Pre-K program unnecessary
Elizabeth Cook, research associate at the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, explains the perils of the state pre-Kindergarten program in Monday’s Tennessean. by Elizabeth Cook As summer comes to an end, students across Tennessee are heading off to their first day of school. This year, many parents will be sending their children to pre-kindergarten for the first time, as Gov. Phil Bredesen announced on Aug. 3 that preschool programs are now available — on a voluntary basis — in all of Tennessee’s 95 counties. Soon, this may also be the case nationally. President Barack Obama has pledged $10 billion toward early childhood education. Many citizens consider universal pre-K a great accomplishment, but Americans should not be so quick to embrace the idea. Pre-K simply does not live up to its hype and may even produce harmful results. This is not to argue against the well-being of American children, nor is it an argument against public education — the value of which is undeniable. It is easy to see why, at first glance, many Americans judge pre-K programs to be wholly beneficial. However, universal, institutionalized pre-K programs are not the solution they claim to be. A 2010 report on Tennessee’s pre-K program, recently released by the Comptroller’s Office of Research and Education Accountability, reinforced previous years’ conclusions: Pre-K has no long-lasting effects on student academic performance. Although pre-K seems to lead to some positive effects on student performance in kindergarten and first grade, this occurs, to quote the study, “primarily among economically disadvantaged students.” Furthermore, “by second grade, the difference between pre-K students and a reasonably comparable group of non-pre-K students is negligible.” This means that after a few years of schooling, there are no identifiable differences in academic performance between students who did and did not attend pre-K. So while some argue that pre-K programs offer long-term benefits to society, in reality the program does not offer children any significant advantage. Not only is the program a waste of taxpayer funds, pre-K may negatively affect children who enroll. For example, a 2007 study by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development concluded that children who attended pre-K were more likely than children who did not to engage in bullying and aggression through the sixth grade. Also, will pre-K soon become mandatory, like kindergarten? Although attendance is not currently obligatory, if past precedent tells us anything, it may very well soon be. As parents feel social pressure to enroll their children in these programs rather than keep them at home, families lose the opportunity to impart their cultural identities, values and morals on their children, which could have very real consequences. In addition, taxpayers, already shelling out more than $83 million a year on pre-K, will be on the hook for even more funding. Education reform should concentrate on remedying our nation’s failing K-12 public school system, rather than expanding it by adding pre-K programs. Universal pre-K merely burdens this already-stressed system. Spending billions of taxpayer dollars to provide students with one additional year of schooling before dumping them into failing schools does no good at all. Elizabeth Cook is a research associate at the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, an independent, nonprofit and nonpartisan research organization.