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Universal Preschool: What’s Behind the Claims That It Will Stop Crime, Secure Your Child’s Future, Save Social Security & Provide A Free Government Nanny!

by Diane Flynn Keith

If you live in California then you’ve probably seen the ads on TV that go something like this... 

Two police officers are riding in a patrol car discussing crime. They park the car, get out, look into the camera and say, “You want to stop crime? Send your kids to preschool!”

This is one in a chain of propaganda links that have been unleashed on Californians through all media venues, courtesy of California First Five (www.ccfc.ca.gov). All of the ads preach the same gospel: If your child goes to preschool, s/he will do better in kindergarten and elementary school, graduate from high school, attend college, get good jobs, earn more money, and will be less likely to do drugs and commit crimes than kids who don’t go to preschool. California First Five is a tobacco tax-funded front for the California School Board-supported Children & Families Act of 1998 that was spearheaded by Rob Reiner, the actor-director who created the role of the “Meathead” on television’s All In The Family.

Reiner supported the California State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Jack O’Connell, when he proclaimed that providing “Universal Preschool” is a priority for his administration in 2005. Despite an austere budget, O’Connell encouraged the Legislature to introduce and approve a bill providing preschool to all of California’s 4-year-olds. 

Taking O’Connell’s direction, the Legislature introduced a Universal Preschool bill (AB172) that is making its way through committee hearings. Assembly Bill 1246 was recently added to the mix and calls for “preschool learning standards” in line with public school curriculum standards. Not only will there be a preschool curriculum, the bill calls for all preschool teachers to be state-certified. 
To get funding for state preschools, O’Connell encouraged development of a Preschool-For-All initiative by Reiner who is also the founder and chairman of the board of Parents Action for Children (http://www.parentsaction.org). Parents’ Action for Children believes that all children, no matter how much money their parents earn, should be able to attend government funded preschool programs. Parents’ Action was active in petitioning President Bush and Senator Kerry to commit to making universal preschool available for all children in the 2004 presidential campaign. Reiner submitted his Preschool-For-All Act to the Attorney General in August, 2005. It calls for taxing couples who make over $800,000 and singles who make over $400,000 to raise funds to pay for preschool-for-all. It is slated for the California June 2006 ballot.

O’Connell and Reiner aren’t the only ones who support universal preschool for all of California’s youngsters. Their vision is right in line with the California Education Master Plan that clearly outlines the state’s plans to provide an “education system in which all sectors, from pre-kindergarten through postsecondary education, are aligned and coordinated into one integrated system.” It calls for guaranteed access to quality childcare for all 3-and 4-year-olds. In April 2003, the Assembly Education Committee unanimously approved a bill creating universal preschool by 2014 and making kindergarten mandatory. (You can access the CA ED Master Plan at: http://tinyurl.com/53opo.) 

Around the state, some state preschool programs are already operating. Three- and four-year-olds in Alameda County and Santa Clara County participate in the non-profit Kidango preschool programs (www.kidango.org) subsidized by The California Department of Education through a $1.1 million grant. The First Five Commission in San Mateo County has commissioned a study to determine feasibility of universal preschool. Merced County offers universal preschool in most of its school districts funded by a $560,000 annual grant from the state education department. The city of San Jose has a plan to use federal, state, and city funds to make universal preschool accessible to all city residents. Los Angeles County’s First Five Commission voted to spend $100 million to help “upgrade” existing subsidized half-day preschools to full-time facilities. The programs have waiting lists, and are available on an income-based need basis. 

