The New York Times:
Preschool is having its moment, as a favored cause for politicians and interest groups who ordinarily have trouble agreeing on the time of day. President Obama devoted part of his State of the Union address to it, while the deeply red states of Oklahoma and Georgia are being hailed as national models of preschool access and quality, with other states and cities also forging ahead on their own.
But researchers say the quality of Head Start programs vary widely, and that studies often compare Head Start participants with children in other, potentially better, preschool programs. James J. Heckman, a Nobel winner and University of Chicago economist whose study of the economic benefits of the Perry preschool program in Michigan in the 1960s is often cited by advocates, said good quality does not require an exorbitant price tag. “If we pare it down to its essentials,” Dr. Heckman said, “it may not be very expensive.”
Advances in the sciences also point to the importance of the earliest years. “There’s overwhelming and indisputable evidence across the entire biological sciences that early experiences shape the developing brain,” said Jack P. Shonkoff, director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University.
Even those who agree that early education can reap long-term benefits say policy makers should not bank on miracles. Mark Lipsey, a psychologist at Vanderbilt University who is leading a study of a voluntary preschool program in Tennessee that has shown early indications of some lasting social benefits for children who participate, said advocates sometimes made preschool sound “like you put them in the pre-K washing machine and scrub them clean and they come out after that.”
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