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OPINION: Statewide Preschool = Over-Priced Daycare?

March 29, 2013, 12:48 PM HST
* Updated March 29, 12:50 PM
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Gov. Neil Abercrombie probably has innocent, paternalistic intentions fueling his push for statewide early childhood education (read: preschool).

Let’s suppose the legislature continues to play along. Tens of millions of dollars would be coughed up in the next few years, finding their way into a smattering of privately run preschools.

Supporters, made up of pro-public school left-wingers and the child-care-industrial-complex (yes, we made that up), will proclaim statewide preschool as the greatest thing since, well…high school. Let literacy reign!

Early childhood education is Gov. Abercrombie's top priority this year. Image courtesy Kamehameha Schools.

Early childhood education is Gov. Abercrombie’s top priority this year. Image courtesy Kamehameha Schools.

Conservatives will of course squeal over the expanded role of government, seeing state-funded preschool as a further attempt to brainwash generations of youth into sandbox-to-grave liberalism.

So would hordes of 4-year-olds on the government dole be a boon to society?

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Possibly.

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Psychologists and economists alike have been studying this stuff for years, and after filtering out the interest group-sponsored drivel, two conclusions can be drawn:

1) Well-executed, early childhood care is one of the best investments a society can make in its future.

2) When done poorly, it’s pretty much an epic waste of money.

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First then, the good news. It appears that when the teachers involved are properly trained (and held accountable), using well-researched methods to enhance the learning of the rug rats under their care, the outcomes can be amazing.

We’re talking $10 of economic benefits for every $1 invested. Up to a 50% improvement for the most disadvantaged kids involved. Higher  graduation rates, less crime, more doctors … you get the idea.

Funding and accountability determine whether preschool programs are successful. Image courtesy Sachem Central.

Funding and accountability determine whether preschool programs are successful. Image courtesy Sachem Central.

The bad news is that the “best case scenario” may be quite rare.  A study published in 2009 by the Association for Psychological Science describes US preschools providing, on average, a 5% improvement (defined as a narrowing of the “achievement gap”) in outcomes.

Unless the state is prepared to hold preschool teachers to a very high standard, and to cough up the necessary dough to fund a truly excellent system, then the lofty promises being made by early education advocates may turn out to be quite empty.

That’s not to say there won’t be a crushing need for quality childcare (think “babysitters”) in the future.

But for that, you don’t need Socrates. A sandbox will suffice.

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