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Education Reporter

Report Questions Preschool and Kindergarten Benefits
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While efforts at the national and state level encourage an expansion of universal early education programs, the benefits of increasing government-regulated programs are questionable.

A 2005 Goldwater Institute report brings valuable information to the public discussion. The report — Assessing Proposals for Preschool and Kindergarten: Essential Information for Parents, Taxpayers, and Policymakers by Darcy Olsen — includes investigations of the research and findings conducted on preschool and kindergarten programs. Based on the evidence reviewed, there is sufficient reason to challenge the notion that widespread preschool and kindergarten will improve student achievement or benefit all children.

In exploring claims promoting the advantages of early education, Olsen's examination of the research cited by proponents found it was often "limited in its applicability to mainstream students and plagued by methodological shortcomings, including small sample size, high attrition rates, infrequent random selection, and infrequent use of comparison groups. Some of the research has been wholly discredited."

Poor quality research design was also found in studies used to promote full day versus half-day kindergarten programs.

Little or no benefit 
Where studies offered evidence that disadvantaged children may initially be helped by preschool and kindergarten programs, the benefits were shown to either disappear when a child leaves a program or fade as a child progresses through school.

For "mainstream children," scant evidence exists "to support the contention that formal preschool and kindergarten are necessary for school achievement or more advantageous than learning in a traditional setting, and there is some evidence that day care and preschool can be detrimental."

Trends are not encouraging 
Even though enrollment in early education programs has grown, there is little proof to verify academic improvement.

As explained in the report: "The preschool enrollment rate of four-year-olds has climbed from 16% to 66% since 1965. Despite the change from home education to formal early education, student achievement has stagnated since 1970."

Regarding the length of day for kindergarten programs, "The National Center for Education Statistics' longitudinal study of 22,000 children finds no lasting reading, math, or science achievement differences between children who attend half day and full-day kindergarten."

A state experience — Georgia's ten-year results with universal preschool — is not encouraging. At a cost of $1.5 billion to serve over 300,000 children, student test scores have remained the same.

[See FOCUS for excerpts from the Goldwater Institute's report]

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