What do I think of Obama’s universal pre-school proposal?

Of course there are no significant details yet, but here are a few points.

1. The evidence that this can be done effectively in a scalable manner is basically zero.  Aren’t massive policies (possibly universal?) supposed to be based on evidence?  (How about running a large-scale RCT first, a’la the Rand health insurance experiment?  And by the way, here is a quick look at the evidence we have on pre-school, and here, not nearly skeptical enough in my view.  And think in terms of lasting results, not getting kids to read nine months earlier, etc.  You can find evidence for persistent math gains in Tulsa, OK, but no CBA.)

2. That doesn’t mean we should do nothing.

3. Let’s say we have “the political will” to do something effective (debatable, of course).  Is adding on another layer of education, and building that up more or less from scratch in many cases, better than fixing the often quite broken systems we have now?  I know well all the claims about “needing to get kids early,” but is current kindergarten so late in life?  Why not have much better kindergartens and first and second grade experiences in the ailing school districts?  Or is the claim that by kindergarten “it is too late,” yet a well-executed government early education could fix the relevant problems if applied at ages three to four?  Would such a claim mean that we are currently writing off many millions of American children, as it stands now?

4. This is what federalism is for.  Let’s have an experiment emanating from the state and/or local level.

5. What should we infer from the fact that no such truly broad-based state-level experiment has happened yet?  (Georgia and Oklahoma have come closest.)  That the states are lacking in vision, relative to the Presidency?  Or that a workable version of the idea is hard to come up with, execute, and sell to voters?

6. In Finland government education doesn’t really touch the kids until they are six years old.  Don’t they have a very good system?  Some call it the world’s best.  Maybe the early years are very important, but perhaps pre-schooling is not the key missing piece of the puzzle.  (NB: See the comments for dissenting views on Finland.)

Addendum: Here are good comments from Reihan.  See also this Brookings study: “This thin empirical gruel will not satisfy policymakers who want to practice evidence-based education.”


... so you're working on MRU pre-school edition?

With five minute videos to ensure that the little tykes' attention spans aren't too taxed.

Two problems with opposition to any proposal:

1. Opposition to universal pre-school is perceived in much the same manner as opposition to the Violence Against Women Act (or how it was perceived to be opposed to the PATRIOT ACT). No matter what you're actual arguments are, lots of people are just going to assume that you're against educating the children.

2. Universal pre-school is basically universal childcare. And enough people support government subsidized childcare that the educational argument becomes almost secondary.

Alex's post on the roads got me thinking. We should vote on the name of a proposal before the proposal is finalized.

Grade school really isn't much more than universal babysitting, either.

I actually learned to read in first grade, nothing in all my years of preschool equals that.

I learned to read at home, before I got to kindergarten. Never went to preschool. My parents taught me to read and write and do basic math before I set foot in a classroom.

Yes, some of us start out will some advantages in our home life. Back out in the 99.9% of other people, a non-trivial number of children arrive at kindergarten having never seen a book before, because their family situations are...different, from how ours was.

It's *those* kids whose experience is relevant to policy, not ours.

I learned to read in kindergarten. I learned to write at Exeter. I learned to think in law school. Most of the other pieces of my education were no more productive than if I had been turned loose in a library.

After reading Hazel's comment I think we can all agree to ban public schooling before age 10. Or maybe altogether?

Sorry, meant to reply to the post right above this one

Indeed, I can't recall learning much of anything between kindergarten and grade 6. The only thing I remember from those years is feeling an obligation to have bad penmanship, because all scientists have illegible handwriting, and running for Pope in religion class. I learned a thing or two about politics from that admittedly. Also, if your too poor to invite everyone to your birthday party, it's better not to have one at all.


Don't you mean "...you're too poor..."? Score one for public school.

(Kidding, of course. I'm with you. I learned far more before school/in my year of homeschooling than I ever did in my public elementary school.)

I think Hazel's point is a huge one in favour of early childhood interventions. Some parents will spend a lot of time teaching their kids, and some won't (or some kids will be better able to absorb lessons than others, in which case parents should be helped, right?). But I'd imagine most people will agree that all children deserve the opportunity (that's assuming it works, of course). And not just for their benefit - maybe, Hazel, you didn't learn anything from kindergarten to grade 6 because classes were pitched at the people who hadn't already learned the three Rs before they got to school.

Point #2 is key - but not just for the politics. We also need to consider the policy benefits of lowering childcare requirements for low income mothers (who overwhelmingly do or seek to work).

"We also need to consider the policy benefits of lowering childcare requirements for low income mothers "

The Earned Income Tax credit and child care deductions already specifically target this area.

President top-down strikes again. If we run RCT, we might find out that it isn't worth it.

I find the blinkered obsession with RCT's a bit puzzling. I blame Duflo et al. for that bit. A large scale RCT sounds even worse.

What is the justification for a large scale expenditure like this? Let's give it a whirl, it sounds compassionate? Or do we ask whether this has worked on a smaller scale before we start it?

I'll bite. Do you really believe an RCT can be carried out on any scale, without parents/teachers at least trying to make sure *they* aren't the ones affected or are affected or both?

If you do, okay. If you don't (which seems more likely to me), then you need to think about why someone may choose to opt-out or opt-in. Bottomline: The basic argument for an RCT - its internal validity - will go for a toss. (forget about external validity).

Is an RCT worse because 1) you're skeptical it could be pulled off with internal validity but the results from the RCT will be seen as authoritative and/or 2) you think it's unethical? If it's the latter, please tell me why the forced experiment with no control group (aka, a new nation-wide pre-K program) is any more ethical than an RCT.

#1 and not #2.

Perhaps also because:

#3 I think pulling off a large RCT is politically even less pragmatic.

#4 People invoke the argument ("Let's defer policy till we have a large RCT") very selectively to propositions they don't like.

RCT's are a luxury. Even without the internal / external validity issues, we cannot mandate RCT's for every damn policy decision;.

'In Finland government education doesn’t really touch the kids until they are six years old.'

Well, this must be another example of where the written words will turn out to have another meaning, because the Finns also do this -

'Finnish children do not begin primary school until they are seven years old. But from the age of eight months, all children have access to free, full-day daycare and kindergarten. Finland has had universal access to daycare in place since 1990, and of all preschool since 1996.' - http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/early-educations-top-model-finland/article4212334/

Obama's proposal does not even begin to approach Finnish levels. Though I would be fascinated to hear which American state would be willing to put in place a Finnish model to ensure high educational achievement.

Obviously, you are not reading closely. Full-day daycare and kindergarten are not pre-school. And Tyler said gov education doesn't actually touch those younger kids. Hugs are apparently reserved for primary school in Finland.

Well, you could read the Canadian link, so let me quote a bit more from it -

'"We see it as the right of the child to have daycare and preschool," explained Eeva Penttila, head of international relations for Helsinki's education department. "It's not a place where you dump your child when you're working. It's a place for your child to play and learn and make friends. Good parents put their children in daycare. It's not related to socio-economic class."

In other words, though 2 year olds are not forced into daycare/preschool, the reality is that the Finnish government mandates its availability. In other words, those children first encounter government policy in terms of daycare/preschool at 8 months, if their parents choose.

But let me quote wikipedia to help with understanding the Finnish system -

'The present Finnish education system consists of well-funded and carefully thought out daycare programs (for babies and toddlers) and a one-year "pre-school" (or kindergarten for six-year olds); a nine-year compulsory basic comprehensive school (starting at age seven and ending at the age of fifteen); post-compulsory secondary general academic and vocational education; higher education (University and Polytechnical); and adult (lifelong, continuing) education. The Nordic strategy for achieving equality and excellence in education has been based on constructing a publicly funded comprehensive school system without selecting, tracking, or streaming students during their common basic education.' http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education_in_Finland

And to continue from that article - 'In Finland high quality daycare and nursery-kindergarten are considered critical for developing the cooperation and communication skills necessary to prepare young children for lifelong education as well as formal learning of reading and mathematics, which in Finland begins at age seven, so as not to disrupt their childhood.'