In Silicon Valley, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation is providing help to those who advocate for and develop, universal preschool by 2010. Computer money invested in developing Preschool-For-All can’t be overlooked. The Packard Foundation recently sponsored a Preschool Advocacy Day in Sacramento that attracted 450 educators and childcare/preschool providers from around the state who, in a day-long session that included a free lunch, listened to a bevy of Preschool-For-All supporters including: 

• Alan Bersin, Secretary of Education, State of California 
• Jack O’Connell, Superintendent of Public Instruction, State of California 
• Rob Reiner, Children’s Advocate 
• Lew Platt, Chairman of the Boeing Company 
• James Bigelow from the RAND Corporation 
• Assembly Member Wilma Chan 
• Brenda Davis, California PTA 
• Ana Gamiz, National Council of La Raza 
• Alice Huffman, California State Conference of the NAACP 
• Dr. Graciela Italiano-Thomas, Los Angeles Universal Preschool 
• Burnham “Burny” Matthews, Alameda Chief of Police (Retired) 
• Elaine Merriweather, United Educators of San Francisco/CFT and Mary Bergan, CFT 
• Susan Muenchow, American Institutes of Research 
• Dr. Pat Phipps, California Association for the Education of Young Children 
• Kris Perry, First 5 California 
• Bonnie Shatun, CTA Board of Directors 

Even a five-year-old named Precious (believe-it-or-not) was trotted out on the dais to tell everyone in the audience, “I like preschool.” (Can’t you just hear the collective, “Awwww, isn’t she cute?”) The event successfully rallied support and trained advocates to campaign for Reiner’s Preschool-For-All Initiative.

The push to establish state-run preschools in California came on the heels of a report published by the Economic Policy Institute titled, “Exceptional Returns: Economic, Fiscal, and Social Benefits of Investment in Early Childhood Development” by Robert G. Lynch. In it, the author makes a fiscal case for U.S. government-funded preschool programs. The book’s introduction says, “...this study illustrates the potential benefit to the solvency of the U.S. Social Security system from ECD investment.” That’s right, the solution to the government’s Social Security woes is to send kids to preschool! (You can download it for FREE in pdf format at: http://www.epinet.org/content.cfm/books_exceptional_returns.) 
Lynch states that children of poverty (and we are talking about kids in abject poverty whose socio-economic circumstances are so dire, they are identified as “at risk”) benefit from early childhood development programs. He reports that 20% of children in the U.S. are living in these circumstances and would profit from government-funded early childhood development programs. Taxpayers would shoulder the burden of 20% of the childhood population whose parents cannot properly care for them. This report makes a financial case that supporting universal preschool will allow these children to be properly managed through the public school system, so that they will grow up to become human resources that contribute to (and thus save) Social Security! Apparently it’s a short leap in the government’s mind to see that if these programs help critically poor children, they will also “help” the other 80% of the population that isn’t poor to contribute to the restoration of Social Security. Preschoolers, as potential taxpayers, must accept their fare share of responsibility for the fiscal mismanagement of the Social Security system. Government-funded retirement begins with preschoolers.

Of course, saving Social Security is just one explanation for the push to preschool. Preschool-For-All is being introduced due to the need to manage a growing non-English speaking population. There has been a marked increase in the number of preschoolers who are English language learners – 39% do not speak English. When these children enter school, where classes are taught in English, they are at a disadvantage. Most are perfectly bright and eager students – but because they can’t understand English they are soon identified as having special needs. They are tracked in Special Ed programs. As a result they are often disenfranchised, bored and frustrated. They may eventually drop out of school. Without a diploma they may be unable to find work and may wind up on welfare. Or they may drown their anger, frustration and despair in drugs and alcohol. Or they may resort to crime. All of these things cost society MONEY. Preschool is seen as a method for correcting this expenditure. 

Young children assimilate language easily. Teaching the population to speak English when they are 2-5 years old might be a solution. One of the problems is that among non-English speakers, there is a cultural disposition not to send young children to preschool. They raise their young children at home until they are of school age. In a democratic society you can’t target a portion of the population and say, “You have to go to preschool to learn English.” You’d be accused of discrimination. So, you start out slowly by making preschool available to everyone, with the intent to eventually make it mandatory, forcing English language immersion on little kids. By making preschool available to everyone, the government improves the odds that universal preschool will have the support of voters and taxpayers. To amass that support, the media is used to convince parents through propaganda that their child will do better in life by attending preschool. That’s the reason for the endless California First Five commercials that are laying the groundwork to seduce the population into believing that preschool is not only necessary – but a fundamental right. 

