for their children. Neither Obama nor Duncan should be undermining those choices, subtly or not.

I know universal pre-K doesn't mean all kids but my point is that you will never have ALL kids starting at the same point in kindergarten. To have some expectation that will happen is ridiculous.

1A is NOT about preschool in the same way 1B is so I don't see your point.

I'll just add that if you do not hear the "we know what's best" paternalism in these statements, then maybe you aren't listening.

Obama made the choice to bring in his wife's mother to the White House to support rearing their daughters. Should we criticize that?

But Hispanic parents shouldn't send their kids to be taken care of by their abuela.

I think if we do have more widespread pre-K, it should be advertised across cultures. But no one should be made to feel like are poor parents if they don't choose to access it.
Lordy said…
Let's think about 1B and P20. P20 is a research project. These toddlers will be researched for the next 20 years.

1B is intended to support mostly low income students

Shall we conclude that: Research is being conducted on mostly low income income children. Is that ok?(!)
Lordy said…
Shall we talk about the pressure/ stress that will be placed on prek teachers for toddlers to show "growth".
syd said…
I am sorry. I am not getting these arguments.

When Sweden offers the opportunity for every child to have early childhood education by guaranteeing there will be space - state subsidized space - that does not mean Swedes have to put their child in preschool. They can still make the choice to not do that.

We lost a chance to have a similar subsidized early childhood education under Nixon, and we have never gotten any closer. Under any administration.

The Obama kids go to school AND have a grandmother. One is not a replacement for the other. I am pretty sure those kids went to preschool. I think, but will have to check, that it was a university subsidized program.

You get the make the choice to keep your kids at home to educate them yourself, but we should provide everyone the opportunity to make a different choice.

You get the make choice to stay home with your kids and not pursue work outside the home, but you should have the opportunity to make a different choice.

I don't call it paternalism to recognize that it is most often the mom who does not get the opportunity to stay on track with a career, although more and more men are the stay at home parent. I call that feminism.

The initiatives on the ballot for preschool are baby steps, but they are steps in the right direction.

Anonymous said…
@ Melissa

"1A is NOT about preschool in the same way 1B is so I don't see your point."

What do you mean by this? Neither initiative promises free preK for all.

Given limited resources, why wouldn't you start by offering PreK to those who can least afford it?

-Downtown Dad
Lordy said…
Downtown Dad,

Absolutely, preschool services should be offered to those that most need it. The city has never defined those that would be admitted into the city's program. There is reason to believe that private organizations without low income children will be subsidized.

I'm not confident we need a new level of bureaucracy. Why couldn't funds be given to hire teachers for Head Start etc.


Does Sweeden offer prek curriculums that require students to show "growth" before disallowing curriculum waivers. Just wondering.

There was an individual that was concerned about low income children being institutionalized via 1B. Considering the manner in which 1B is being set-up...I have to wonder if that individual is correct.

Should low income families be offered "free" prek...knowing that their children will be the subject of educational research?
Lordy said…
You get the make the choice to keep your kids at home to educate them yourself, but we should provide everyone the opportunity to make a different choice.

You get the make choice to stay home with your kids and not pursue work outside the home, but you should have the opportunity to make a different choice. "

Low income families don't have such choices.
Downtown Dad, read the 1B literature. 1B is a pilot for - yes - free universal preschool. (Honestly, I don't make up stuff. Give me credit for what I do for a job.)

1B does NOT offer preschool to those who need it most. In fact, we don't know WHO gets in or HOW. Even 1B admits that is "to come."

Anonymous said…
Looks like Sarah Palin agrees that Obama's remarks are paternalistic and anti-mom
Just sayin
Syd said…
Absolutely. Low income and many middle income families don't have the choice. Only fairly affluent families have a real choice. That is my point.
Lordy said…
I'm not clear on Syd's position in relation to 1B.

From my perspective, low income and children from higher socioeconomic backgrounds will have an opportunity to enroll in 1B.

