This summer Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi announced the “Economic Agenda for Women and Families.” Pelosi claims that America has an early child care and education “crisis” that is threatening our economy, lamenting that the U.S. ranks 28th out of 38 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries for our the share of four-year-olds enrolled in preschool.

Her solution is adopting President Obama’s Preschool and Early Head Start/Child Care Initiative, unveiled during his 2013 State of the Union address, and universalizing government-run child care for all three and four-year-olds just like many European and other countries.

Too bad Pelosi missed a recent post by the OECD’s Dirk Van Damme, who heads up the Directorate for Education and Skills:

Children are starting school at an ever younger age, OECD’s recent Education at a Glance 2013 shows that in 2011 on average over 84 percent of all four year-old children were enrolled in some form of formal education, which is 5 percent more than in 2005. In 25 OECD countries at least half of three year-old children participated in early childhood education, and in countries such as Belgium, France, Iceland, Norway and Spain 95 percent or more found their way to their first educational institution. …

OECD societies have transformed into heavily scholarised societies, where school becomes important earlier in the life course, where children spend the major part of their time at school. … But…the amount of time appropriated by schools bears no strong relationship to the quality of skills with which young people have to confront the real world.

Van Damme is referring to recent results from the ongoing OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) assessment, which measures 15-year-olds’ reading, math, and science literacy. Here are the global all-stars based on top performance in all three subjects that also reported their corresponding percentages of 3- and 4-year-olds enrolled in preschool ( Table C2.1):

  • Australia, 30 percent
  • Finland, 32 percent
  • Japan, 93 percent
  • New Zealand, 95 percent

The U.S. was slightly above the OECD PISA all-star average with a reported 78 percent preschool enrollment rate. Meanwhile preschool Nirvanas Mexico and Spain, each with a reported 100 percent preschool enrollment rate, were barely blips on the PISA performance radar.

As always, quality time matters more than quantity time when it comes to meaningful student learning.