I have been a licensed family child care provider for almost 10 years and have worked in centers, preschools and public school programs. I am opposed to the push for universal preschool.
Education — especially early childhood education — should not be viewed as one-size-fits-all. It is anything but universal.
We are robbing children of childhood with the push for them to be ready to declare their major by the time they get to kindergarten! The standards are not developmentally appropriate, so it is not surprising that children are not “ready.”
Children need time to enjoy childhood instead of being treated like mini-adults. The countries with the best education systems in the world (Finland, South Korea and Singapore) do not start formal schooling until age 6 at the earliest, age 7 in Finland.
The United States ranks an abysmal 17th in the world in education. We need to fix K-12 education before trying to implement unfounded changes to early childhood education.
Research does not show the benefits of formal preschool. In fact, there is mounting evidence that the overly academic nature of formal preschool programs is detrimental to children’s development. Researchers at Stanford University found that kindergartners with 15 or more hours of preschool every week were less motivated and more aggressive in class. Children in formal preschool for more than six hours per day had difficulty with cooperation, sharing, and engagement in classroom tasks. A 2007 National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) study found that the more time children spend in center-based care before kindergarten, the more likely they are to get in frequent fights and be disobedient at school.
Oklahoma has the highest percentage of children enrolled in their universal preschool program, which started in 1988, and the highest-quality rating scores. Their fourth-grade reading scores were above the national average in 1992 but have been below the national average every time the test was taken since then. Georgia’s universal preschool program ranks third in quality. It began in 1995, yet Georgia’s fourth-grade reading scores remain below the national average.
The two studies most frequently used to support universal preschool — the High/Scope study of the Perry Preschool and the study of the Abecedarian programs — show that any advantages disappeared within a few years after completing the programs. These studies were conducted more than 50 years ago. The experimental groups were very small and not diverse or representative of the United States, Minnesota, or even the communities in which they were located.
The core problem with these so-called fixes to education is that they do not and cannot address the importance of love for children throughout their childhood, including in education. They do not address the fact that family education is crucial to children’s development in every way. The NICHD study found that quality of parenting — not type, quality or quantity of child care — was a better predictor of child development. There are myriad existing resources that could help families ensure that their children are ready for school — and life.
Private programs will have difficulty competing with the allure of “free” preschool, since schools are entirely subsidized by taxpayers. Providers would be forced to raise their rates to make a sustainable income. It would likely create a shortage in child care options for children from birth to age 3. Where will the children enrolled in public preschools go on days schools are closed?
Universal preschool would unnecessarily subsidize people who can already afford to pay for it and place the burden on other taxpayers. Statistics show that as many as 70 percent of 4-year-olds are already enrolled in some sort of preschool program. Why pull children from their existing programs and harm private programs in the process?
How do universal preschool’s supporters intend to (make taxpayers) pay for universal preschool — through cuts on important services or tax increases on Minnesota’s struggling families? Schools would add levies to accommodate the influx of 4-year-olds.
David Elkind, a renowned early childhood expert, warns that children should not receive formal academic instruction too early because it can damage their self-esteem, reduce their love of learning and impede the development of their gifts. He warns: “If we do not wake up to the potential danger of these harmful practices, we may do serious damage to a large segment of the next generation.”
Hollee Saville is a licensed family child care provider in St. Michael.