Surrogate Families

Speaking of universal pre-k, John Schwenkler’s latest foray into education policy is also quite good.  I liked this quote from John Heckman, a University of Chicago professor who’s something of an authority on the matter:

” . . . to spend public dollars in such a way as to “try to substitute for what the middle-class and upper-middle-class parents are already doing,” as he put it in a 2005 interview, is “foolish.”

That sounds about right to me. Universal pre-k will always suffer from comparisons to good parenting.  But I think the correct benchmark for evaluating early childhood education is the learning environment of underprivileged children in the absence of any state intervention. Obviously, there are serious questions about the efficacy of universal pre-k, and I think any proposal should be subjected to rigorous cost-benefit analysis. But comparing the results of early childhood education to a stable, two-parent family sets an unreasonably high bar. The goal of universal pre-k is to alleviate the impact of preexisting socio-economic disparities in the classroom. Recreating the benefits of good parenting through the public school system is something else entirely.

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