Monday, June 11, 2007

Is "universal preschool" a bad idea?

California has a program, First Five, funded by tobacco taxes, that includes a "preschool for all" initiative to promote universal nursery school to California children.

First 5 Power of Preschool (PoP) is a high-quality, free, voluntary, part-day preschool program for all four year-olds (or three- and four-year olds). The program will assist children in becoming personally, socially, and physically competent, effective learners, and ready to transition into kindergarten. The long-term goal is to implement California 's Master Plan for Education Preschool Recommendations (2002). The foundation for PoP was established by the First 5 School Readiness Initiative, by California 's Master Plan for Education (2002), and by the Universal Preschool Task Force Report (1998).

One of the main arguments used in advertisements to promote this initiative is data from studies in the 1960s and 1970s purporting to show that for every dollar spent on preschool education, society saves four to seven dollars on reduced needs for social services later as the children grow up to be less likely to be arrested or go on welfare support. However, some new studies are indicating something quite different.

EVIDENCE is mounting that young children who spend significant periods of time in daycare while their parents work are more prone to developing aggressive and antisocial behaviour.

A new study from the United States suggests that children who went to nursery during their pre-school years rather than staying at home were more likely to be disruptive once formal education began.

The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) has followed the progress and development of 1,300 children since 1991. It concluded that the longer above 10 hours a week a child spent in group care, the more likely teachers were to report difficult behaviour once they started school.

The findings are strikingly similar to the results of a recently published government-funded research project carried out by Oxford University and the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

It concluded that children under the age of three who spend more than 35 hours a week at nursery show higher levels of antisocial behaviour than those spending less time in daycare.

One possible reason for the shift is that more women are working full-time outside the home today as compared to the 1960s and 1970s. The earlier programs were an adjunct to mother's daytime care in the home, whereas today preschool tends to be a substitute for it.

Of course, none of this will cause Hillary Clinton to revise her proposed new $10 billion Federal universal preschool program. But it should.

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