The Dubious Promise of Universal Preschool

In his 2013 State of the Union address, President Obama proposed a “Preschool for All” initiative, pledging $75 billion in new federal funding over a period of ten years. Before we launch a universal preschool program and dedicate billions of dollars in federal funds, however, it is important that we take into account the outcomes of students participating in the existing federal preschool program: Head Start. While Head Start appears to produce modest positive effects during the preschool years, these effects do not last even into kindergarten, much less through the early elementary years. A review of the research on Head Start and other preschool programs, with a rigorous consideration of the benefits claimed by these programs and an informed cost-benefit analysis, must be undertaken before the federal government spends billions of dollars on a new, untested program.

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