Educación antes del colegio
Febrero 25, 2013

Getting Preschool Education Right

New York Times February 15, 2013

Even before the cost estimates and program details have been made public, President Obama’s proposal for expanding high-quality preschool education has encountered criticism from House Republicans. Yet decades of research has shown that well-designed preschool programs more than pay for themselves by giving young children the skills they need to move ahead. The challenge at the federal level will be to make sure that taxpayer dollars flow to proven, high-quality programs instead of being wasted on subsidies for glorified day care.

Countless studies have found that preschool education has real value, both for the children and for society as a whole. But design is obviously crucial. The most famous and frequently cited program was conducted at Perry Elementary School in Ypsilanti, Mich., during the 1960s, where the teachers focused on a creative process in which low-income children were encouraged to plan, initiate and discuss their learning activities. In addition to teaching the children for 2.5 hours during the school day, the teachers regularly visited their homes to reinforce the lessons and forge partnership with parents.

Followed into adulthood, the Perry students were found to have lower dropout and arrest rates and higher incomes than those who had not attended preschool. Research led by James Heckman, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, concluded in 2009 that each $1 invested in the Perry program had returned a value of $7 to $12 to society.Unfortunately, preschool researchers say that few programs meet the standards of the Perry system. With mediocrity the norm for many programs — and with many educators habituated to mediocrity — a new federal preschool initiative is likely to come under heavy pressure to compromise downward.Mr. Obama called for just the opposite in his State of the Union address on Tuesday. He wants to upgrade the preschool system through a cost-sharing partnership with the states to expand high-quality public preschool to all 4-year-olds from families at or below 200 percent of the poverty level. The proposal also contains an incentive for states to broaden participation to include additional middle-class families.To be eligible for the program, the states would have to offer programs with well-trained teachers paid comparably to those teaching in kindergarten-through-12 classrooms, small classes and rigorous statewide standards for early learning.The White House has yet to release cost estimates or say how the program would be financed. But officials have said the money could be found in the budget, and the program would not add to the deficit.Given the current national emphasis on strengthening the public schools — and preparing young people to compete in the new economy — expanding preschool education would seem to be an obvious bipartisan goal. Instead of saying “no” right out of the gate, Mr. Obama’s critics should recognize the value in his proposal.

A version of this editorial appeared in print on February 16, 2013, on page A18 of the New York edition with the headline: Getting Preschool Education Right.


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