Higher income families will have the ability not to join in a research project. Is it ok to make available free prek as part of a research project...knowing that low income families don't have options.

I voted NO.

FWIW...I've seen the push to get children reading by K and it isn't pretty.
Anonymous said…
syd, you said, "You get the make the choice to keep your kids at home to educate them yourself, but we should provide everyone the opportunity to make a different choice."

Why should we provide every child with the opportunity to attend preschool? And why should this be subsidized? Please answer these questions.

--- swk
Anonymous said…
@ Melissa

I see nothing in the voter pamphlet promising PreK for free to all families in either 1a or 1b.

Proposition 1B states that it would be a “voluntary program and would serve 3- and 4-year-olds, providing free tuition for families at or below 300% of the federal poverty level and setting tuition on a sliding scale for all other families, with some level of subsidy for all families.”
Proposition 1A states that “no family will pay more than 10% of gross income on early education and child care.”

So neither of these programs promises free preK to all.

If the either program has a positive effect on the enrolled children, I would hope they would expand it to cover all children. So maybe universal preK is a future aspiration but it’s not what we’re voting on today.

-Downtown Dad
Transparency Please said…
1B kept changing their name. Initiatlly, 1B claimed Prek for All. At one point, conversations may have related to "universal" prek--which was not true.
TP, you are right and they actually are on a third name.

Downtown Dad, the goal - as stated by the Mayor and Councilman Burgess - is universal. A "pilot" program infers a start and that start is to universal preschool.

1A - as I have said over and over - is NOT about preschool.

Either you are trying to obfuscate or you are not understanding the truths about either prop.
syd said…

I don't know where to start.

That is like asking why do we want lower class size?

Why do want paid maternity/paternity leave?

Why do we want a minimum wage that is a livable wage?

Why do we want to have subsidized food programs?

Why do we want libraries?

Why do we want transportation systems, water and sewer systems, affordable housing.

Care for our most vulnerable is a duty of society. And we all benefit from working together.

It is not paternalistic, it is civilization.

If you want to be all libertarian about it, then just selfishly the ROI on providing education, sustenance and housing to young people is amazing.

Honestly, some of these arguments are right of Goldwater who wrote that he thought we should educate all our youth to their ability and interest - free. That we should provide housing and food for the young - free. Of course he lost me at the after that they are on their own, sink or swim.

syd said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
syd said…
Too many typos in that post. Trying again:

My kids went to Montessori preschool. It wasn't easy on the family resources, but we were able to make it work. I am amazed everyday by the long term benefits - just how they approach life. Some kids did learn to read, and write, and count and even multiply. My two younger children did not. Age appropriate preschool is about socialization and play.

As a child, most of my sibs attended head start. I really do think that we did get a head start, and that it made us more confident and gave us high expectations for ourselves. 5 out six of us escaped poverty. Look at the numbers: most people do not escape poverty.

It is anecdotal. It is not a study. We don't believe in data in this country, or science, or even the metric system. That's too paternalistic for us. So you'll just have to take my word for it. Which of course you won't, because there is no big study to support my supposition, and there never will be.

Or maybe those millineals, raised on big data and no real privacy will change all that. Maybe we will finally start using the metric system. :)
syd said…
Among the nation’s 3-year olds, 4% attend public prekindergarten, 8% attend Head Start, and 3% attend special education preschool programs; National
Institute on Early Education Research (2012).

Curious - how many people here sent their children to preschool? Is it the case that people commenting about preschool here have not sent their kids to preschool. That would certainly help me understand some of the discussion better.
Lynn said…
I sent my kids to preschool for five hours a week when they were three and seven and a half hours a week when they were four. They took no standardized tests and no data on their progress was captured and stored.

syd said…
That sounds like a coop preschool. Yes?
Lynn said…
No. A preschool in a private (religious) K-8. The main benefit was becoming comfortable dealing with a teacher and other children in a classroom environment. They would have been academically ready without the preschool.

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