Thursday, February 14, 2013

Leveling Education Downward

President Obama called for universal access to preschool in his State of the Union address.  The New York Times explains, "supporters herald the plan as a way to help level the playing field for children who do not have the advantages of daily bedtime stories, music lessons, and counting games at home...."

Talking and reading to your preschool children is one of the great satisfactions of life. Universal preschool would take some of that away from the majority of American families, who do a good job of it, in order to level the playing field for the minority of American families who do not do a good job of it.  Average Americans would have less of a role in raising their children, in order to help the minority.

You might as well say that you want universal housing projects.  Let all Americans live in government housing projects to level the playing field for those who cannot buy their own homes.

Child-care advocates sometimes claim that preschools can improve children’s academic performance, but they are distorting the evidence. The overwhelming majority of studies show that parents have a much greater effect than preschool, and that preschool can bring small improvements in the academic achievement of poor, at-risk children, but has no effect at all on the achievement of middle-class children.

Constant repetition has convinced middle-class parents that their children brains will be hard-wired to make them more intelligent if they are in preschools during the first three years of their lives, but in reality, the studies overwhelmingly show that preschool has a small benefit for poor children and has no lasting benefit for middle-class children. In fact, preschools providing “enriched environments” for poor children usually just do the same things that most middle-class parents already do.

Studies have shown that children are more successful in school if adults talk to them long before they have learned to speak, read to them, sing to them, give them interesting toys to play with, and have repeated affectionate interactions with them. Most middle-class parents already do this, but many low-income parents do not talk or read to their infant children.

In my book What's Wrong With Daycare,  I offered an alternative:

We could improve child raising dramatically by funding a large public education campaign with advertisements that show pictures of parents talking to infants, reading to toddlers, and having affirmative, encouraging interactions with children, and that tell parents how much these parents are helping their children to become successful.

Public health improved dramatically because of the anti-smoking campaigns of the 1970s and 1980s, which spread the word that people should do more to protect their own health. Education could improve dramatically if we spread the word that people should do more to educate their own preschool children.

There may be a good argument for having head-start programs for some poor children, but we should not treat all parents as incompetent, promoting equality by making us all less able to do for ourselves, leveling all families downward.

See the New York Times article.