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3-K Proposal Illustrates Conundrums of Early Childhood Education

May 12, 2017

Is “3-K for All” Good for All” DeBlasio’s Plan Troubles Some, Kate Taylor’s article in yesterday’s NYTimes, describes some of the conundrums facing politicians who want to provide early childhood education to a wider population. Here are some cited in the article:

  • Wage disparities = high turnover: In an effort to address the learning deficits of children raised in poverty, many non-profit preschool programs have emerged across New York City. These programs typically pay far less than the union positions in pre-K programs offered by public school districts, which results in high turnover in those non-profits.
  • Lack of universal pre-K in NYS = political headwinds for NYC: Because there are many districts in NYS that do not offer pre-K programs, there is little inclination for Upstate politicians to give serious consideration to the NYC mayor’s request for more funding for 3-K programs.
  • Lack of sufficient classroom space = higher price tag to launch program: In order to launch a universal 3-K program, the city would need to find more classroom space, a challenge especially the Manhattan area where space is expensive.
  • A school-year 3-K program would be a step backward from year-round 3-K programs in place: Many of the private non-profit 3-K programs and many of the early childhood intervention programs in place for children raised in poverty are year round, enabling parents to work without concerns about child care. A school-year program would be problematic for this parents.

But the one problem I see is not related to economics or logistics. It is the fact that any school program in NYC will effectively push the sorting and selecting process downward. Kindergarten and pre-Kindergarten enrollments are often “competitive” in the same way enrollments to college are. Parents vie to get their children enrolled in particular schools and children are often tested at the age of 4 to determine if they are “gifted and talented”. Testing at this age is arguably invalid and unarguably apples needless pressure to four year olds, many of whom have been enrolled in academic training programs in advance of the tests. Moving mandatory education to a younger age will only exacerbate this testing and test-prep, further diminishing the opportunity for free play.

Bottom line: before pushing schooling to an ever younger age we might want to consider using the scarce funds available for schools to provide more equity of opportunity.

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