Expect to see more and more advertisements touting the benefits of preschool funded by government, corporations, teacher’s unions, misguided celebrities, and anyone who stands to benefit economically. Expect to see more and more legislation introduced – not just in California, but throughout the country -- to make preschool universal and eventually mandatory.

In fact, state-mandated kindergartens already exist in other states and voluntary universal preschool programs are underway, propelled by the societal trend of two-income families and the increasing number of single parents. A recent Rutgers University survey found that 87 percent of parents think states should provide funding so all kids can go to preschool. With more parents working outside of the home and in need of childcare, perhaps that’s not a big surprise. Eighty percent of Georgia’s four-year-olds attend state preschools funded by the lottery. Florida voters approved a universal preschool program for all four-year-olds that began in September, 2005. (Due to miscalculations, the program is under-funded. You can track their progress at http://www.upkflorida.org/.) New York has outlined a plan to provide free preschool that waits for county funding. 

It’s hard to escape the fact that many working parents would like to have “free” daycare in the form of government public preschools. California and the U.S. federal government already fund preschool/daycare programs for the neediest citizens -- about 20% of the population. Critically poor families and children determined to be “at risk” can already access preschool programs throughout the state in the form of Head Start programs and other similar state-funded programs. It’s available on an income-need basis. So, the disadvantaged have resources available already. There isn’t a compelling reason to provide daycare/preschool for the 80% that don’t need it (and remember WANT and NEED are entirely different things). Government preschool-for-all is welfare for daycare, and reveals an “entitlement” mentality among the population that thinks the government should take care of its citizens from crib to coffin. We have a social problem, and while institutionalizing little kids may be helpful to working adults, no one is asking, “What is best for the children?” 

Yet, many people think that preschool is what’s best for children. To understand why, it helps to review the history of preschool. Prior to the 1970’s most parents taught their young children at home, preparing them fully for kindergarten and first grade. However, in 1965 President Lyndon Johnson launched The War On Poverty that included something called “Head Start.” Head Start provided a place (often a school district classroom) where disadvantaged children ages 2-5 could go to get a nutritious meal, in a safe and secure environment, with caring adults who provided enrichment opportunities such as story time, art activities, and games. These were things most children from “normal” homes received every day from their moms and dads. Head Start was reported to be effective at helping these children developmentally and in aiding their successful transition to a school environment. 

The media prematurely touted the success of this government program, and somehow the claims were exaggerated to imply that ALL children who had “formal training” in their preschool years would do better academically throughout their school careers. Head Start coincided with the need for childcare due to the increase in single parenting and the advent of two-income families. Preschool programs became a popular idea -- giving every child some of the “advantages” most (who were not poor) would have received at home anyway. That, coupled with the demand for daycare, accounts for the beginning of the social acceptance of preschool today.

It is interesting to note, that forty years after the beginning of Head Start, reports indicate it has not delivered the benefits supporters would like you to think it has to the 20 million children who have participated. In fact, Karen Holgate, Director of Legislative Affairs for the California Family Council, sets the record straight in a brilliant expose titled Master Plan for Education – Universal Preschool: Does It really help children? Is it worth the cost? Written in August 2004 (and available to read online at www.californiafamily.org), Holgate provides compelling evidence that Head Start is a forty-four billion dollar boondoggle. She says, “…a 1985 Department of Health and Human Services report said that while Head Start can produce an ‘immediate positive impact on cognitive measures, social behavior and child health, among other things,’ any positive impact quickly diminishes once children enter school. In fact, the study said, ‘In the long run, cognitive and socio-emotional test scores of former Head Start students do not remain superior to those of disadvantaged children who did not attend Head Start… By the end of the second year there are no educationally meaningful differences on any of the measures … [and for] social behavior, former Head Start enrollees … drop to the level of comparison children by the end of the third year.’” Because of the revelations about the lack of success of Head Start, President George W. Bush recently moved to revamp the program placing it under the oversight of the Department of Education. 
In addition to the Head Start program, there are two or three other studies referred to over and over again as “proof” that universal preschool works. ALL of the studies have been conducted on low-income, at-risk kids. How do those results translate to mainstream children? There isn’t any proof that they do, no matter how often government pundits beat the “studies show” drum. In fact, there are a number of revered child development experts who strongly oppose the institutionalization of mainstream young children in academic programs and warn of the potential damage intellectually, psychologically, emotionally, socially and physically to them if separated from their parents and homes. 

