Obama talks universal preschool again, experts sigh

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Robby Soave Reporter
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President Barack Obama is doubling down on his proposal to give all kids a publicly-funded preschool education, but experts are skeptical the policy will work.

The president discussed his education policy plans during a major speech at Knox College in Illinois on Wednesday, turning once against to the idea of providing all pre-kindergarten students with a federally-funded preschool education.

“If you think education is expensive, wait until you see how much ignorance costs in the 21st century,” he said. “That’s why I’ll keep pushing to make high-quality preschool available to every four year-old in America — not just because we know it works for our kids, but because it provides a vital support system for working parents.”

But many policy experts who have studied the impact of early childhood education on kids maintain that there is no evidence to show such schooling is worthwhile.

“There are reasons to doubt that we yet know how to design and deliver a government funded pre-K program that produces sufficiently large benefits to justify prioritizing pre-K over other investments in education,” wrote Grover Whitehurst, Director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institute.

Most large-scale studies of universal preschool find scant evidence of lasting academic gains for kids enrolled in pre-K. By the fifth grade, students who benefited from preschool were shown to be no smarter or more social than other students.

“Universal, government preschool, financed by the federal government, is mired in bad policy,” wrote Lindsey Burke, an education fellow at the Heritage Foundation. “The type of preschool-for-all President Obama envisions is far more likely to mimic the failing Head Start program, which has cost taxpayers more than $150 billion since it began in 1965, and has left low-income children no better off in the process.”

Despite the consensus, universal preschool remains a pet project of the president, who invoked the idea in his most recent State of the Union address, and set aside funding for it in his 2014 budget.

Shikha Dalmia, a senior analyst at the Reason Foundation, accused Obama and other supporters of universal preschool of ignoring the evidence in a previous interview with The Daily Caller News Foundation.

“If you look at the results, not only is there no evidence for some of the big, lofty social goals … there’s even very little evidence for the more modest educational goals,” she said.

Universal pre-K remains popular among left-leaning thinkers, however.

“Obama’s plan boils down to infrastructure and pre-K,” wrote Kevin Drum, a political blogger for Mother Jones. “I approve, but it’s not going to set hearts aflutter.”

Drum encouraged Obama to be bolder in the future.

“Guarantee universal pre-K/childcare starting at three months!” he suggested.

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