Virginia is planning a pilot program for the state’s proposed universal preschool program, an issue that helped Governor Timothy M. Kaine get elected. The pilot program is to begin next year for 1,000 children. The results will be looked at as the program is gradually expanded to include all four year olds in the state.
The Start Strong Council, a group of educators, business leaders and lawmakers convened by Kaine to help launch his ambitious proposal, issued a report yesterday saying that the state also should develop standards for class size and curriculum and work with area colleges to create teacher-training programs.
This isn’t mandatory, yet, but I’m sure it will be eventually. And when it is? I can’t really imagine setting a curriculum and standards for four year olds anyway, but will the state allow a parent to say that the primary purpose of her preschool is bonding?
This is part of a nationwide push toward universal preschool, with the goal of federal support (and eventually control…NCLB for four year olds). We even had an amendment on the Nebraska ballot (which passed) to create an endowment fund to provide for the establishment of an early childhood program. Advocates stress educational advantages. School districts and states are understandably interested in any effort to improve test scores. Parents want free daycare. But is it best for children?
Experience provides little reason to believe universal preschool would significantly benefit children, regardless of family income. For nearly 40 years, local, state, and federal governments and diverse private sources have funded early intervention programs for low-income children, and benefits to the children have been few and fleeting. There is also evidence that middle-class children gain little, if anything, from preschool. Benefits to children in public preschools are unlikely to be greater or more enduring.
Incidentally, Germany is batting this idea around as well. But the SPD (Socialist Party of Germany, one of the two leading parties), wants more than preschool available for all.
State Education Secretary Wolf-Michael Catenhusen thinks that education reform is to important to be left to the individual states. “We need a national strategy for a better education. No state may depart from it.” So like any good politician, he assembled a team of experts to analyze the problem and give feedback. The summary of their proposal (my translation):
At the core of their vision is a preschool for children from three to six. It should be free and offer a high-quality, standardized education. Every family would be required to send their children. “It is more important to even out the disadvantages of underprivileged children than to respect the wishes of those mothers who would prefer to have their children at home.”
That is just frightening. Being required to turn your children over to the state at the age of three with no other option but to leave the country. But being a bit of an optimist by nature, I’ll end with a speck of good news: “…in almost every country that has some kind of a universal preschool program, there is also a homeschooling movement gaining ground! Parents are actively participating in the education of their young children–and as the studies show, that is the foremost determining factor in a child’s academic success.”
I’d say success in anything, not just academic, but that will work. And Germany counts in that movement. As I stated previously, although homeschooling is illegal and is pursued with increasing aggressiveness by the state, it seems to be growing and organizing. And gaining public support.