Education: Does preschool matter?

Interesting article in Slate: The Early Education Racket … poses the question does preschool really matter

Research suggests that if you have the time and money to argue over the merits of different preschools and their philosophies, your kid isn’t going to suffer either way since upper-middle-class parents “tend to be choosing between all very good options

In fact, he/she probably doesn’t need to go to preschool at all.


Here’s what the research says …

The kids who truly need early education have parents who, sadly, can’t afford it.

Compared with kids who skip preschool, kids who attend usually have more well-to-do, encouraging parents who read and do puzzles with them at home.

Children who don’t go to preschool are usually from more disadvantaged families, which means they watch lots of TV and are yelled at more than they are praised, which some researchers believe can stunt cognitive development.

Research suggests that parents who are financially comfortable tend to devote more resources and time to their kids, in part because they can.

  • Children with professional parents hear about 30 million words by the time they turn 3, compared with 20 million in working-class families and 10 million in welfare families.
  • The ratio of parental encouragements to reprimands was about 6-to-1 among professional families, 2-to-1 among the working class and 1-to-2 in welfare homes.

These different experiences closely tracked with the children’s later academic and intellectual performance.

Research suggests that preschool only benefits children from these disadvantaged families (in particular, families that are below the poverty line, whose mothers are uneducated, or who are racial minorities).


Because preschool acts as a kind of “equalizer,” ensuring that for at least a few hours a day, these kids get the same high-quality interaction with adults as more advantaged children do, which helps to even the developmental playing field.

Even though children from poor families tend to go to lower quality preschools than wealthy kids do,for them, a bad preschool is usually better than nothing.

Said differently, a bad home situation becomes a much smaller problem when your kid goes to preschool.

When you have a good home environment, preschool doesn’t really matter that much.

Just pick one that’s convenient and feels right.

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Ken’s Take:

It’s popular to castigate the education system for not doing its job.

What about the deterioration of family structures and values?

In the old days, schools were focused on, well, schooling … giving kids a solid education.

Now, schools are expected to compensate for bad homes, dysfunctional families and marginalized churches.

My view: we’re asking schools to do too much, and families to do too little.

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One Response to “Education: Does preschool matter?”

  1. Bad_Brad Says:

    Interesting topic, Ken. I have three kids (8, 5, and 2) and the wife and I have made the decision to send all three to pre-school. We didn’t think much about it, we just assumed it would be a good thing academically. Plus, it gives my wife some time when she is unshackled from child care, and it helps the kids learn to socialize and make some friends before they start Kindergarten.

    When my oldest started Kindergarten, I was taken aback to find out she had homework. I’m in my late 30’s, and I don’t think I had homework until around 7th grade. As time has gone on, I’ve become increasingly amazed at how much the schools outsource the actual teaching to parents. I spend one to two hours each night with my 8-year-old doing math, reading, spelling, and sometimes social studies or science. When I was a kid, I was under the impression that schools did nearly 100% of the educating, or at least something close to 80%. Today, I would peg it at closer to 20%. If we were a two-income working-class family, and we didn’t have this time to invest with our kids to do most of the heavy-lifting in educating them, we would be at a huge disadvantage.

    It also seems like less of a stretch to home-school now than it did before. We are effectively already paying for the government product. Whether we use it or not is up to us. And frankly, given that we are doing 80% of the work anyway, the last 20% is not that big of a barrier. If my job was less busy, I would do it.

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