Preschool is a ‘Magic’ Answer

I’ll get to the boring Oklahoma data dispute soon, but first I’d like to respond to a small point in my ongoing debate with Sara Mead of the New America Foundation.

Mead thinks I’m being uncharitable in my characterization of how she and the New America Foundation approach preschool policy: “And, Schaeffer is most definitely wrong, given our commitment to pre-k as one part of a broader school reform agenda, to lump me in with the silver bullet crew.”

First, I’ve never said that these folks claim preschool is a silver bullet, or an inoculation, or what-have-you. I’ve said they wildly oversell what preschool can do. But I guess I should have looked more closely at their website, which seems more nuanced than I first thought.

From their website’s Education Policy Program Overview: “Early Education. There is no magic answer in education policy, but preschool comes close.”

I didn’t expect to agree with their characterization … preschool really is close to a “magic” answer! It provides the illusion of an answer to our educational problems. But that’s all it is: an illusion.

Preschool is, at best, of marginal long-term value to at-risk children. The real answer to our educational problems lies in reforming the k-12 system.

Instead of chasing magical solutions like universal pre-k, we should focus on the one proven and potentially systemic k-12 reform: educational freedom.