Home / Blog / Article




November 25 2014

Universal Preschool is No Panacea

Vicki E. Alger

To hear mainstream media tell it, everyone’s a fan of universal (government-run) preschool. Of course, there are numerous reasons why parents are second-guessing all the hype, including the desire for more effective, individualized, and nurturing options for their young children.

So it was refreshing to see “The Case Against Universal Preschool” by The Atlantic’s Associate Editor Alia Wong:

But is universal pre-k truly the panacea that politicians and advocates, including Obama, make it out to be? Not quite, researchers say—although it does, as they point out, make for an effective political tool.

Here’s a sampling of the pre-k critics who span the political spectrum who spoke with Wong:

… Ron Haskins, a preschool expert who co-directs the Center on Children and Families at the left-leaning Brookings Institute, went as far as calling universal pre-k "a very bad idea." …

Some experts doubt the value of universal pre-k altogether, including Neal McCluskey, associate director of the Center on Educational Freedom at the libertarian Cato Institute. "The reality is there isn’t good research basis to say that pre-k is good," McCluskey said, pointing to faulty data and the limited scope of studies on the long-term benefits of early learning. "Preschool has been oversold. People too often speak as if it’s a certainty that preschool has strong, lasting benefits." …

Meanwhile, many of the country’s existing private preschools are little more than glorified daycare centers.  ...So why the push for universal pre-k?

Bruce Fuller, a researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, says the movement traces back to shifts in political priorities in the ‘90s, when groups ranging from teachers unions to private foundations called for greater emphasis on middle-class children. But analysts have yet to prove that expanding middle-class access to preschool has as much impact as it does for low-income children, Fuller said.

Fuller compared state-funded pre-k for middle-class kids to a "water[ed]-down penicillin shot" and emphasized that the onus of enhancing students’ educational experiences is also on K-12 schools. …

Ultimately, early education and childcare—along with K-12 education—is a highly individualized decision best left to parents—not to politicians or special interest groups with agendas.



Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
Follow us