For the last several years, President Obama has pushed universal government preschool and child care (see also here and here), but his administration’s plans repeat the mistakes of the past. As The American Enterprise Institute’s Katherine B. Stevens writes in The Wall Street Journal:

At the White House’s early-childhood-education summit on Dec. 10, President Obama highlighted two new federal competitive-grants programs: the Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships, aimed to increase the availability of high-quality infant and toddler care, and the Preschool Development Grants, which are meant to expand preschool programs in disadvantaged communities. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell and Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced the winners: 18 states along with more than 200 school districts, agencies, programs and nonprofits will receive about $750 million in federal funding.

Before accepting the money, though, winners would be wise to read the fine print. While these grants represent an admirable effort to ensure the well-being of America’s most vulnerable young children, they’re also a Trojan horse bearing counterproductive requirements such as mandating college degrees for all preschool teachers, and a mountain of federal regulations.

Stevens notes that these regulations include:

  • Federal monitoring of participating providers under the guise of ensuring high quality standards
  • Defining “quality” based on a host of factors that have little if anything to do with improved knowledge or skills.
  • And, requiring preschool teachers to have bachelor’s degrees.

Stevens concludes that:

Teacher quality—and pay—should be defined by effectiveness in the classroom, not credentials. College doesn’t provide the essential skills needed to teach young children. Those skills are best learned through specialized training combined with on-the-job practice under the supervision of an expert teacher. …

these new federal grants are paying states to institutionalize a misguided conception of quality, repeating the same mistakes that the education establishment has been making in K-12 for decades: focusing on teacher credentials rather than effectiveness, holding programs accountable for compliance rather than outcomes, and advocating centralized control rather than innovation.