Gov. Mike Rounds recently proposed a preschool program for South Dakota that might as well be called "No Child Left With Parents." Not only is expanded preschool ineffective in improving academic achievement, it may be bad for children.
National Center for Education statistics show that any achievement advantages realized from preschool have disappeared by the third grade.
A study cited by the Reason Foundation in May 2006, which examined 33,000 preschool children for anxiety, hyperactivity, and social and motor skill deficiencies, found "the increased use of childcare was associated with a decrease in their well-being relative to other children."
One of the key architects of Head Start, Edward Zigler, has even admitted that, "Those who argue in favor of universal preschool education ignore evidence that indicates early schooling is inappropriate for many 4-year-olds and that it may even be harmful to their development."
Getting children into school earlier often gives them greater exposure to behaviors many parents would rather shield their children from. Since inadequate teacher resources and the hamstringing of teachers' ability to maintain discipline often leaves recess time a behavioral minefield, parents may find their young children learning from other children to use coarse and foul language, display belligerent and disrespectful attitudes, and a warped and incomplete knowledge of sexual matters that they shouldn't even begin to hear about until they are much older.
Kitty Werthmann of South Dakota Eagle Forum grew up in Austria under Adolf Hitler's state control and the early years of Soviet domination, and she's concerned when government assumes too much parental responsibility. Werthmann also has doubts about preschool's academic effectiveness, saying, "It amounts to public baby-sitting."
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Proponents claim this preschool initiative is primarily to boost academic performance of children from low-income families. However, the root cause is more likely broken families than poverty.
A study entitled "Family Structure and Children's Success" from 2000 shows that the poverty rate is five times higher, academic scores are lower, and children are less likely to have high-paying jobs when coming from broken families.
If we're going to get involved with families, we should encourage stable homes instead of distancing children from their parents. This family support could involve premarital counseling programs for better marriage choices, reducing divorce, discouraging addictive behaviors, and removing obstacles faced by parents and teachers with instilling discipline and respect.
Do we have the courage to face the root causes of our troubled children? Doing so will require making judgments, even (gasp) moral judgments, and few have the stomach for this. We would have to say that some behaviors are not only wrong; they are counterproductive and place children at a disadvantage. Facing the problem would require us to curtail the choices of parents who engage in self-destructive behaviors that bring their children down with them.
To face the problem, we would likely have to look in the mirror, and there are few of us who are willing to take that bold step. It's easier to throw money and government at it.
Bob Ellis lives and works in Rapid City. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.