Equality of Opportunity Starts Early

A neat rundown on new initiatives for universal pre-kindergarten, put together by the Democratic Leadership Council/Progressive Policy Institute, a Washington DC thinktank that’s on the rightish-side-of-the-left.

Children who attend high-quality preschool programs that prepare them to read and build cognitive, verbal, and social skills do measurably better in school and in life than kids who do not have that opportunity. They get better scores on academic achievement tests in school, go on to get better jobs, and are less likely to become dependent on welfare or to commit crimes.

Of one program, the authors noted:

Georgia began funding a universal pre-K program in 1993 with earmarked proceeds from a state lottery. Any 4-year-old child in the state is eligible to enroll. … A University of Georgia study found that the pre-K students improved their school readiness scores relative to national norms. It also found that the pre-K system eliminated the skills gap between universal pre-K students and the more affluent students whose parents sent them to private programs.

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4 Responses to Equality of Opportunity Starts Early

  1. Our school system is structured for an industrial society, so if you could blast this system away, and start again with a clean slate, how would you structure the school system? How would you educate people?

  2. Andrew Leigh says:

    Cam, I’m not sure that’s right. Australia was a predominantly service economy even in the 1940s. I’m not sure I’d rip up too much stuff – just make it run more efficiently.

  3. Christine says:

    Very interesting questions in what the priorities in the education system should be, and early childhood questions are starting to get a lot more attention. But though there is some great research that looks directly at the effect of early education, the recent attention it’s been getting, at least in economics, seems to be more focused on work suggesting it’s Grade 11 performance that matters for Grade 12, Grade 10 performance that matters for Grade 11, and so on back to Grade 1, so that once you start school, there’s not much you can do to equalise opportunity after all.

    This can then be used to argue, for instance, that we shouldn’t bother with policies ensuring that kids from poor families can afford to go to university, because whether they go or not has all been determined by the time they’ve left pre-school. So forget this whole HECS thing, just charge up front fees, it won’t make any difference. Ditto with your suggestion of paying an allowance to indigenous students to attend school. I think there’s evidence that this is not true, is taking the early childhood argument to extremes, and is not quite what the researchers working on this have in mind, but still …

  4. Andrew, Sorry, carrying my own prejiduces there, by industrial, I eman pre-information age. Slower investment, business and education cycles. Nowadays it seems seven years is about the maximum of a boom or mini-boom in investment. The internet boom was approx 1994-2000. Someone studying Computer Science would have to invest three years, and plenty of dollars in themselves, but when they came out, they would have a maximum of three years to recoup that investment in themselves before their skill most likely becomes a commodity from over-supply.

    There was a mini-boom in biotech soon after/during. It appears to have dissipated as well. It was at maximum six years. It seems that is the period when rapid investment can shake a new industry and pick the winners and losers. But if I wanted to take part in that mini-boom, I would have had to spend three years at Uni, which in the US would mean an investment in myself of $90,000, for the hope of getting a high salary for three years until the boom exhausts itself, and the biotech skills become commoditised as the industry consolidates around the winners.

    What would you do to make the Australian education system more efficient?

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