I'm curious - do you think this high quality daycare has no Finnish government involvement at all? Because if so, this passage may suggest you (and Prof. Cowen) are mistaken, unless 'central government grants' has another meaning -

'The ratio of adults to children in local municipal childcare centers (either private but subsidized by local municipalities or paid for by municipalities with the help of grants from the central government) is, for children three years old and under: three adults (one teacher and two nurses) for every 12 pupils (or one-to-four); and, for children age three to six: three adults (one teacher and two nurses) for every 20 children (or circa one-to-seven). Payment, where applicable, is scaled to family income and ranges from free to about 200 euros a month maximum.[8] According to Pepa Ódena in these centers, "You are not taught, you learn. The children learn through playing. This philosophy is put into practice in all the schools we visited, in what the teachers say, and in all that one sees."'

That Wikipedia article reads like it was lifted from a Finnish government ministry website.

Or a German one - the Germans are really, really big in trying to understand just why their PISA scores are so middle of the road compared to the Finns.

Surprisingly (or not), the German Greens have been advocating for much of what the Finns routinely offer, and having been doing so for decades. And surprisingly (or not), the Greens keep racking up electoral gains and outright victories, in part because the Greens consider education a fundamental part of a successful society.

Since the wikipedia article actually quotes the very people in charge of policy in Finland, it isn't surprising it sounds like what the Finns think they are doing. And if testing is to be believed, the results of those policies place Finland at the very peak of educational success.

Almost as if having a broad based plan and implementing it through government policy and funding is a way to have a successful outcome.

Maybe I was laying the sarcasm on a bit too thick. I think you make good points and the background is helpful.

"Good parents put their children in daycare. "

And bad parents raise the child themselves? An eyebrow-raising statement.

It's one thing to accept that some parents have no realistic choice but to put young children in daycare. It's another to say that putting a toddler in daycare is *affirmatively good.*

Well, the Finns do this too - 'The municipality will also pay mothers to stay home and provide "home daycare" for the first three years, if she desires, with occasional visits from a careworker to see that the environment is appropriate.'

It isn't either/or, after all. But the Finns do seem to believe (like Germans), that by a certain age, with 3 considered a good milestone, being in the company of other children, learning how to get along in the broader world they will continue to grow up in, is just normal.

So you may not be aware of this, but there is actually some evidence that a good daycare is actually better than being with a stay-at-home parent. There are plenty of upper class single earner families in the US who are now putting their kids into preschool for this reason.

Children need more than a mom and a dad. They need brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, neighbours... In traditional societies, kids see a dozen relatives every day, who interact and stimulate them. In our societies where families are often quite isolated on a day-to-day basis, preschool helps to make up for that.

(Why do I get "You are posting too quickly. Slow down" ? I haven't posted here in weeks...)

Feels like this set of facts is persuasive enough to merit an above-the-fold note from Tyler. Right now those who skip comments will be directly misinformed on this point.

Those are municipal childcare and subsidies for private home care that seem geared toward play. The Perry study and others show results primarily due to socialization of children and ONLY for low-income families, and may not even persist. Calling that education is misleading. Tyler makes the point that formal education starts later in Finland. If your goal is that you think you need to start formalized instruction earlier, then Tyler's point is spot on.

As an aside, it strikes me as funny how progressives are so into these cultural homogenization projects. Finland?!? If it wasn't mostly about funneling in-kind resources to the lower class it might even be a little racist to argue for it on the grounds that these kids need to be assimilated earlier in life.

Yep, the misleading post needs to revised.

1.) I think Oklahoma instituted something similar to universal pre school 8-10 years ago. (Sorry for looseness with the details but its googleable.)

2.) FYI, expect an experiment testing this issue measuring short and long term outcomes (approx 30 years) to be published by a group working with John List in the coming years/decades. Treatment group gets assigned to a new pre school employing the latest and greatest teaching techiques.

Not the perry preschool project again! The left adores this study- a one off, never repeated, never scaled up study. The exception that proves the rule that gov't preschool programs dont't work. Furthermore, look into the details of the study- it will never be repeated. The social workers were way to intrusive & directive - that would never be tolerated in today's multicultural world. Total bunk as a program- the left always cites it but never would allow it to be actually carried out.

I'd think "K" is an existing demonstration for any "Pre-K's" aimed at the slightly younger child. Yes, if you go for much younger children then it is very different. (I agree with the principle that this should be data driven and about ROI of real plans.)

Why even comment on this? Is this the 'freedom' academics have? Slaves to political whimsy?

Well, it was a weak opening. Perhaps he (or any pre-K skeptic) should have suggested an abandonment of kindergarten. I mean, are you arguing current perfection, or is older better?

Or look at the data. There really is no economic case for pre-K. The studies, such as they are, compare "throw $10,000 at the problem versus not" and they see some improvement. Maybe 40 years ago they hadn't figured out how to get absolute zero return on their investment. Our politicians have gotten better at that.

Back in reality, Kindergarten actually makes sense. That is when kids are ready to read and write. No talk of alternatives such as spending the $40,000 that would be spent on pre-k on ensuring pre-natal and pre-coneption nutrition, etc.

TC has to appear to address things seriously. What it really is is a politician jerking off and hoping to score some scratch for the underclass.

Or Obama is a secret Finnish conspirator hoping to bring a Nordic way of life to America. Like this -

'In Finland high quality daycare and nursery-kindergarten are considered critical for developing the cooperation and communication skills necessary to prepare young children for lifelong education as well as formal learning of reading and mathematics, which in Finland begins at age seven, so as not to disrupt their childhood.'

And here is a quote from an actual Finn of what they base their world leading education system on -

'Finnish early childhood education emphasizes respect for each child’s individuality and the chance for each child to develop as a unique person. Finnish early educators also guide children in the development of social and interactive skills, encouraging them to pay attention to other people’s needs and interests, to care about others, and to have a positive attitude toward other people, other cultures, and different environments. The purpose of gradually providing opportunities for increased independence is to enable all children to take care of themselves as “becoming adults,” to be capable of making responsible decisions, to participate productively in society as an active citizen, and to take care of other people who will need his [or her] help.”'


What did I say about Finland? My null hypothesis would be that they massively underachieve adjusting for human capital.

True - it was Prof. Cowen that talked about the Finns.

But the point remains - from the creators of the world's best educational system (well, at least in comparison to all the others), there is another perspective concerning why a society just might want to pay attention to daycare/preschool in terms of long term benefits, divorced from the idea that politicians do nothing but pander.

I see in preschool milestones many interesting things beyond reading and writing. Looking at that chart I wouldn't pick age 5 as the sweet spot, necessarily. I'd want a lot of studies, and study plans, before I concluded that 5 was just it, and there was no better answer. (Hey, maybe fiscal conservatives are missing a bet here. Maybe 6 really is better. But defending 5 as a reflex seems less convincing.)

Are you new here?

I am a longtime reader infrequent commentator ;-), who finds it interesting that the argument turns toward political reflex rather than the crux. If you believe "5 is the perfect age to begin public education, regardless of changes to knowledge, technology, or pedagogy" then THAT would be big claim for you to make. On the other hand, imperfect attempts at better education are only imperfect attempts. See also online education and they naysayers who claimed it would never work, long before the first MOOC was even tried.

Well there is a rational reason for the status quo bias, right? We can assume that previous generations were, at the least, not total morons, and that they weren't actively trying to screw up the kids. So assume they more or less got it right, absent some affirmative evidence that they did screw up, or that the world has changed around them and what used to be right is now wrong.

Oh sure Urso, I doubt "age 5" is far wrong. I'm just skeptical that "4" is totally out of line. And as I say, if anyone has good data to support "6," they might win some converts.

Reminds me of that line from "There's Something About Mary": "No! No seven-minute abs!"

I think it was, "No, no six minute abs!" Seven was the proposed number to undercut the existing eight-minute abs. Ben Stiller's character noted that seven would work great until someone else came out with six minute abs, which Harlon Williams's character disputed.

Yes, I think the Feds screw up almost any age they get their hands on.

You're right, it was six minute abs.

I would say 8 for bays 7 for girls.

