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Parsing Pre-K as Panacea

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David Kirp

David Kirp, Marx Lecture

Parsing Pre-K as Panacea

The author of “The Sandbox Investment” discusses that rarest of beasts in education: a bipartisan issue

    In America these days, ethical arguments hold less weight than they used to—however important or valid they may be. Increasingly, Americans look to see what the return is on the public investment.
    In his recent conversation, David L. Kirp, professor at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, pointed out during the Virginia and Leonard Marx Lecture—on the matter of universal preschool—says the returns on investment are significant.
    Kirp, author of The Sandbox Investment, discussed the growing call for universal preschool and revealed the life changing impact a quality preschool program can achieve.
Kirp cited the landmark study of the Perry Preschool in Ypsilanti, Michigan. There a group of underprivileged African American youngsters were tracked from the early 1960s until they were in middle age.
    Findings showed the Perry Preschool attendees were less likely to be assigned to special education classes, less likely to have any convictions, less likely to be on welfare. At the same time, they were more likely to graduate high school, more likely to go to college, more likely to be married and more likely to afford proper healthcare.
    As Kirp pointed out, “the Perry Preschool has produced the kind of returns that outstrips the stock market.” A 17 dollar return to the individual and society for every dollar spent on early education.
Facts that translate to smart economics. Paying for preschool now can create significant future savings on unemployment, crime management and healthcare benefits.
    Facts that have been hailed by child development researchers, police departments, economists as well as presidential candidates.
    Kirp pointed out the universal preschool issue is not a red state–blue state issue. “It’s become,” he noted, “a bi-partisan issue–a non-partisan issue.”
On a personal note, he stated, “It’s not about politics. It’s not about policy. It’s not about money. It’s about giving kids their lives, where they can reach their potential.”
    Kirp clearly admonished, however, that the quality of the preschool is vital, and adequately trained teachers is integral to the success of the educational experience.
    And so, while universal preschool is on the national radar, “Gradualism,” he stressed, “is the key. You’ve got to get it right at whatever level the system can sustain.”


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