Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Will preschool outpull NCLB?

In some ways reporters are no different from football players: We play as we practice. And all the practice leading up to the '08 campaign has focused on NCLB. Will the candidates embrace it or reject it?
But what if the conventional wisdom is wrong and the key education issue for '08 turns out to be universal preschool, not NCLB?
Based on what's happening in the states, with a surge in pre-K spending ($528 million in new money over the past year, according to Pre-K Now), there are signs that might be happening. The group said seven states now offer forms of pre-K for all children. And the candidates, at least the Democrats, appear a lot more eager to talk about pre-K than NCLB.
Pictured above is Berkeley professor David Kirp, author of the just released Sandbox Investment and Libby Doggett, who runs Pre-K Now. (Full disclosure: Kirp and I discussed his book Tuesday before a group pulled together by Pew.)
While the pre-K movement is on a roll there are hazards ahead as the issue hits the political grinder. The Democrats are embracing universal preschool but they risk overpromising. High quality preschool doesn't come cheap. Stretching programs to reach the most voters shrinks quality, which in turn shrinks the gains made by children (think Florida here).
Republicans have their own risks. By remaining quiet on what could be the big education/political issue they risk losing on an issue that polls indicate appeals to their base. And how long can Republicans ignore the corporate leaders backing universal preschool?
Perfect time to unleash a cliche: This bears watching.
Richard Whitmire


Matt Mulkey said...

Nice linking of the issues. I'm definitely watching!

For those who would like to read up on the Pre-K Now figures cited, here's a link:

Anonymous said...

Pre-school is a great idea. It's the best way to improve long-term educational outcomes. But only if it's high-quality. Arthur Reynolds' and others study show this clearly.

That's the policy story.

Now, one reason universal pre-school is such a winner politically: instant dues-paying union members.