Right. Because those who don't want to spend $40K on pre-k are hot to spend it "on ensuring pre-natal and pre-coneption nutrition, etc."

Calm down there, champ. Pretty sure there's no drone over GMU forcing Tyler to write about this.

PS The reason people like me vote for people like Obama is because they're terrified of people like you choosing the leaders. Just thought you'd like to know the word "Andrew'" flashed in my head as I looked at the card. Tone it down, be reasonable, and expect a lot more people to come to your side.

I'm not writing to you.

But just for kicks, you are terrified because I'd put in someone who'd scrutinize The Fed and humble our foreign policy. You moderates are a trip. Useless, but a trip.

No one is terrified of you personally Andrew'. The narcissism is strong in you today.

Ok, I'll bite ... who _are_ you writing for?

Your reflexive, remarkably predictable responses, benefit ... who? I suspect you would not argue strongly with your predictability (you are frankly delusional if you would), but if the world is constantly throwing predicatable left-ish crap at you then I totally get it that the the valid responses are likely to be consistent as well.
But at what point do you say: "everyone who reads mr - whether with me or against - has tuned me out since in either case the information content of my next message _to them_ is zero." Or "maybe I should use all this time writing my own constructive blog rather than writing a torrent of predictable [whether correct or not!] responses to TC and hist commentor's posts".

E.g. Is there any regular reader of this thread - whether you agree with him all the time or never - who could not write a wonderfully accurate " Andrew' " reply to any post or comment mentioning healthcare? :-)
Could we not have a "assume Andrew' responded as usual" button that hides the actual bytes and screen space?

I could not write Andrew' comments. (I have brevity and cleverness deficits.) And I almost always read his quips...even though they frequently pain me. Plus by your logic we could just make a 'assume Tyler has blogged' button and be done with this big time suck..now that would be lame.

I wonder why some right-wing institution hasn't made the effort to repeat this study this and disprove the results, if they are so sure it's bunk. Clearly it would be effective in quashing support for pre-school. It seems it would be well worth the right wing dollars, as even some very conservative circles seem to be buying in to the false benefits of pre-school and even using tax payer money on it! (See the Oklahoma example above.)

They hate Sesame Street too, which puts them between a rock and a hard place. (Public media, or some kind of Diamond Age style Primer, could be a lower cost delivery without daycare, if they are seeking to avoid daycare.)

4 and 5 are noted but pointing out that a state can't be expected to capture all the benefits of better education (if you do it right, half the top achievers- much more for small states- should be working in other states when they are adults) in the same sense the nation as a whole will is a pretty sound rebuttal in my view. I suppose you have Tiebout if you look at the local level instead, how does universal preschool work there? Don't forget to control for parental income and education.

1 is of course a good point but it is (also of course) impossible to do a large scale experiment without spending a lot of money to hire the teachers if nothing else. And I believe Gates and co are busy worrying about people who actually earn less money than the global average. So I really don't know what the best path is here; I am certainly suspicious of the most favorable experiment available being used to assume the expected benefit. And of course if we are expected to believe the most optimistic figures than we are back to why aren't the states doing it, even if they would get only 20% of these massive benefits.

I really don't think the universal pre-school proposal is about anything other than a sop to the teacher's unions. In case anyone hadn't noticed, Obama is very much in bed with teacher's unions. He's opposed school vouchers, he's bailed out states to restore education funding, and he hasn't missed a chance to expound on the awesomeness of "cops, teachers, and fire-fighters", all public-sector union groups.
So adding two extra years to school, under (of course) the supervision of the current public school system, is really about expanding the number of jobs available to public school teachers unions. Each of these pre-schools naturally will also have a staff of SEUI and AFSCME employees who will be doing everything from janitorial work to providing hot lunches. This is about paying off traditional Democratic client interests. It's not about education at all.

So does that explain why Obama loves charter schools? Charter schools remain very anti-union in most places. Teachers unions pretty much just vote Democratic--Obama doesn't need to provide giveaways. I think parents are a much bigger voting bloc and teachers unions--maybe he is supporting what he thinks is good for their kids?

One of the first things he did was to kill vouchers in DC. Charter schools, kids 0 ... Teacher unions 1

There's your smoking gun right there.

I live in DC and it is full of charter schools. Look it up.

Also, I didn’t know you had to support vouchers to support charter schools.

Who says he loves charter schools? Citation please.

I'm not going to Google this for you. He made a presidential declaration last May for a national charter schools week. He's on record supporting them.

We are what we do. Not what we say we are. Not what we wish to be. But what we do.

And Obama's has not at all assisted (and in some cases damaged) the cause of charter schools through legislative action.

I really don’t think the universal pre-school proposal is about anything other than a sop to the teacher’s unions.


That's partly why we won't see any proposals about supporting stay at home parents, like the Finns mentioned above. Much more difficult to unionize stay at home moms. (Along those lines, consider TSA, and what will happen if we really do put more (public-union) police in schools.)

And much pre-school and grade school and increasingly public high school is babysitting. Which may explain in part the increase in home schooling. Anecdotally, parents I've spoken with who home school mention several reasons for home schooling, including lousy education in the schools, unsafe classrooms, vulgarity and profanity in classrooms and hallways, peer pressure, hostility to religion, and PC environments.

It's much easier to get home school support now, for curricula and from other families who also home school.

Much more difficult to unionize stay at home moms.

Yes, but perhaps not impossible -- particularly if membership is not optional. There was a pretty close precedent in Michigan. Until quite recently, stay-at-home caregivers receiving Medicaid were forcibly drafted into the SEIU:


God protect our right to teach our children to be superstitious racists.

As a man who was studying engineering and working part time as a waiter while rasing a child (single father - 50% responsibility) pre-K, like most of public education, is just another name for babysitting.

Clarification: *necessary* babysitting

I think this is probably right; the real beneficiaries here aren't the children but the parents.

And, if the policy is to start these government-provided preschools so parents don't have to worry about finding and paying for preschool on their own, that's fine. But just say that's what you're trying to do.

the real beneficiaries here aren’t the children but the parents.

Parents can vote, their children not so much.

If we, as a nation, want universal day care then that's what we should buy. Buying pre-school education is a lot more expensive than buying day care. As it stands this is just another bid for massive amounts of additional entitlement spending.

This has absolutely nothing to do with educating kids. It's a way to put more unionized teachers on the payroll so that their mandatory dues can get kicked back to the Democratic Party. It's yet another way for Democratic politicians to siphon taxpayer money into their political machine.

How noble of blank slatists to want to spend other people's money on hope.

Right. People pushing for universal pre-school as some kind of panacea for whatever the gap du jour is, are either ignorant of the studies or deliberately avoiding notice of them. The IQ-boosting and good behavior-boosting benefits from early schooling tail off completely by high school.

As others have noted, this is a sop to teachers' unions and feminists. Universal babysitting is essentially a transfer of payments from beta males to careerist women who want to have their cake and eat it too.

"Would such a claim mean that we are currently writing off many millions of American children, as it stands now?"

Huh? Why are you assuming that the pre-school proposal precludes any other educational improvements? Why are you assuming that unspecified but significant and effective reforms within the existing grade-structure are easier to get through the political process? Do you have specific reforms in mind here? Are they more rigorously supported by studies and state-level experimentation?

Did you send your kid(s) to preschool?

Universal preschool proposal when the country is already on an unsustainable fiscal path. And we take these proposals seriously?

The only thing unsustainable about our fiscal path is the trajectory of health-care costs. If we can't get those under control, we're screwed anyway. If we can get those under control then we can afford sound investments in education.

Very persuasive- "if we weren't going broke, we could afford stuff".

Bernanke (link below) thinks there is positive ROI. Are we too broke to invest? Have we no mal-investments we could trim? Etc.

Is this the same Bernanke who didn't see the financial crisis coming? Seriously, if you are going to cite someone on this, at least pick someone who might have some credibility.

That's a fun answer ... because I would not have guessed that you'd like Robert Shiller's proposals in Animal Spirits and elsewhere ... but you've just set "prediction" as your gate for "prescription" in even more disconnected fields.

