The Wrong Lesson on Early Childhood Education

The Hechinger Report published an article on a recent study of six countries’ (Australia, England, Finland, Hong Kong, Korea, and Singapore)  approach to early childhood education. The project was led by Sharon Lynn Kagan, a professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College and Yale University and funded by the National Center on Education and the Economy. 

They drilled down on these countries because each country spends more money per child than the U.S. on early childhood education.

Lillian Monegeau writes:

In the U.S., caring for young children has long been considered the responsibility of individual families, not the government. With the exception of a few times in history where it was considered a national priority to bring women into the workforce temporarily, publicly funded child care has remained low on the list of programs receiving federal dollars. The federal money that is spent, mostly on preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds living in poverty (through programs like Head Start) and on helping states provide subsidized child care, is generally considered assistance for families struggling to make ends meet.

While all of the countries studied for “The Early Advantage” have low-income populations in need of extra assistance to provide their young ones with quality child care and education, none of them make income level a requirement for services. Instead, these countries offer near-universal systems that guarantee some level of education for children age 3 and older. Five of the countries, Hong Kong excepted, also offer provisions for infants and toddlers, whether it be subsidized care or extended (compared to the U.S.) paid parental leave.

Monegeau then shares a remarkable statement by Kagan:

“It really goes back to founding fathers,” Kagan said. “We were established to escape government tyranny. It’s always been a hands-off mentality.”

Yes, we believe parents, not the government, is responsible for the education of their kids, especially when they are young. 

The major takeaway here is that there needs to be a more substantial investment in early childhood education. That would be a waste of money since numerous studies have shown that early childhood education does not help academic achievement. So, by all means, let’s throw more money at it! 

Also, something that’s missing is that the United States has far, far more children than these other countries. It begs the obvious question: how would we pay for this?

But I’m sure education reformers will ignore those lessons and embrace this study instead. 

Read the rest.

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