J. Michael Smith, President — Michael P. Farris, Chairman
| ||February 4, 2008|
Early Education Shows No Benefit
Compulsory attendance or mandatory kindergarten at early ages is not the way to improve academic excellence. In fact, it may harm the development of young children to force them into the school system at a young age. The studies below demonstrate that compelling 5- and 6-year-olds to attend school is not only unnecessary, but also violates a parent’s fundamental right to direct the education of their children, as guaranteed by the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510 (1925); Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 at 233; Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57 (2000).
Studies Demonstrate the Failure of Early Education Programs
Massive Study Finds Pre-School and Early Child Education Initiatives Show No Benefit
A six year comparison of almost 35,000 children has shown that there has been no change in developmental levels of pupils entering primary school in this period, despite the introduction of several new early years’ initiatives over the past decade, new research from Durham University’s Curriculum, Evaluation and Management (CEM) Centre reveals.1
A number of child development researchers have recognized that normal children who are admitted to school too early will often become underachievers and display developmental problems. Rebecca Marcon, researcher from the University of North Florida, explains:
Children’s later school success appears to be enhanced by more active, child-initiated learning experiences. Their long-term progress may be slowed by overly academic preschool experiences that introduce formalized learning experiences too early for most children’s developmental status. Pushing children too soon may actually backfire when children move into the later elementary school grades and are required to think more independently and take on greater responsibility for their own learning process.2
This finding is not a recent development. As far back as 1987 researchers were concerned with the effects of starting formal education too early, according to a report made that year by Dr. David Elkind, a psychologist at Tufts University, who said:
There is really no evidence that early formal institutionalization brings any lasting or permanent benefits for children. By contrast, the risk to the child’s motivation, intellectual growth, and self-esteem could well do serious damage to the child’s emerging personality. It is reasonable to conclude that the early instruction of young children derives more from the need and priorities of adults than from what we know of good pedagogy for young children.3
One of the most widespread sources of childhood stress is the separation of children from their parents at young ages. Karl Zinsmeister, Adjunct Research Associate at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, says:
Declining parental attachment is an extremely serious risk to children today. The verdict of enormous psychological literature is that time spent with a parent is the very clearest correlate of healthy child development.4
Research indicates it is advisable to move away from formal academic instruction to a developmental approach for early childhood education. Children who are at home with their parents can develop the skills necessary for learning in a day-to-day setting and thus be prepared for an academic setting.5
Dr. Jean Piaget, long respected in the academic community for his studies in developmental research, found a child’s cognitive abilities usually show maturity between the ages of 7 and 9. Many children are put at risk by compulsory attendance statutes that do not take into account slower maturation rates.6
In a report, entitled, “The Influence of Preschool Centers on Children’s Development Nationwide: How Much Is Too Much?”, by UC Berkeley and Stanford, the authors found that the social skills of white, middle-class children suffer after attending preschool centers for more than six hours a day, compared to those who remain at home with a parent prior to starting school.7
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services prepared a technical analysis paper outlining research that has been done on the Head Start Programs across the country. The paper, prepared by Sharon M. McGroder, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation on March 29, 1990, finds that the benefits of Head Start Programs tend to “fade out” by second or third grade.8
More specifically, in The Westinghouse Study of 1969, the results found that “Summer programs were found to have no lasting impact. Full-year programs resulted in cognitive and language gains at the first grade level but appeared to ‘fade out’ by second or third grade.”9
The Head Start Synthesis Project of 1985 found that, “Significant, immediate gains in cognitive test scores, socioemotional test scores, and health status, (though) in the long-run, cognitive and socioemotional test scores of former Head Start students do not remain superior to those of disadvantaged children who did not attend Head Start.”10
In a study by Copple, Cline, & Smith, researched in 1987, the results showed that, “Head Start children performed slightly (but non-significantly) better on achievement tests than their non-Head Start peers up to third grade, but there was no difference on achievement test scores from third to sixth grade.”11
Another 1987 study used three different Head Start delivery models to compare the relative effects on parents and children. The three models were center-based, home-based, and a combination of center and home-based. The study then measured from the time children were enrolled in Head Start through kindergarten and found that, “No difference was found in children’s cognitive development across the three delivery models. Parents enrolled in the home-based model demonstrated greater gains in academic stimulation of their children; in the use of toys, games, and reading material; and in encouraging their children to learn. Home-based parents also demonstrated greater growth in knowledge of child development and parent empowerment. (University of Delaware, 1988).”12
A report published February 6, 2007 by the Goldwater Institute examines Stanford 9 test scores and finds Arizona kindergarten programs initially improve learning but have no measurable impact on reading, math, or language arts test scores by fifth grade. Darcy Olsen, president of the Goldwater Institute, says, “This report demonstrates that all-day kindergarten is not an education reform strategy that policymakers can hang their hats on. All-day k delivers short-term benefits at best.”