Oh yeah, Yancey, and you saw the crisis coming?

Quick, tell me the date of the next recession! My shorts portfolio has been weak recently.

"The only thing unsustainable about our fiscal path is the trajectory of health-care costs."

No, government has made healthcare the main problem by causing the cost increase and because they have let that crowd out everything else in the budget.

Yes, we knew:

In case you hadn't noticed, there is a fairly thorough effort underway to reduce healthcare costs. It's too early to say if it will succeed or fail. If it succeeds, we will be able to afford pre-K education. If it fails, no amount of cutting on investment and defense will stop us from going broke. In this situation, why would a rational person decide to stop investment in education? It can't fix our fiscal situation; only bending the healthcare curve will do that.

The government effort to expand the government programs that have caused the cost increases will succeed in increasing costs.

It is a strawman that only medical spending matters so that we can be free to make all kinds of other mistakes.

This proposal is not an investment in education. That's yet another strawman. Maybe the Federal government could fix how they've broken higher education before dabbling in daycare.

I reject your binary view of the universe. It's a clever rhetorical device though.

In fact, the probability of either scenario you describe coming to pass is essentially zero.

In other words, medical costs are not going to be 'fixed' so as to take the heat off of any other kind of spending.

Nor will these costs mean the end of these United States.

With a probability approaching 100%, medical costs will continue to plague the federal budget on an ongoing basis as far as the eye can see. There will be no escaping trade-offs and tough choices.

I've never understood the mindset that the odds of reducing medical cost growth to a manageable trend are nearly zero. Why so pessimistic? The world is full of examples of health care systems that provide better service than ours for lower cost; there's nothing to justify that kind of healthcare fatalism. Certainly I'd rate the odds of 'fixing' healthcare costs over the next 15 years at closer to 50% than 0%.

But regardless, I do see this issue as fairly binary. If we can contain healthcare costs, we'll be in pretty good shape fiscally. If we don't contain them, we will either go bankrupt or (more likely) consume a lot less of healthcare and everything else, which will have similarly terrible economic consequences. The bottom line is, we should assess the value of Pre-K on its merits and proceed accordingly. Its impact on our fiscal position should be negligible, and if we start neglecting valuable public investments because of ballooning costs in unrelated programs we will only make our future prospects worse.

i wonder what the implementation of universal free daycare, er I mean preschool, will do to education costs.

I think Jon's point being that Education costs are rounding error for Healthcare costs.

His point is the common elite assumption that education is a better investment (for whom or what? society? net utility?) than medicine. All smart people believe that until it's their turn to get sick.

Everyone is willing to spend an infinite amount of other people's money to stay alive. That's the whole problem with universal healthcare.

My point is that universal free education will drive up the cost of education in the same way. Why do you think tuition rates have exploded over the last 30 years? Could it have anything to do with our student loan programs that give money to anyone to study anything, no questions asked?

Though at least education is demand limited, unlike healthcare. At some point, we all learn as much as we can stand, by contrast, you can never have too much healthcare.

"This is what federalism is for. Let’s have an experiment emanating from the state and/or local level."

For all practical purposes, the states and local governments are tapped out. There will be enormous pressure to restore spending on long-standing programs that took big cuts over the last five years -- regular K-12, higher ed, roads -- before they start anything new. The handful of states where this is not true tend to be rural and resource-rich. What works (or doesn't) in Wyoming or North Dakota will probably be of little value in guiding an Illinois or Arizona.

"What works (or doesn’t) in Wyoming or North Dakota will probably be of little value in guiding an Illinois or Arizona."

Precisely the reason this should not be a federally driven program. (But that doesn't mean it can't be federally *funded*, if redistribution floats your boat.)

And the Federal government isn't "tapped out"?

“This is what federalism is for. Let’s have an experiment emanating from the state and/or local level.”

Why do we look to government for solutions to everything? Government action crowds out private action, even at the state level. We're all collectivists now.

This is one of the "political illusions" ( The Illusion of Government Preeminence) James Payne discusses in his book, "Six Political Illusions: A Primer on Government for Idealists Fed Up with History Repeating Itself"

I like those double negatives: "that doesn't mean we should do nothing."

How forceful can you get.

Don't let the evidence get in the way of your beliefs.

I can't link this because I am out of country using an iPad, but you can find Fed Reserve Board of Minneapolis studies on this subject, along with a recent speech by Ben bernanke, by googling federal reserve Minneapolis pre-school education.

Only for those interested in empirical studies.

The research cited there does not in any way show that preschool in general has significant long-term benefits: it shows that certain non-standard programs, like "Programs that provide enriched experiences for children and that also involve parents"; one "high-quality" program; "a full-day early childhood education program starting before age 1", and "a nurse-based home visiting program" had benefits.

Doesn't it concern you that Perry, a project with 123 kids from the 1960s, is still getting cited so widely to make a general point about how great preschool is? There has been tons of preschool research since then, with much larger groups of students. If preschool funding is expanded, new preschools are not going to look like the small-scale pilots run by true believers, they're going to look more like your average Head Start program, which you'll notice Bernanke says nothing about.

I apologize for a bit of tangent reaction, but that's how my mind rolls... commenters here are often aghast at 'death panels' ... individuals who would pass judgment on when 'enough is enough' in procedures at the end of life. (We spend A LOT of money to prolong life short periods, maybe rightly so.) So who hear wants to sit on the 'early life panel' the one that says, it simply costs too much to educate that kid...she has to play the cards (parents, neighborhood, income, etc.) that she's been dealt? I get it that the studies are not conclusive, but most of those medical studies we follow aren't either. The return on investment (private and social gains) of setting a four year old on a better life path are HUGE. Maybe changing paths is too hard or too intrusive or too costly, but it's certainly worth the attempt or at least a serious discussion. That's all I heard in the speech ... a promise to try harder.

I'm totally comfortable with which types of end-of-life care will be covered by medicare being formally rationed based on CBA, too. (Not on a person-by-person basis, but via deciding which procedures will be covered in which circumstances.) The alternative is that which procedures will be covered isn't decided by CBA though creating some sort of $-per-QUALY-type cutoff, but by some more ad hoc standard which likely leads to worse decision-making. I'd be comfortable sitting on the committee, too.

There has already been a significant discussion about preschool, and a significant expansion, and the results have been, at the very least, mixed. This isn't an uncertainly/conclusiveness issue, it's that the great results from the small-scale, non-standard treatments just don't scale up.

"the results have been, at the very least, mixed" ... at your work when the results are "mixed" do you just throw in the towel? If the goal is important enough (and this one is), you try something else, right? Isn't online ed a reaction to some shortcomings of classroom ed? Education is important that's why we keep investing in it.

"small-scale, non-standard treatments just don’t scale up" So don't scale them up. It's one thing to say everyone should have access to quality pre-school education. It's another to say the pre-schools are all the same. My kids go to / went to an NAEYC certified daycare/preschool ... and NAEYC sets good guidelines, but still leaves room for differences in implementation across centers. I guess that agrees with the state/local discretion noted in the post, but with some federal guidelines/objectives.

"This isn’t an uncertainly/conclusiveness issue,..." I agree it's about a good start in life, creating opportunities for individuals. I am not saying this is easy and maybe in the end its not desirable. I am saying it's important, probably even more important than all the political capital and energy given to end-of-life concerns.

What evidence, Bill?

The single freaking study is exactly what everyone is talking about.

Is detachment from reality what they teach in law school these days?

How many names of studies do you know before someone brings them up. If you know the name of the study, that's probably not science.

And yet, despite the calamity of insufficient pre-K education, some American kids actually turn out okay! In what ways are they different from the kids who emerge not quite as okay? Can those differences be overcome?

My dad had a degree in child development. His method was to pay me a quarter for every Doctor Suess book I could read. Made me a reader and a capitalist!

So sure, some kids will be OK.

In action? Or rhetoric? Serious question.

I don't think this really has anything to do with education per se. It's more about government-funded day-care under the guise of education to eliminate the guilt of having someone else raise your children.

