While researchers found modest gains for low-income children, education experts cautioned it would be difficult to replicate these outcomes on a large scale, as with programs like Head Start, or for middle- and upper-income children.
"Any argument for universal preschool must show that middle-income and upper-income children are helped by having government-funded preschool available to all children," said Lance Izumi, senior director of education studies at the Pacific Research Institute. "Previous studies, such as the RAND study that was issued during the campaign for universal preschool in California, specifically admitted that there was little evidence showing that preschool improved the achievement and life circumstances of middle-income and upper-income children."
States' experience with offering universal or state-funded preschool programs have shown "disappointing" student achievement results, Izumi said. Internal reviews by the Department of Health and Human Services have shown for decades that the nation’s largest preschool program, Head Start, does nothing for students' test scores past first grade.
"Concluding that a program like this would benefit the average, middle-class child is akin to suggesting that penicillin will improve your child’s health," [Goldwater Institute president Darcy] Olsen said. "Penicillin is great for fighting infection in the sick, but has no effect on those who are not in need and may even be harmful."
I remember a conversation last year in which state Rep. Jabar Shumate (D-Tulsa) told me that even the best preschool is for naught if the child then goes to bad schools for 12 years. He's right. As Olsen puts it, "changing a child’s trajectory requires fundamentally reforming our public schools into schools that can meet children's learning needs throughout the years."