The data show that students in schools with all-day kindergarten programs have statistically significant higher 3rd-grade test scores, but there is no impact on 5th-grade scores. This finding is consistent with previous research. Schools facing significant competition for students, whether through public or private options, demonstrate significant test score gains.
The findings of this empirical analysis demonstrate that early childhood education expansion is an expensive reform that delivers only transitory benefits. School choice uses resources more efficiently and delivers improved academic achievement.13
You can find the full article highlighting this new study here:
- EducationNews.org: All-Day Kindergarten Failing as Education Reform;
- Putting Arizona Education Reform to the Test: School Choice and Early Education Expansion: The executive summary;
- The full Goldwater Study.
In the largest study on child care and development, conducted by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, researchers found that the more time children spent in child care, the more likely their sixth-grade teachers were to report behavioral problems. In a press release regarding the study, researchers said, “parenting quality was a much more important predictor of child development than was type, quantity, or quality, of child care. . . .One possible reason why relations between center care and problem behavior may endure is that primary school teachers lack the training as well as the time to address behavior problems, given their primary focus on academics.”14
Lisa Snell, Director of Education and Child Welfare at the Reason Foundation, in her article titled “Don’t Expect Long-Term Gain From Early Education Money,” discusses the absurdity of Michigan considering another investment of hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to public prekindergarten programs that just aren’t showing any return. Snell writes in her article that “policymakers [should not] be focusing scarce education resources on programs that can [not] make a lasting difference.” She reinforced her statements by quoting from The National Center for Education Statistics Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, which found that there were no “substantive differences in children’s third-grade achievement relative to the type of kindergarten program (full-day vs. half-day) they attended.” The article also mentions the California-based RAND Corp.’s December 2006 report, “School Readiness, Full-Day Kindergarten, and Student Achievement,” which found that children in the full-day kindergarten programs were showing decreased mathematics skills by the time they were in fifth grade, than those who had only attended a part-day kindergarten program. 15
Lack of Results in International Early Education Programs
Early education is a growing concern to many countries around the world. Much of this concern has been centered in Europe, where governments provide care and schooling for children as young as a year old. Billions of dollars are spent on these programs, which are designed to give children a head start in their education and socialization. But is there documentable evidence that early education has made a difference in the academic progress of these children?