It's just more free government daycare. The rebranding of daycare as education is old hat by now. NOBODY admits to putting their kid in daycare. Even Kindercare calls its daycare sites "early learning centers" and its weekly fees "tuition."

The other half of this is, it allows blank-slate liberalism to continue pretending that all differences in educational achievement by socioeconomic status, race, gender, etc. are due entirely to environmental factors. Throwing more money at poor schools stopped narrowing the gaps (the ones the left doesn't like, anyway) many years ago, unless you cherry-pick your stats. So to preserve their emotionally driven assumptions, the left now insists that we have to "get to kids early" and intervene by throwing money and intervention at kids younger and younger.

So it's a dual-purpose thing. But this will have limits. Poor parents don't want Big Sister Government supervising their parenting any more than rich parents do, so any attempt to impose accountability will meet with backlash. But bribe them with free daycare, and most will take it.

all you have to do to figure out whether or not pre-school is effective, is look at say top 20 richest suburbs in this country and see what parents do with their kids between age 3 and 6 and you will have your answer. You can further subdivide the data set and correlate the parental education level to likelihood of preschool attendance

Well that would certainly be evidence for what the best policy is for the parents. As I hinted at above, that may or may not be the same as what's best for the kids.

I think you could improve the accuracy of this test somewhat by going to those rich suburbs and asking the *moms and dads* what they did between 3 and 6.

"I think you could improve the accuracy of this test somewhat by going to those rich suburbs and asking the *moms and dads* what they did between 3 and 6."

+5, it's silly to look at what the successful people do for their kids, when you don't know if their kids will be successful. Instead, you look at what the parents of successful people did.


Urso: parents in rich suburbs can just as easily hire a babysitter. yet most of them will choose pre-school. FYI: babysitter is cheaper. In most rich suburbs women do not work or work part time and pre-school is half day

Babysitters aren't supervised. Pre-school teachers are.

Do you trust your kid to be along with a total stranger in your house? Or do you trust a pre-school teacher to be with 20 children in a facility designed for children?

What do you think is safer?

Not to mention pre-school gets them out of the house. If you want some time at home to yourself, it's somewhat awkward having a baby sitter/nanny around while you do nothing. Pre-school lets a parent be lazy with less guilt/uncomfortableness.

You are placing way too much value on the ability to earn large amounts of money. Remember what P.J. O'Rourke said:

"I had one fundamental question about economics: Why do some places prosper and thrive while others just suck? It's not a matter of brains. No part of the earth (with the possible exception of Brentwood) is dumber than Beverly Hills, and the residents are wading in gravy. In Russia, meanwhile, where chess is a spectator sport, they're boiling stones for soup."

We have a lot of evidence on Head Start. So far American taxpayers have spent $180 Billion on the "Head Start" program, which is designed to prepare low income children for school. The final phase of a three part study was released by the DHHS late last year that analyzed the impact this program had on enrollees subsequent performance in school.

The report confirmed the findings of the second phase of the study published in 2010 and concluded:

“there was little evidence of systematic differences in children’s elementary school experiences through 3rd grade, between children provided access to Head Start and their counterparts in the control group,”

So unlike the findings in the second phase that "any modest benefits achieved through Head Start are largely absent by 1st grade" this phase confirms that Head Start continues not to make any difference through third grade. No word on if they plan to study 7th grade yet

The NEA wants increased funding so more children can learn nothing in Head Start ($23k a year per child) as apparently they think that $7B spent a year on their members is a good thing even if it is not quite so good for the kids or the taxpayer and Obama called the investment in early education:

"One of our best investments in America's future."


Do Finns do better than white Americans as a group?


Your point about Finland is very misleading:


But, while Finnish children don’t begin formal schooling until age 7, that doesn’t mean they’re lacking for education before that. In fact, Finnish children have access to very high-quality, affordable child care that meets most of the standards for what we in the United States would call preschool.

Since 1996, Finnish children under age 7 have had, by law, a “subjective right to child care,” regardless of family income or parental employment. If a child’s parents want him or her to attend a child care center (commonly known as “kindergartens” in Finland), the municipality in which they live (municipalities are the local government units responsible for the delivery of most education and social services in Finland) is obligated to provide them with a slot in either municipal kindergarten or a private child care program (including family home care). Child care isn’t free for parents, but it is heavily subsidized: Parents pay according to a sliding scale based on income, with a maximum monthly payment of 235 euros per month (about $3,850 a year, compared to over $10,000 annual cost of center-based childcare for a 4-year-old in the United States). About 15 percent of municipalities’ total spending on child care comes from parent fees.

Finnish 6-year-olds also have the right to free, half-day preschool programs, which place a slightly greater emphasis on academic preparation and language development than typical child care, and can be offered in child care centers to provide a full day of care that meets families’ child care needs. Over 97 percent of Finnish 6-year-olds attend these programs.

Publicly funded kindergartens and preschool in Finland are of quite high-quality, with quality standards roughly on par with those universal pre-k advocates seek for publicly funded pre-k programs in the United States. Kindergartens must have at least one adult for every seven children over age three, for every four children under age three, or for every two one-year-olds (infants under age one are rarely enrolled in kindergartens because Finland offers generous parental leave supports for parents in their child’s first year of life). One out of every three adults working in kindergartens holds a bachelor’s degree as a certified kindergarten teacher (in effect, the lead teacher in each classroom). The other two adults must hold credentials as “licensed practical nurses,” a vocational degree that is roughly equivalent to a high school diploma with specialized education and training to work with young children.

Much of the projected benefit from preschool is expected to come from socialization, not book learning per se (with secondary benefits from relieving families of some burden of child care (Finland's rate of women's labor force participation is roughly equal to the United States). Therefore, we should expect generous public child-care like that in Finland to bring similar benefits to universal pre-K proposals here.

Yeah, yeah, but you're just missing Tyler's crucial point--they may have government guaranteed subsidized child-care from 0-6 years old, but the really *important* bit is that they don't *call* it preschool. That's the aspect of this that Tyler's deeply worried about--the nomenclature.

Nope. You are right that they are missing the point.

The point is that it is childcare and not some education trope. In fact, it looks quite the opposite at first glance. It looks like they go out of their way to allow individualism and play rather than forcing more elementary-style instruction on younger kids.

And that is what this is. Tyler is trying to take something seriously that isn't meant to be taken seriously. It's free daycare for the underclass masquerading under the marketing of more education.

Oh in that case, fantastic! I look forward to enthusiastic libertarian support for universal government funded childcare to help poor families. What a policy breakthrough we've just made!

"Publicly funded kindergartens and preschool in Finland are of quite high-quality, with quality standards roughly on par with those universal pre-k advocates seek for publicly funded pre-k programs in the United States"

I don't know about what the pre-k advocates seek for in United States, but the quality of finnish kindergartens is not perceived so high that most parents wouldn't prefer a perhepäivähoitaja. Perhepäivähoitaja is basically just a nanny and has very little education, mostly mothers that want to stay at home and can take care of couple of other children on the side. This is what my sister and her husband preferred, both primary school teachers (the high status profession in Finland). Kindergarten in Finland is just daycare, with the workers there having less personal responsibility to the parents (they just work there). My opinion is that people who are most motivated to care for children are rather perhepäivähoitaja (private nannies) than work at a kindergarten as they have more time and possibility to bond personally with the children they care for and form a personal relatioship with the parents and siblings. Kindergarten is more bureaucratical, like school.

An article about the finnish daycare debate:
" According to professor Keltikangas-Järvinen, a child under the age of one should not be put in daycare.From the age of 18 months, a child starts to develop the ability to be detached from his or her first affectionate relationship. After that, a child can be put in a small group with two other children of the same age. "

Your claims about Finnland do not really stand on firm ground. They do have a "subjective right to child care" and almost all children are sent to non-preschool early education centres which probably surpass most american pre-schools in terms of educational quality. Have a look here: http://www.newamerica.net/blog/early-ed-watch/2008/how-finland-educates-youngest-children-9029

Aaaah squarely rooted made the point before I did and much better.

If the Finnish educational system is so terrific it must be a very successful country and a great place to live. How many Americans apply for citizenship there every year? Or, for that matter, how many people from anywhere else in the world move there?

