Last year, Arizona governor Janet Napolitano released a School Readiness Action Plan that included the widely discussed proposal for state-funded kindergarten and a lesser-discussed plan for state-supported preschool. Speaking before the National Task Force on Public Education, the Governor said her aim was ensconcing early care and education as a lockstep component of public schooling. She considers the plan a starting point for the states role in the development of Arizona's youngest children.
The current administration argues that early schooling improves academic achievement. The state superintendent of public instruction, Tom Horne, writes, Studies show that a dollar spent on academically oriented all-day kindergarten can equal more than $7 or $8 spent in later grades in producing the same academic progress. The Governor says full-day kindergarten contributes to lower dropout rates.
To help determine the efficacy of early education programs, we examine the results of programs considered to be early education models, including Perry Preschool, Abecedarian, and Head Start, and Arizona-based programs including Reading First and kindergarten in the Alhambra and Chino districts. We also review information from the National Center for Education Statistics, which reports no lasting reading, math, or science achievement differences between children who attend half-day and full-day kindergarten. We find the widespread adoption of preschool and full-day kindergarten is unlikely to improve student achievement.
Americas flexible approach to early education gives children a strong foundation. Skills assessment at kindergarten entry and reports by kindergarten teachers show a large and increasing majority of preschoolers are prepared for kindergarten. The effectiveness of the current system is also evident in early test scores. At age 10, U.S. children have higher reading, math, and science scores than their European peers who attend the government preschools cited by advocates as models for the United States. To the degree that the state remains involved in financing early education, we recommend measures for transparency, program assessment, and improved flexibility through individual student funding.