For their series "The Campaign for Big Ideas," my friends at GOOD magazine asked me what one policy proposal ought to be part of the national political debate, but has been mostly left off the table. I suggested universal preschool:
Guaranteeing universal access to preschool would benefit children, of course, but also their parents and the overall economy. First, extending the social contract to 3-and-4-year-olds would acknowledge that our public education system can no longer run on a pre-feminism model that assumes mothers of young children don’t need or want to work. Second, improving lifetime educational achievement by reaching all children as early in their brain development as possible would increase economic mobility. And third, universal preschool would create many new jobs for early education teachers and teachers' aides. Those jobs might be especially attractive to low-income, single women, who raise some of the most vulnerable children and have been subject to waves of political posturing from the likes of Mitt Romney, who believes in the “dignity of work” for poor mothers but whose policy proposals would do little to provide them with dignified employment opportunities. One innovative way to involve needy working moms in an early-education renaissance: create “charter colleges” that train early childhood educators through lots of in-classroom practice and mentorship, without forcing them to fulfill all the requirements of a traditional bachelor’s degree.
In the piece I also delve into the track record and future of Head Start, and discuss the Obama administration's well-intentioned, but ultimately small-bore attempts to improve preK. Read the whole thing.
(A special hat-tip on this piece to my colleageues at New America's Early Ed Watch, from whom I've learned so much about this issue.)