Yeah, people definitely move to countries only for the educational system.

We're constantly told how valuable a high quality education will be in spurring an innovation economy, GDP growth, and job creation, so yes based upon that assumption we should expect people to move to places with the best schools. Of course, maybe we're just being over-sold on the value of education.

Well, my high school didn't offer classes in either Finnish or Swedish. That's one issue.

@Chuck Martel, do you know how many hours of light you have there in winter? You tell me what your marginal rate of substitution of daylight education is at 3 hours of cloudy sky per day.

I lived much of my life about 100 miles south of the Arctic Circle. I don't have any idea what you're talking about.

move there for the education?

The Department of Education did a massive study on the effects of Head Start and then a follow up.


From the study:

"Looking across the full study period, from the beginning of Head Start through 3rd grade, the evidence is clear that access to Head Start improved children’s preschool outcomes across developmental domains, but had few impacts on children in kindergarten through 3rd grade."

In other words, almost all the positive effects of Head Start disappeared by the 3rd grade.

However, it's probably a Jim Dandy jobs programs for teachers. Is this about the students or the teachers?

Well, if some studies for some programs show positive results, and some studies for other programs do not ... it might lead one to believe there are good and bad programs.

The study did not compare pre-school vs no-preschool, it compared Head Start vs No Head Start

Children who were placed in
the control or comparison group were allowed to enroll in other non-parental care or
non-Head Start child care or programs selected by their parents. They could remain
at home in parent care, or enroll in a child care or preschool program. Consequently,
the impact of Head Start was determined by a comparison to a mixture of alternative
care settings rather than against a situation in which children were artificially
prevented from obtaining child care or early education programs outside of their

Really Curious,

Your analysis is not the complete picture either. Of the control group 60% participated in other childcare during the first year of study, but around 16% of these students ended up in head start. Effectively this reduces the %age of children in the control group who had "other " childcare to 44%. This means that over 50% of the control group did not participate in early childhood education. As such one should expect to be able to see a difference in outcomes and there is none.

WilliamOccam: if half over your data set offers poor control, that can increase variance and ruin statistical significance of any results

Shouldn't the evidence in favor be a little more clear cut before we go creating another massive entitlement to be paid for with borrowed money?

" it might lead one to believe there are good and bad programs."

Where would one assume that a national program would fall on a hypothetical continuum between Perry and Head Start?

The Department of Education study was very broad and covered a larger number of students than previous studies. Furthermore, the study covered 84 different programs.

"The Head Start Impact Study (HSIS) was conducted with a nationally representative sample of 84 grantee/delegate agencies and included nearly 5,000 newly entering, eligible 3- and 4-year-old children who were randomly assigned to either: (1) a Head Start group that had access to Head Start program services or (2) a control group that did not have access to Head Start, but could enroll in other early childhood programs or non-Head Start services selected by their parents. Data collection began in fall 2002 and continued through 2008, following children from program application through the spring of their 3rd grade year."

I went from there to here:

"The most recent interviews of participants in the HighScope Preschool Curriculum Comparison Study occurred when participants reached the age of 23. The major long-term finding from this phase relates to the area of social responsibility. Initially, all three curriculum approaches improved young children's intellectual performance substantially, with the average IQs of children in all three groups rising 27 points. By age 15, however, students in the HighScope group and the Nursery School group — that is, those students whose curriculum approaches had emphasized child-initiated activities — reported only half as much delinquent activity as the students in the Direct Instruction group."

Stuff like that matters to final ROI

When I searched for information about the Perry School Project, the first page or two (at least) had results that were from HighScope (the people who conducted the project) and others who touted it. It included 123 children divided into two groups - one getting preschool and the other not. It was conducted in the 1960's.

I then found a Cato piece - http://www.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/pubs/pdf/pa333.pdf which also discussed the Abecederian study, which is also cited as support for pre-school. Conclusion - these are two studies which have not been replicated, and which may have defects in statistical methodology. On the other hand, as noted earlier in the comments to this post, the evaluations of HeadStart have not been very encouraging - and that was a big program with several hundred billion spent.

I don't think the proponents of pre-school programs want to get into a discussion of whether the programs work and whether the money is well-spent. That is besides the point - if liberalism/progressivism were based on effectiveness, it would have been long dead. The goal is to show your good intentions - is your heart in the right place and are you liberal with other peoples' money.

maguro, I think the President just offers an opening bid. No preschool would be another bid. In the end? (I would note that if the feds are offering matching funds that might lead to many tests as separate state programs.)

Did you put children into pre-K? If so, why?

Programs like Obama's proposal are purely aspirational. They do not have to work. Good intentions are sufficient, case closed.

You have to think like a progressive to understand why we need this.

So how far should we roll back? No preschool, no kindergarten, or no public education?

Two can play that game. How many universal welfare programs are sufficient to guarantee society an acceptable standard of living? Do you promise to stop when you reach that number?

What makes you think that the only action is government action? Do you think that parents are not capable of looking out for the best interests of their children without being forced to do so or being paid to do so?

That's a great point. If you want universal preschool, why can't you form a pre-school coorperative in your community? Nobody is stopping you. Get all the parents together and get them to agree to rotate days taking care of the kids, and provide basic educational materials out of shared funds.
Problem solved. No need for a gazillion administrators. Grassroots self-organized solutions beat top down planners every time.

"So how far should we roll back? No preschool, no kindergarten, or no public education?"

Irrelevant. We aren't discussing education. We are discussing who pays for whose daycare.

Besides, as I told you, and you let the point seem to roll seamlessly off your back, kindergarten is developmentally positioned such that a teacher can have a large classroom of kids who can sit still, and begin learning to read and write.

Government doesn't want any part of the really expensive (labor-intensive) part of upbringing- at least not unless they collect some serious rents.

Maybe Finnish kids are already born with a better cognitive tool-set (in other words, born smarter), which would mean that they will outperform most other countries' schoolkids regardless of whether Finnish education officially begins at 4 or 5 or 6 or 7? From what I can see above, most of the commenters here believe blank-slately that all kids within a given country have equal potential, if only the gov't could implement the right educational system. But maybe the (obvious?) reality is that some population groups are just inherently smarter, and as such their kids do better in school.

the greatest force in the universe is the ego. it will take more than a blog comment or two to disabuse neoPuritan blank slatists of their pretty lie palliatives. after all, when hope is gone, what is left for these self-righteous status whoring preeners to fret about? the zombie apocalypse?

Yoou're talking like a Finnish supremacist. Not good.

As for scaling, if the government can't effectively teach kindergarten, 1st grade etc to kids now in various locations; how can it be expected to suddenly be able to have effective pre-k schooling in those same places?

I live in DC and it is full of charter schools. Look it up.

Also, I didn't know you had to support vouchers to support charter schools.

Am I the only person that has ever heard of James Heckman?



Haha. I honestly can't believe that this is the only mention of Heckman in the entire thread. I'm not saying that everything he thinks is right, but the fact that there can be 150+ comments without even mentioning his name automatically discredits this entire discussion to me.

Finland is a misdirect. Look at New Zealand. One of the best education systems and lowest crime rates in the world. NZ has universal pre-school.

New Zealand is also big on Rugby and sheep. Maybe those two things are the salient factors.

That's my point! He only chose Finland because it met his preexisting worldview.

"2. That doesn’t mean we should do nothing."

Wait, I missed something. What problem do these proposed solutions aim to solve?

Children left to play in the streets.

I just asked the same thing below, without seeing your comment.

It doesn't sound like there's any problem that's being addressed. Progressives are just continuing to dream up new ways for government to spend money. Green energy, high speed rail, and now universal pre-k education. The list continues to grow. Who knows what will be next. Is there actually any limit to the progressive vision for America?

FYI, Georgia`s 4 year-old program was cited by Obama saying, `In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest
children, like Georgia or Oklahoma, studies show students
grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level,
graduate high school, hold a job, and form more stable
families of their own.`

nterestingly, the U.S. Department of Education`s state-by-state
graduation rates for the 2010-2011 school year show Georgia`s
four-year graduation rate as 67 percent. That is lower than
every other state except Nevada and New Mexico. It is also
lower than neighboring states of Mississippi (75 percent) and
Alabama (72 percent). Oklahoma is a little better, coming
in 34th.

