The irony is that early education is already an American strength. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that vast majorities of children enter kindergarten ready to learn: They recognize numbers, they can count to ten, and although most of them aren’t literate they grasp a few fundamentals about letters and reading. During the 1990s, even as Americans became less likely to read books, parents actually increased the rate at which they read books to preschoolers.
Perhaps this is one reason that young children perform well when compared with kids in other countries. On recent standardized language tests, fourth graders finished north of the 70th percentile, topping their peers in 26 of 35 countries. They also scored above average in math and science. “There’s room for improvement, but this system certainly isn’t broken,” says Lisa Snell of the Reason Foundation. “It’s basically working just fine.” Problems set in as these children leave elementary schools and enter middle school. By the time they’re in the eighth grade, their achievement is at best average. In the twelfth grade, it’s mediocre.
This hardly makes the case for a government takeover of early education. If anything, it’s an argument for reform of the upper grades–and probably in the direction of market-based alternatives that weaken government’s near monopoly on K-12 schools. Anything else is a misbegotten priority.
National Review article (from Free Library) on the push for government-run “universal preschool”: