On President Obama's Universal Preschool Proposal

Maggie Severns, writing for Mother Jones:

Researchers such as Robert Pianta, Dean of the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia, believe that highly effective preschools tend to have two things in common: high quality and high dosage. “Dosage” includes the number of hours per day that a kid is in preschool and the number of years that kids attend. Obama’s plan explicitly calls for “high quality” programs, but it puts less emphasis on the dosage. The plan covers kids for one year of preschool as opposed to two, and it doesn’t specify how long kids will need to be in school every day. (In many current pre-K programs, kids only attend school for a few hours a day.)

According to Pianta, “there is quite clear evidence that more time in high-quality preschool (and child care) contributes to better academic outcomes for poor kids.” He thinks that that offering multiple years of high-quality preschool to America’s most disadvantaged kids, as opposed to offering some preschool to all kids from lower- and middle-income families like the Obama plan does, could be a better use of public money. “A big part of opening up these universal programs is closing that achievement gap, not just keeping it there,” he says.

My Early Childhood Studies instructors drilled it into me (and the rest of us) just how important quality is to preschool programs. I’m glad President Obama is pledging to support universal preschool, but he should also make sure what he’s supporting is quality as well. That’s the key.