Universal preschool report unhelpful & misleading, review finds
A recent report casting doubt on the need for universal preschool is based on serious factual errors and unfounded assumptions, an academic review finds.
The Brookings Institution commissioned the report, Do We Already Have Universal Preschool?, which claims advocates for expanded pre-kindergarten programs exaggerate unmet need as well as the cost of universal pre-kindergarten. However, the review of the research shows the report vastly underestimates unmet need and costs.
“Nothing sets the stage for a successful future like high quality early education, but we know many children don’t get that opportunity,” said Betsy Kippers, a teacher and president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council. “When children are provided with a solid foundation, no matter where they live or their family circumstances, the playing field is leveled for future academic achievement.”
The Brookings’ report estimates that 69 percent of all four-year-olds already attend preschool and that universal access tops out at 80 percent enrollment. However, the review finds that the report vastly underestimates unmet need as well as the costs (estimated at $2 to $4 billion per year). Additionally, the report also fails to account for issues of quality.
Access for four-year-olds to high quality preschool (as opposed to attendance in any preschool classroom, no matter the quality) is actually under 25 percent, not 69 percent. Additionally, high quality universal pre-kindergarten could enroll more than 90 percent, not 80 percent, of children as suggested in the Brookings’ report.
“The report’s conclusions regarding needs and the costs to meet them are invalid and misleading, and it should not be used as a basis for policymaking,” the review’s author, Professor Steven Barnett, said.
Barnett is director of the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at Rutgers University. He reviewed the Brookings’ report at the request of Think Twice, a project of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) with funding from the Great Lakes Center.