Government-Funded Preschool Is No Solution, Researchers Say

Published March 1, 2008

Proponents of government-funded preschool programs, such as the one being considered in Missouri (see story on this page), often portray research as presenting an airtight case for long-term, positive effects from preschool programs.

Not so fast, say education researchers.

Lisa Snell, who directs the education program at the Reason Foundation in Los Angeles, says the most reliable research shows the positive effects of universal pre-K programs mostly disappear when children leave them.

No Lasting Impact

In a report on the impact of preschool and kindergarten programs, Snell and Goldwater Institute President Darcy Olsen highlighted a February 2006 study by University of California-Santa Barbara researchers Russell W. Rumberger and Loan Tran, who found no lasting academic impact from state-run preschool programs.

“They found that while children enrolled in preschool had some moderate advantages in kindergarten performance, the benefit dissipated by third grade,” wrote Snell and Olsen.

Snell says the answer to academic and financial woes in the St. Louis public schools and other such districts lies in competition and market-oriented reforms.

“The idea of school choice, where funding follows the student, makes use of existing resources that schools can put toward needed programs instead of requiring huge sums of additional monies in hopes that a new program works,” Snell said.

Decentralized Administration

Snell pointed to reforms in New York City and San Francisco, where school administrations are being decentralized and local superintendents and principals are being given more autonomy in spending their budgets.

“It’s making a huge difference in those public schools because it allows principals, parents, and students to act more like a charter or private school–all while using existing funds,” Snell said. “It’s far better to have such bottom-up solutions rather than constant top-down mandates.”

Jim Waters