Arnold Kling  

Feelings vs. Consequences

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Pre-kindergarten education is one of those policies that feels right to do-gooders. What are the actual consequences? According to an NBER report,


early education does increase reading and mathematics skills at school entry, but it also boosts children's classroom behavioral problems and reduces their self-control. Further, for most children the positive effects of pre-kindergarten on skills largely dissipate by the spring of first grade, although the negative behavioral effects continue.

The study does show advantages for disadvantaged children from attending pre-kindergarten.

I think it is always an uphill battle trying to bring evidence to bear in questions of social policy. Thanks to Tyler Cowen for the pointer.


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TrackBack URL: http://econlog.econlib.org/mt/mt-tb.cgi/225
The author at Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science in a related article titled Surfing the web, or From the 10th floor to the 7th floor in four steps writes:
    So I clicked on the link on our webpage to Decision Science News, flipped through there and then on to his links . . . hmmm, a link to the psychologist Jon Baron, who studies thinking and decision making. .... [Tracked on April 2, 2005 6:59 PM]
COMMENTS (8 to date)
Lawrance George Lux writes:

Kindergarten is more of an American institution than the original German. Pre-Kindergarten meets the need of dual-Working Parents. The later fact establishes a two-tier system, of pre-Kindergarten attendance and not. Effective Statistical data will establish that non-attendance at pre-Kindergarten will generate discrimination against non-Attenders, even if the Students are new to each other.

Socialization starts from first Outside contact with the normal ritual of Social clique formation. Again it is the Prisoner's Dilemma where all Parents should decide on pre-Kindergarten, or All should deny it. lgl

Bruce Cleaver writes:

"I think it is always an uphill battle trying to bring evidence to bear in questions of social policy. "

Even more so when the subject is children. Almost any crazy idea can be given a respectable hearing these days by claiming it is 'for the children'.

spencer writes:

The first "head start" children are now mature adults and recent studies of how they compared to similiar children without head start show that it had a very significant positive impact on their economic well being.

Bernard Yomtov writes:
RD writes:

But does their economic well being stem totally from Head Start? If they had the sort of family that was willing to send them into an experimental, extra-mile program such as that, then simply the fact that they had such a family probably had more to do with it than the Head Start skills.

I might be proven wrong is the more recent and the current generations of Head Starters, those whose parent(s) mostly just need them out of the house quick as possible, grow up as successfully.

RD writes:

Additionally: Even if/though preschool has benefits (and the word is probably "though"), I have other qualms.

Kindergarten brought American education up for the same reason: children were inducted into the schooling system earlier, so they were better off in first grade than children of the same age in non-kindergarten-using countries. But to improve on that, we needed to get the kids into school even earlier - preschool. Where does this end? It makes me think of a character discussing the dystopia of Fahrenheit (My-Apologies-I-Forget-the-Exact-Degree-in-the-Title) saying, "we're practically snatching them from the cradle now," referring to schools. I don't think the kids are being systematically brainwashed - well, I take that back, schooling is trying to bend the mental processes of the young to a certain mold. For beneficial purposes, if done right. But I don't want to one day be sending a off to a state-funded pre-preschool on his/her second birthday either.

This argument is not purely based on the "slippery slope" angle; I'm merely asking why we can't expend this energy on improving kindergarten itself - not to mention the rest of the schooling system.

Bernard Yomtov writes:

If they had the sort of family that was willing to send them into an experimental, extra-mile program such as that, then simply the fact that they had such a family probably had more to do with it than the Head Start skills.

Probably? I don't think you have any basis for saying that.

Rick Stewart writes:

The point is begged. Even if pre-school is better for children when they become adults (because that is the appropriate time to care about it, I believe, not when they are still children), does that mean the state should be providing free pre-school to every child?

Certainly it would be better if the state just handed out free pre-school vouchers, and let the private market create the supply of pre-schools.

And certainly it would be even better if those vouchers were need-based. There's no reason to subsidize millionaire's pre-school expenses, is there?

And perhaps it would be even better to give 'qualifying families' (read: poor) cash, instead of vouchers, since in particular cases it might be that good as pre-school would be for a child, a pair of new Nike tennis shoes today would prevent him/her from getting beaten up in the local playground.

Or do you want to be paternalistic, and only give poor families what you KNOW is best for them?

The debate is not about pre-school. The debate is about how to redistribute wealth, and who to entrust with its redistribution. I trust myself to know what my poor neighbor needs most, and if the government would give my money back I would be glad to provide it for him.

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