The Georgia program was originally supported a state lottery program. It currently enrolls about 50% of the eligible children with a 10,000 child waiting list.

Georgia just shows what everybody else already knows growing up. It's easy to show progress with pre-school because the stuff is simple! Everybody in class can learn to recite the alphabet, form words with them and do simple math problems. Then we graduate to sentences and multiplication and division. Some kids begin to sputter a bit but generally, everybody's still there. With enough rigorous coaching, you can make practically any elementary school kid look smart.

By middle school, we're getting into English composition, grammar, more complex math including algebra. This is the first great winnowing and differences in intelligence start becoming very apparent. The second great winnowing comes in high school, and we can tell pretty clearly who will be going on to college, who will be going to vo-tech, and who will just be dropping out to learn OJT. Georgia has A LOT of Hispanics. They'd rather just go ahead and join their dads and uncles in the family business and make actual money than go $100,000 in debt to read books they don't care about and higher math they'll never use. If the diploma is just to punch the ticket to college, and you're not going to college, why bother?

Past high school, we don't care, since we're talking about legal adults at that point. If they want more education, they can go buy it on the market with all the other adults.

Again, this is stuff everybody knows because we all went through it. We all knew who were the smart kids, who were the jocks, who were the dumb kids, who would end up in the Hells Angels, etc.

The only reason the age of theoretically crucial intervention keeps getting pushed back is because all the children are roughly on the same level; the Dreaded Gap isn't showing up yet. Bureaucrats living and dying by test scores love it. Parents who want to believe their special little snowflakes will all grow up to be neurosurgeons and mechanical engineers love it. Teachers love it because everybody's at the same rudimentary level--no embarassing laggards to spoil the mix.

In a generation, the elite consensus will no longer be that the crucial stage in child development isn't the first few years after birth, it is the 8 months and 29 days before birth. All we have to do is equalize wombs and all groups will turn out equal!

In a generation, the elite consensus will no longer be that the crucial stage in child development isn’t the first few years after birth, it is the 8 months and 29 days before birth.

Hell must be freezing over when I laugh at a SS comment in agreement!

Tyler - Let’s have an experiment emanating from the state and/or local level.

Look at my comment above. It appears that we have had such an experiment.

Draw your own conclusions.

Looking at CAP's numbers, these people need a serious reality check.
They really think that $20K per year, per child, is a reasonable sum to spend on preschool.
I spent that much on college tuition to Cornell in 1992.

But it probably would cost $20K/year. That's because preschool teachers would almost certainly end up being union members with the same education requirements and salaries as current elementary teachers. BUT the teacher-child ratio would likely be much lower even than in the early elementary grades. A preschooler might cost 2-3 times as much to 'educate' as a kindergartner. Here in my state, for children below age three, a 4:1 ratio is the maximum allowed and then it goes to 10:1 at ages 3 and 4. In comparison, the average class size for kindergartens is in the low 20s, So if the staff was paid equally, and the current regulations were maintained, the preschoolers would be 5X more expensive for the youngest kids and 2X more for the older ones.

So you're saying you need a fully educated teacher with a Bachelor's in Education to handle 4 3-year-olds.
These aren't special needs kids. These are three year olds. You really just need someone to supervise them ot make sure they don't hurt themselves and leave some educational books and toys lying around for them to play with. It doesn't take someone with a bachelor's degree to teach a 3-year old how to read.

Bachelor's degrees? No, within a few years, they'll have masters degrees (and the 'step increases' that go with them). Should this be necessary for preschool teachers? Of course not. It shouldn't be necessary for gym teachers either, but that's the way it is. If universal preschool was added to our existing K12 system, I think there's little chance of avoiding that outcome.

Geez, maybe the RAND institute could create an education lab, by say, taking over the State of Oklahoma, and then in 2002 providing funding for universal pre-school implemented by school districts, after running experiments which had a oddly worded regulation for State funding kindergarten that can be distorted by school districts to get more State funding by adding in pre-K students to the State funded K program?

Then maybe Rand can ramp up its Oklahoma lab school experiment to cover 60% of the kids in Oklahoma in 90% of the school districts actually implementing the universal pre-K offering. And run this experiment for a decade beginning 2002.

I must admit I know about this because of a story on This American Life which uses the story of Oklahoma's State funded pre-K program to illustrate the way progressive politics get implemented in the real world.

Act four of this episode: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/477/getting-away-with-it?act=4

Here is a link to a cohort study from Denmark (In English) on ~30000 children focused on the quality of the preschools and it's correlation with test scores ~10 years later.


Since 95% of children go to a daycare or preschool institution, the study examined what the quality of pre-schools meant to the average attainment at the end of the 9th grade.

It finds that the effect of higher quality pre-schools is positive on grades attained 10 years later

It particularly finds a positive effect on children from low-income or "at risk" families, which in my opinion is all the more reason to implement universal preschooling. A finding mirrored by the head start study.

From pp. 6-7: "As we study the effect of a variation in pre-school quality, our results are valid only for the sample of children who actually attended a pre-school." As such, this study does not address the question whether preschool is better than no preschool, or even whether universal, government-mandated-and-funded preschool outperforms a patchwork of private, public, volunteer, professional, secular, sacred, local, state, and national programs. Also, this, like the aforementioned cases of Finland and New Zealand, is set in a much smaller and more culturally and racially homogeneous population than the U.S. Past homogeneous results do not guarantee future heterogeneous returns. Our results may differ.

Like many people who write about education, you are guilty of a backwards causation: you argue that our systems are broken and are thus producing students who are incapable of succeeding on benchmarks of academic success. That's backwards. Rather, the systems that appear broken appear so because the students who enter them are incapable of succeeding on benchmarks of academic success. They are incapable because they have been brought up in an environment that's not conducive to academic success, and the human brain is vastly more subject to conditioning in the earliest years than it is in later years. That is an inconvenient fact for people on both sides of the political spectrum, but it is true. (Although note that, in fact, American students in many demographics perform perfectly well in comparisons to their academic peers, which you wouldn't know from reading this post.)

Would such a claim mean that we are currently writing off many millions of American children, as it stands now?

Yes. You'll find that I am one of the very few people who are willing to argue that. Which is exactly the reason for a robust social safety net (in my preference, a UBI): students are already permanently left behind by the time they reach formal schooling, due to conditions that they have no control over.

What can be done to make students meet typical academic standards, if they're above a certain age and are far behind standards already? Individuals might be helped. As a class? Nothing. Nothing at all. The biggest impediment to a productive discussion on education is the ubiquitous notion that the human brain is endlessly mutable, and that our problems are do to a lack of will.

But this, you'll find, is not an opinion that you are allowed to voice in polite company.

Thanks, Freddie.

I'm reminded of how progressives in the 1920s in Canada and Australia set up boarding schools for aboriginal children to get them away from the poor environments provided by their alcoholic families.

Ever since we've heard apologies for the "Stolen Generations."

The elite consensus in America that has developed in this century is that the government needs to get poor black and Hispanic children away from their families for just about every waking hour of the day.

Around 2070, I expect the President to issue a formal apology, like the Prime Minister of Australia recently, to the "Borrowed Generations."

Maybe I'm missing something. What exactly is the problem that universal pre-K education is intended to address?

Looks like RPLong beat me to it.

The Gap in school and life performance between Asians/whites versus blacks/Hispanics.

I was wondering that too. Are we sure what is trying to be addressed?

I could speculate: e.g. the perception that well-to-do whites "get to" use out-of-pocket childcare that others "are denied access to."

But I'd rather ask "what coordination problem is this addressing?" If it's a good idea, even before running an RCT, where has it happened spontaneously and where and why does it not happen spontaneously even moreso?

Can we show it isn't just another wealth transfer? Or do we even pretend to do that anymore?

Dr. Johnson explained President Obama's theory to Boswell:

"Much may be made of a Scotchman, if he be caught young."

