Is French Preschool Right for America? New Report Raises Questions about Government Plans for Preschool

Posted on February 08, 2005 | Type: Press Release
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PHOENIX-In a report released today on early education programs, Goldwater Institute president Darcy Olsen shows that U.S. elementary students outperform their international peers in reading, math, and science. The findings call into question the advisability of Arizona Governor Napolitano's plans to increase government involvement in early education, including kindergarten.

The report, Assessing Proposals for Preschool and Kindergarten: Essential Information for Parents, Taxpayers and Policymakers, examines the results of model early education programs including Perry Preschool, Abecedarian, and Head Start, and Arizona programs including Reading First and kindergarten in the Chino and Alhambra districts, and finds the widespread adoption of preschool and full-day kindergarten is unlikely to improve student achievement.

History is telling. Since 1965, enrollment of four-year-olds in early education programs has increased from 16 to 66 percent, yet test scores are virtually unchanged. However, U.S. students routinely outperform their international peers in the early years, indicating that American students are well served by a flexible approach to early education where parents choose the setting, including home care, that is best for their children.

While U.S. children are "A" students in fourth grade, they are "D" students by 12th grade.  "The good news is America's early education system is among the best in the world. The bad news is the secondary system is among the worst. There are solutions, but trading sippy cups for school desks is not one of them," Olsen said.

Nonetheless, advocates for government preschool perpetuate the myth that poor school performance is the result of inadequate early preparation. According to American Federation of Teachers president emeritus Sandra Feldman, the United States "can't afford not to" adopt a preprimary program sculpted after the French system that enrolls nearly all 3- and 4-year-olds in government schools. Yet, U.S. fourth-graders routinely outperform their European peers in reading, math and science, and are more literate than the French.

Conservative estimates show Arizona spends over $400 million on early education programs, but little information is collected on program impact. Olsen recommends measures for transparency, program assessment, and improved flexibility through individual student funding.

"This report provides an invaluable review of existing early childhood research," Heritage Foundation senior education policy analyst Krista Kafer said. "It separates rhetoric from fact at a time when policymakers need to know the truth." Among other findings, the report examines Georgia's recent experience with universal preschool. After ten years, the program has served over 300,000 children at a cost of $1.15 billion and children's test scores are unchanged.

"Fundamentally, the early education discussion is not about the effectiveness or cost of the programs. At heart is the question of in whose hands the responsibility for young children rests," Olsen said. "Further entrenching the state into the lives of young children cannot be squared with a free society that cherishes the primacy of the family over the state."

The report is available online at http://goldwaterinstitute.org/AboutUs/ArticleView.aspx?id=542.

Contacts:  Andrea Woodmansee, Director of Communications, Goldwater Institute, (602) 712-1257, awood@goldwaterinstitute.org

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