In Mary Eberstadt’s Home Alone America: The Hidden Toll of Day Care, Behavioral Drugs and Other Parent Substitutes the author makes a case for why parental absence in the lives of children has created a whole new crop of social ills. David Elkind sounds the alarm in his book, Miseducation: Preschoolers At Risk. Elkind insists that, “What’s happening in the United States today is truly astonishing. In a society which prides itself for facts over hearsay, openness to research etc., research and opinion on how children learn and how best to teach them is being ignored.” Further, Elkind claims that, “No authority in the field of child psychology, pediatrics, or child psychiatry advocates formal education, in any domain, of infants and young children. In fact, the weight of solid professional opinion opposes it and advocates... a rich and stimulating environment that is... warm, loving, and supportive of a child’s own learning priorities and pacing. It is within this... environment that infants and young children acquire a solid sense of security, positive self-esteem, and long-term enthusiasm for learning.” Elkind, a professor of child studies at Tufts University, also raises the ugly and frequently unacknowledged issues of status and competition as driving factors in the proclivity of parents to enroll their children in “prestigious” preschool programs. It’s not about what’s best for the children; it’s about what makes mom and dad look and feel good. With more than half of the population of infants and young children enrolled in extended preschool programs, Eberstadt and Elkind leave little hope of a bright future for institutionalized little kids.

Another mantra that is used to convince parents that preschool will improve their children goes something like this, “Most brain development occurs in the early years. We can make more of a difference in children’s lives with preschool programs.” It’s true the early years are when the most significant brain development occurs. However, in Your Child’s Growing Mind: Brain Development and Learning From Birth to Adolescence, renowned educational psychologist and authority on brain development in children, Jane Healy, Ph.D., says to parents, “Give your child the gift of patience for the broad-based mental experiences that will underlie joyous learning throughout life…Childhood is a process, not a product, and so is learning. In a society that often respects products more than the processes of creation and thought, it is easy to fall into the trap of anxiety over measuring achievement in isolated skills. Have faith – in childhood and yourself. Children’s brains generally seek what they need, and nature has given you the instincts to help them get it.”
This message needs to be heard! At the very least, we must open this topic for debate BEFORE legislation is passed to further implement, fund and/or mandate universal preschool. Future generations are at risk! One of the first questions to ask of government preschool proponents is, “ Who will decide the standards for the programs offered at government universal preschools? Will they serve the child’s best interests or will they replicate what we have come to expect from public schools?” Despite the fact that Rob Reiner and government policy makers pay lip service to the idea of establishing “quality” preschool programs, their actions don’t match their words. 

Reiner’s initiative, for example, ties into CA Assembly Bill 1246 that requires all preschool teachers to be certified by the state of CA, and requires they teach preschool learning standards in line with public school curriculum standards. The preschool curriculum will include English Language Arts, Math, Science, History and Social Sciences. Accountability will be required in the form of testing. Since preschoolers will be tested, and funding of preschools will be based on test results -- what will happen when a young child doesn’t test well? Will they will be identified as “Special Needs” and relegated to remedial nursery schools? Will a small child’s inability to focus be diagnosed as ADD? Will the solution be to prescribe Ritalin for a 3-year-old?