Hey, it worked for the Scots!

Allow me to point out how a lax immigration policy just leads to demands for giant new intrusive federal programs.

The federal government has focused on closing The Gap between white and black achievement since the Coleman Report of 1966. But, corrupt lack of enforcement of illegal immigration laws has since the Great Society created an even larger ethnic group of poor-performing students, the ever-growing Hispanic population, which now numbers over 50 million. The size of The Gap between whites and American-born Hispanics is about 3/5th to 2/3rd as large as the gap between whites and blacks -- not quite as dire, but a massive social problem when Hispanics are projected by the Census Bureau to grow to 128,000,000 by 2050.

So, Washington say: We Must Do Something!

Since it's absolutely inconceivable that any differences on average among groups are innate, the failure of our previous social engineering programs over the last 45-50 years at closing The Gap just proves that We Haven't Spent Enough.

Have you ever considered that the social engineers are at least aware of the possibility that The Gap is attributable in large measure to innate differences and don't care? Or worse, that it's part of the plan?

Or is that a conspiracy theory? I find the alt-right is a little naive on these matters. Even if New York and Washington elites were cognizant of these matters, they might well favor a high level of human biodiversity in America. After all, might it not be at least to their short-term benefit to preside over a polyglot republic?

Incidents like what happened to James D. Watson in 2007 and Larry Summers in 2005 just dumb down thinking among the ambitious. They sense that any slip could ruin their careers, so the safest thing is to train themselves to never let crimethink form in their brains or ever notice hatestats.

I don't think there is a large scale conspiracy - current policy is simply the result of narrow interest groups pursuing their own advantages. Business, especially in agriculture and food processing, want as much cheap labor as possible. Social workers and activists need victims to help. Teachers' unions want to increase their membership, etc. etc. The people who benefit from immigration benefit directly and immediately. The damage to society caused by immigration is diffused and slow-acting which makes it hard to organize a coordinated response.

Finland is a small population of culturally homogenous people whose defining principal is 'susu,' or guts and perseverence.

They also usually run budget surpluses.

So how does Finland apply to the US again?

As a different perspective. And as an example of how to educate children well.

As an example that having a long border with a much poorer country doesn't mean you must be overrun by illegal immigrants.

Observations on the Finnish system that are worth considering before drawing too many parallels:

1. It took decades to develop this system, even in a small nation where there was at first teacher union backlash that delayed the plan a full decade. There was initially a four party system after breaking away from Russian authority, so instead of one party pulling down the ideas of the other (perhaps forcing ever more absurd ideas and stagnation, ahem), the four parties recognized the opportunity to get together and work toward something good.

2. While the Finnish system may seem vast in description, it actually involves far less bureaucracy by design. The central educational authority (excuse me if I've forgotten its name) doesn't tell the teachers how to run their classes or what books to use (and are sometimes capable of writing them). This is because the system was painstakingly redesigned to select for the very brightest young people to become teachers---only one in ten applicants fills a potential position. These aren't teachers who ignored challenging college subjects to pursue an education degree as is all too common in the U.S. These are people who might be truly passionate about math, science, history, or whatever else they might be teaching. There are few administrators in a school district "above" them (even the principle is usually a teacher who is "first among equals").

So, yes, it's worth talking about what is successful about the Finnish system, but let's please not assume any superficial similarity to the problems our system faces---including four levels of bureaucracy in curriculum selection alone (school, district, state, and national---all aside from the textbook companies themselves which are essentially cadres of clever lawyers and lobbyists who hire writers).

3. Finland is a nation essentially devoid of ghettos.
3b. Finland is a nation essentially devoid of ghettos.
3c. We can safely ignore anyone who isn't taking this and other demographic differences into account.

4. The Finnish system is actually less expensive per capita than the U.S. system despite providing services over a broad age range. Why? Because the resources spent are targeted in a more focused way: toward the classroom.

5. Teachers teach for only 3 hours a day, leaving them free for planning. Anyone who knows our current education system---who both recognizes its flaws and still has empathy for our overworked, frazzled, zombified teachers (you know, the ones who started out caring, but cracked at the 11,000th cup of coffee served up alongside the 83rd parent aiming shots at them)---should appreciate what this means in terms of the quality of the environment. If the teachers are the role models in the classroom, their mental health surely matters as much as it matters to select for quality to begin with.

6. The Finnish system is very child focused, with the day-to-day progress, including basic mental health concerns, are of such a high priority that one of the only faculty at a school outside of the teachers is what translates to the child psychologist. That's not a person there to be sure your kid is on the right drugs---it's a person there to work with all the teachers and even "reach over" them to identify and address a problem (something the teachers appreciate and are not offended by---most problems are referred to the psychologist by the teacher). This means students with a variety of common issues growing up have somebody there helping them organize a path through those issues all the time, whether it's reading slowly or trouble identifying well with other peers.

7. Finnish schools are generally much smaller than our behemoth schools (you can't compete in Texas or Florida high school football without a graduating class of fourteen hundred, right?). In fact, the sizes of Finnish schools falls in line with the Dunbar number, meaning every student and teacher has enough mental space to know every other person in the school. I'll leave it to the reader to imagine how this might make a difference.

8. Sports aren't an all consuming pyramid scheme of status in Finnish schools. They're games children learn to play in parallel with their physical education. I've found Finns who disagreed with this comment, citing football/soccer, but them spit out their pints to find out that some American high schools spend $60 million on football stadiums because that's more money than has been spent on all services and salaries in the history of most Finnish schools which usually operate on modest 7-digit budgets.

For those who are examining the question as to whether Finns have a natural cognitive advantage...Finland was relatively under-educated and economically overly dependent on an economy that lacked diversity when the Finns began the reformulation of their education system. I haven't delved into Finnish IQ tests, but if they've received the great "Flynn bonus" it's likely a real reflection on a healthy system.

All this said, we can and should study the Finnish system. After all, it's highly successful in many regards. But let's not get too carried away with comparisons that just don't make sense. Any suggestion that we can up and find 2 million workers to run universal pre-K to make this work is as absurd as the notion that we could up and find 2 million qualified teachers to run all the public schools without first reexamining the structure of the system that they work in.

This isn't one president's problem. It'll be a special step forward if it's a one generation problem.

Well said. Too late I'm afraid.

It is an interesting point, that the educational establishment would be able to administer behavior modification drugs to students at an earlier, and presumably more effective, age under a universal pre-school regimen.

Thanks for the description of Finland, a most interesting country.

Clearly, the Finns have worked out an educational system that works for the Finns just as, say, the South Koreans have worked out a very different system for themselves. Why we should have Washington impose the a one size fits all system on all of America is unclear.

BTW people we are already better than Finland:


Perhaps you would like to compare Finnland to North Dakota.

Until 2009 New Hampshire didn't even have state funded kindergarten, never mind pre-school. Yet New Hampshire's PISA scores are consistently among the highest in the US. Maybe the education system is not Finland's secret. There are plenty of more obvious ways NH and Finland are similar.


Aside from concerns about how reliable results from small, never-replicated experimental studies are, people like James Heckman (who seems to think that the Perry preschool project is the greatest study ever) don't seem to worry that even if something like the Perry program worked in the 1960s, there's no guarantee that it would work now. Poverty in the 1960s was qualitatively different from today's poverty, and these days even the poorest parents tend to have a lot more formal education than they had half a century ago.

I think that good nutrition for children of the poor could be a clear advantage of pre-school.

I see Universal pre-k as an attempt to improve the poor. I think that should not be a government function.

Also if you provide government paid for pre-k, do you compensate middle and upper class people who do not send their children to Pre-k? Or do you force them to pay for and other rich and middle class peoplewho choose to send their children? Better to admit you goal is to improve the poor and pre-k school freely available to the poor only. To get philosophical suppose some poor want to let their children enjoy their early years without school, is it right for us to attempt to change their values through pre-k?

Also I think it was Jimmie Carters secretary of education who said 6 was to young to send boys to school these perk proposals are as evidence-less as that was.

BTW people we are alreayd better than Finland:


Very good post

Comments for this post are closed