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Cato Study Finds No Evidence that Preschool Programs Work

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WASHINGTON, DC - At the same time that lawmakers in many states are considering mandatory public school pre-kindergarten classes for three- and four-year olds, a new Cato Institute Policy Analysis entitled Universal Preschool Is No Golden Ticket: Why Government Should Not Enter the Preschool Business finds "no empirical evidence" that such programs work. Though currently voluntary, pioneer universal preschool programs in New York and Georgia could become mandatory, and at least three other states are considering similar initiatives. A total of 37 states fund pre-kindergarten programs.

Cato policy analyst Darcy Olsen reviewed 35 years of studies indicating that preschool programs provide no lasting benefits to disadvantaged children. Both the General Accounting Office (GAO) and the Dept. of Health & Human Services have found that the Head Start program - the closest current counterpart to proposed universal public preschool - "had no lasting impact on the cognitive or socioemotional test scores of enrollees."

Olsen's research shows that any initial gains that lower income children make in Head Start disappear entirely within a few years after they exit the programs.

The CATO report confirms the analysis of Head Start included in Eagle Forum's book Who Will Rock the Cradle?, published in 1989 ($10 per copy).

Olsen also found little evidence that middle-class children gain anything at all from preschool, and that early schooling can actually be harmful. According to David Elkind, professor of child study at Tufts University and author of numerous books including The Hurried Child and Miseducation: Preschoolers at Risk, there is no evidence that early intervention studies targeting disadvantaged children can be "uncritically appropriated for middle-class children." Even Edward Zigler, director of the Bush Center in Child Development and Social Policy at Yale University, and a cofounder of Head Start, who supports universal preschool as a means of providing daycare, has spoken against mandatory participation. Zigler admits that "our four-year-olds do have a place in school, but it is not at a school desk."

The CATO report states that "philosophical principles aside," the failure of preschool and early intervention programs to benefit children should prevent legislators from funding and adopting universal preschool programs.

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