Never underestimate the interests of drug companies, nor the agenda of other special interest groups such as teachers unions that will profit from public preschool programs. Preschool-For-All will provide jobs for teachers, school administrators, and contracts for specialty interest groups such as curriculum providers, transportation providers, food service providers, construction companies that build schools, maintenance and custodial services, school psychologists, etc.

Whatever reasons lie beneath preschool-for-all, and whatever spin the government-school-industrial-complex puts on it to sell the idea to parents, it’s still public school where little children will be institutionalized under the supervision of transient strangers (paid teachers) who will indoctrinate their charges with state-approved curriculum designed to mold a new batch of workers for the future. 
And while the government Preschool-For-All programs that are being introduced are voluntary programs, there is plenty of cause to suspect that within 10-20 years preschools will be mandatory. In other words, if voluntary programs are seeded, eventually all children ages 2-5 may be required to attend preschool under penalty of law (exactly as is required of students in public elementary and high schools across the country).

For those of you who still don’t see the problem as long as you can “opt out” by home-preschooling – be aware that it may not be an option. Preschools come under a different set of ordinances and regulations. If preschools become mandatory, parents wanting to opt out of government schools may not be able to teach their children at home because they cannot satisfy state health and safety codes (as applied to preschool institutions). Plus, Reiner’s initiative calls for all preschool teachers to be state certified leaving few parents qualified to teach their own.

Look, even if the intentions of the preschool proponents is to do good by helping the unfortunate or giving working parents a break, ask yourself why there is a push to include every preschool age child when research clearly tells us that little kids from “normal” or “advantaged” homes receive no discernible benefit from formal, academic preschool programs and may actually be harmed by them? Why should taxpayers pay for programs that can harm children?
Most of us agree that all little kids should be encouraged to learn, especially in the first five years of life when their brains are growing rapidly. We agree that little kids deserve a safe and secure environment to spend their days. But somehow we’ve forgotten that a functional home is a child’s best “preschool.” Since the beginning of humanity, parents have provided a safe home for their children, with a natural routine, a stimulating environment, nutritious food, and loving interaction. Children become smart, happy, self-confident, self-sufficient, curious and capable learners, fully prepared to successfully tackle academics and life skills when they are developmentally ready and motivated to do so.

We are being falsely told that universal preschool is a necessity to assure the successful future of our children. As good parents who want what is best for our kids, will we allow our tiny children to be harvested from our homes for human resource development? Preschool-For-All subtly usurps parental authority to determine the best course of education for young children. It’s a threat to parental rights, and with Rob Reiner’s help, the top 1.7% of income earners in California will be forced to pay for it. 

The promise of public preschool is to give every child the same and equal start. That is the utopian ideal. Human beings are not all the same – and the same, STANDARDIZED start in life will not address the unique needs and abilities of each individual child. 
Home is a child’s best “preschool.” For 80% of the preschool population, learning at home with loving parents -- who may also occasionally and thoughtfully use private and co-op preschool programs in their community that emphasize imaginative play and facilitate a child’s natural curiosity -- is a better model for the healthy intellectual, physical, social and emotional development of young children than any government preschool program could ever be.
More than ever, parents need to be informed in order to maintain their right to determine the educational path of their own children without government mandates or interference. 

While Rob Reiner stumps for Preschool-For-All in California, be advised that Janet Napolitano, the Governor of Arizona, is leading the charge for mandatory kindergarten and universal preschool for every child in the country. 

We should all care enough to examine the research and claims made in support of government funded and/or mandated universal preschool before we allow it to take hold. With that in mind, I have launched a website, www.UniversalPreschool.com to combat the implementation of government funded and/or mandated Universal Preschool and to empower parents to teach their little ones at home. If you are a concerned parent, educator, policy maker, or concerned citizen who opposes the implementation of government funded and/or mandatory Universal Preschool and want to do something about it – please visit the website and let us know how you can help with this cause. 

Copyright 2005, Diane Flynn Keith, All Rights Reserved