14 Pages Posted: 18 Nov 2013 Last revised: 18 Dec 2013
Date Written: November 18, 2013
President Obama has proposed "Preschool for All" with a pledge of $75 million to the states to implement "high quality" full-time preschool programs for low-income children as part of the regular K-12 system. The states would come up with additional funds to provide for the remaining higher income students. This proposal comes despite the fact that rigorous evaluations of the existing federal pre-K program, Head Start, show no lasting effects. Presumably, Head Start does not have sufficient quality, at least as compared to "high quality" programs implemented by several states and school districts such as New Jersey, Oklahoma, and Boston. This paper reviews existing research on Head Start and these selected "high quality" programs. It finds that the quality of Head Start programs is actually higher than the New Jersey program, and moreover there is little evidence that common measures of quality are strongly related to preschool outcomes. This makes sense when one considers that pre-K children are only 3 or 4 years old, and the necessary subject matters can be mastered by instructors without formal college degrees. It also finds that most of the evaluations of high-quality pre-K programs use a research design that is susceptible to serious bias due to program dropouts. The paper recommends that a small portion of Head Start funds be used to develop a thorough and rigorous demonstration and evaluation of "high quality" preschool programs before spending billions of dollars on another untested educational program.
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation
Armor, David J. and Sousa, Sonia, A Critique of the Obama Preschool Proposal (November 18, 2013). GMU School of Public Policy Research Paper No. 2013-18. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2350036 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2350036