Critique of Universal Preschool Inaccurate, Poorly Reasoned

Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Hoover Institution book 'cherry picks' data and ignores contrary evidence

Press release from the Think Tank Review Project

BOULDER, Colo. and TEMPE, Ariz. (June 16, 2009) – A new think tank book that criticizes proposals for universal preschool has been found by an expert reviewer to be an inaccurate and poorly reasoned attack that ignores mounting evidence of the role universal preschool could play in raising student achievement, especially for children living in poverty.

Reroute the Preschool Juggernaut is written by Chester Finn of the Fordham Institution and published by the Hoover Institution. It is the subject of a special review, written for the Education and the Public Interest Center and the Education Policy Research Unit, by Professor W. Steven Barnett, Director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University.

Barnett's special review offers a 14-point rebuttal to the Finn book, which, he writes, greatly exaggerates the cost of universal preschool and ignores its demonstrated benefits. The book also ignores numerous meta-analyses of preschool research, benefit-cost studies that have found a clear economic value to society of preschool's effects for disadvantaged children amounting "to hundreds of thousands of dollars per child," and research on the benefits of preschool programs for all children.

Elsewhere, the book gets mired self-contradiction. For example, "...to chastise American programs for insufficient attention to cognitive goals, the book actually cites the success of France's universal preschool program in raising test scores and reducing inequality," Barnett writes. "But it then ignores this evidence, as well as evidence from across Europe and in the United States that finds pre-K for all can reduce achievement gaps."

Instead of universal preschool, Reroute the Preschool Juggernaut urges a targeted program focusing on low-income families. Barnett's review, however, points out that such an approach would actually leave both middle-income and low-income children behind. Universal programs reach more low-income children than targeted ones. And middle-class children have demonstrated improved achievement thanks to universal preschool, Barnett writes.

Barnett's review concludes by noting that the issues raised in Preschool Juggernaut will – and should – be debated. But he warns that these debates will be most productive if they are based on accurate and complete information. "This book," he says "does not advance that cause; it instead replicates errors from prior publications aimed at derailing preschool for all and introduces some new errors. Those interested in developing sound policy will have to look elsewhere for the facts."

Find Steven Barnett's review on the web at:
http://epicpolicy.org/thinktank/Special-Review-Reroute-Preschool-Juggernaut

CONTACT:
W. Steven Barnett, Board of Governors Professor
Director, National Institute for Early Education Research
Rutgers University
(732) 932-4350
sbarnett@nieer.org

Kevin Welner, Professor and Director
Education and the Public Interest Center
University of Colorado at Boulder
(303) 492-8370
kevin.welner@gmail.com

About the Think Tank Review Project

The Think Tank Review Project (http://thinktankreview.org), a collaborative project of the ASU Education Policy Research Unit (EPRU) and CU-Boulder's Education and the Public Interest Center (EPIC), provides the public, policy makers, and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected think tank publications. The project is made possible by funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.