By Tim Hunt
Taxpayer-funded universal preschool is no panaceaUploaded: Apr 3, 2014
Democrats ranging from President Obama to California Senate leader Darrell Steinberg to progressive New York Mayor Bill de Blasio have all been pushing ahead with plans for universal preschools.
It's a notion that, at first glance, appears to have some merit. Dig into it, the lasting results in student achievement are doubtful at best. Steinberg's proposal for California would combine transitional kindergarten and existing state programs to offer "high-quality" classes to all 4-year-olds.
Kids mature at different rates and depending upon their intelligence and the emotional wiring they may flourish in a preschool environment, learning their numbers and perhaps to read. For others, simply learning how to play with other kids may be the extent of it.
Why the government thinks it needs to extend its already overly long tentacles into yet another area is an open question. Universal preschools feeding into poor public schools will make no difference in student outcomes.
There was a telling letter posted on the Blaze web site operated by Glenn Beck. It was written by an East Coast public school teacher who had worked with kindergarten and 4-year-old students throughout her career. Her complaint was that "teaching to the test" because of the accountability measures had evolved to a requirement for a math block for 4-year-olds. Give me a break. I believe in accountability and some common standards, but the response of the education establishment too often has been to try to force kids to grow up sooner.
It's interesting that many of the failing public schools in large cities are dominated by teachers' unions and adults' interests, not those of children. De Blasio has declared war on the successful charter schools in New York Cityschools that former mayor Michael (Daddy knows Best) Bloomberg embraced because they worked for kids.
Jason Riley, writing in the Wall Street Journal, points out that President Obama's budget proposal cut its request for charter schools by about $50 million to $248 million. Riley observes that the president has been publicly effusive in his praise for charter schools, but his budget proposal does not match his enthusiasm on the stump. .
Riley goes on to report that demand is soaring for charter schools, which have offered poor parents an alternative to failing public schools (not an issue in this market). "In the 2013-14 school year, nearly 300,000 more students entered public charter schools, 600 more charters opened, and total charter enrollment increased 13 percent to account for more than 2.5 million children," reports Ashley Bateman of the Heartland Institute.
Turning back to California, the governor, who has been cautious about some new spending initiatives, decide to get on board with universal preschool program, and don't hold your breath to watch achievement climb. It will subsidize parents who would send their kids to preschool anyway and probably not do much for poorer families unless they happen to manage to live in the boundaries of a well performing public school district.
What's more, publicly funded universal preschool likely will lead to a major organizing effort by outfits such as the California Teachers Association whose leaders will see lots of dues money to add to their political coffers.
Remember, the CTA is the No. 1 political contributor in California. In one three-year period, it spent $211 million on contributions, more than twice as much as the No. 2, Service Employees International. The two unions spent vastly more than corporate interests such as Chevron or AT&T.
The web site "followthemoney" lists almost $151 million in contributions from 2003-2012, with almost $15.7 million going to Democratic candidates and 92,000 (0.1 percent) to Republicans.
Is it a good idea to add more members (the CTA already has about 325,000) to what is already the most powerful union in the state. And if you think the CTA is focused on educated kids, I have a bridge available to sell you.