Universal Pre-Kindergarten: What Do You Think?

Wheelock College Alumna Lois Barnett Mirsky I was delighted when President Obama said in his 2013 State of the Union address that one of his top priorities is Universal Pre-K. The day after he made this wonderful proposal and what it means for America’s children, I began to look at it through the eyes of a possible skeptical public.

“According to the plan, Obama is proposing a cost partnership with all fifty states for all four-year olds from families at or below 200 percent of poverty,”

Does this new program for children have any chance of passing at this time given the current gridlock in Congress and the possibility of a government shutdown?

The public may ask how Universal Pre-K differs from the 50-year-old Headstart program. I am baffled by some recently publicized research which shows that gains made by children in Headstart programs dissipate by the time the children are in third grade.

Who did the research and what did they actually study?  If Headstart isn’t getting high marks, will Congress come together to fund Universal Pre-K?

What will Universal Pre-K cost? The exact cost will be detailed in Obama’s budget to be released soon.

The White House released data on how sequestration would impact educational programs in each state.  In Massachusetts, where I live, the Boston Globe reported that sequestration would eliminate Headstart and Early Headstart services for approximately 1,100 children statewide. I’d be interested in the total costs nationwide.  What would sequestration do to a Universal Pre-K program?

There are many questions that need to be asked and answered about Universal
Pre-K.  There is now a plethora of information.  I will have facts and figures for you in my April blog.  In the meantime I hope you will post your comments and questions as we move through this process.  We will monitor Universal Pre-K legislation, ensuring that its final version will be best for improving the lives of children and families.

Wheelock President Jackie Jenkins-Scott wrote in her recent blog in the Huffington Post :  “I encourage elected officials to join President Obama  in calling for high quality early childhood education for all children.  I call on advocates to join forces to support this renewed interest in young children and join educators and parents so that together we can demand the funding for such a promise.  Let’s put our words into action and fully fund quality early learning spaces for all children.”

Warm regards,
Lois Barnett Mirsky ’54


The highly positive outcomes of cognitive based, active learning preschools have been well know since David Weikart’s seminal High Scope/Perry Preschool Project study in 1962, when he conducted a randomized controlled long-term trial of 123 low income children’s preschool experiences. He found that those who who attended the congitive based/active learning program achieved more school success and positive economic outcomes than the matched sample of children who who did not have these educational experiences. The children with the strong preschool experiences also had a lower teen pregnancy rate and less involvement in criminal activities. Weikart’s study proved that an investment in developmentally appropriate preschool education pays for itself in the future in that it yields more responsible tax paying citizens.

Posted @ Thursday, March 28, 2013 2:46 PM by Dr. Susan Harris-Sharples, Professor Emeritus

There are a number of reasons to support “Universal Pre-Kindergarten,” but most importantly it’s the best option thus far to broaden the advantages of cognitive development and student success to all families regardless of socioeconomic status. According to the contributors to Consortium for Longitudinal Studies in As the Twig Is Bent–Lasting Effects of Preschool Programs (1983), there is a direct correlation between preschool and success in school. Students who attend Pre-K are less likely retained in subsequent grades and more likely to graduate high school. Due to the evolving American family, students increasingly enter Kindergarten on unequal footing and it’s a burgeoning problem that needs national attention. Head Start tends to look at the larger picture, which encompasses stabilizing and fostering low income families. Middle class families with two working parents often keep their children in costly day care programs for continuity or, in many instances, one parent leaves his/her career to provide full-time care at home. While day care, Head Start, and the stability of a home environment all have advantages, the focus is not necessarily academic driven; therefore, many three and four year old children from low to middle SES are at an academic disadvantage from the get-go. Our government, often with good reason, is forced to legislate costly initiatives that correct curriculum and diversity issues. Universal Pre-K is an opportunity to prevent such issues and subsequent costs from arising.

Posted @ Wednesday, April 03, 2013 12:12 PM by Denise Simard