This question can be answered by a recent study that compared the academic scores of children from many of the industrialized nations of the world. In 2000, the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) was conducted, which tested children from 32 nations in the areas of reading literacy, mathematics, and science.16 The results showed that children who have to start school at a very young age did not consistently do better than those who can start later. A similar assessment, the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), revealed comparable results.17
The country of Finland was a standout in both of these international assessments, ranking near or at the top in all tested subjects. These impressive results were achieved despite the fact that school attendance in Finland is not compulsory until age 7, later than almost any other European country.18
Japan, Korea, and Singapore also had some of the highest scoring students in the PISA and TIMSS assessments, but none of these countries have fully developed early education programs. Japan’s early education is probably the most comprehensive out of the three, and even there substantial numbers of children do not attend any school before 1st grade. Singapore does not have any publicly funded early education.19
Some of the lower scoring countries in PISA were Sweden and Greece, which both emphasize early education. Sweden has some of the most comprehensive childcare in Europe, with the vast majority of children ages 1-12 having a place in a publicly funded child-care center. Even with this emphasis, however, Sweden ranked among the average countries in the PISA test, and Greece was among the five worst nations in all three subject areas.20
High Costs and Low Results Incurred by Early Education Programs
Expanding the number of children required to attend school increases state education costs and thereby may mean an increase in taxes. Such an instant expansion of the student population requires the hiring of more teachers, more truant officers, and more administrative staff. While the change in some school districts may be negligible, the change to the combined school districts of a state would produce a significant impact on state revenues.
When a lowering of compulsory attendance age was considered in Alabama in 1991, the Alabama Legislative Fiscal Offices estimated the cost of the change to be at least $4.7 million per year.21 In 1998, when Connecticut considered lowering its compulsory attendance age, a state department of education representative testified that one town (Enfield, CT) would require 13 new classrooms while another (Meridian, CT) would need 20 additional classrooms.22
The cost increase can also be seen in the voluntary preschool programs which are present in many of the states. Jane Carroll Andrade, a writer for State Legislatures magazine, reported that “Today, 42 states and the District of Columbia fund preschool programs of one kind or another, spending about $2 billion a year.”23
Also consider Head Start, a federal program that began providing services in 1965 with an enrollment of 561,000 children and a budget of just over $96 million. By 2000, the enrollment had only grown to 860,000 children, but the budget had increased dramatically, costing taxpayers over $5 billion dollars. That is a 5,108% growth rate in spending with only a 53% increase in enrollment.
The most important goal of any education program is that children be educated. Studies of Head Start, however, demonstrate that early education produces no apparent academic benefits. In its early years, extensive studies were undertaken to prove Head Start worked. But the opposite turned out to be true. In 1969, the Westinghouse Learning Corporation found no difference in the behavior and educational achievement between Head Start and other underclass children.
Sixteen years later, the CRS Synthesis Project study, commissioned by HHS, came to the same conclusion. Although children showed “immediate gains,” by the second grade “there are no educationally meaningful differences.”24
A review of compulsory attendance laws across the nation shows that requiring young children to attend school may be largely unnecessary. Only eight states and the District of Columbia require attendance of 5-year-olds, and six of those nine allow exemptions for parents to withhold their children from school until age 6. The other 41 states allow parents to wait until their children are 6, 7, or even 8 years old before beginning formal education.25
During the 2007 legislative session, 12 states attempted to lower the school entrance age, one of which actually passed (Colorado), while another one is still being decided upon. Several of these bills would have lowered the age of entrance to 5. In 2001, the District of Columbia even contemplated a bill which would have required a child to be enrolled in some type of school setting if the child turns 3 on or before December 31. Thus, even some 2-year-olds would have been subject to DC’s compulsory attendance law.
In any case, testimony in the 1998 Connecticut hearings estimated that only 3–9% of the state’s eligible children were kept out of kindergarten by their parents.26 It seems unnecessary for a state to spend so much time and money compelling attendance on what arguably may only be 3% of the state’s 5- and 6-year-olds.
This is especially true when considered in the light of the results from National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) tests administered to schoolchildren in all 50 states. Scores of children from states that have low compulsory attendance ages (5-6) did not score any higher than children from the other states, and in some subjects their average was actually lower.27
The NAEP scores demonstrate that no real academic results have come from a lowered compulsory age, and therefore the higher cost of early education is not justified.
Rushing children into formal education too soon will exact a heavy toll on the development of those children and weaken the role of family in their lives. The resulting social problems will place even greater demands on private and government agencies and more pressure on taxpayers. Not only is compulsory attendance for young children unnecessary and expensive, but it is counter-productive, thwarting parents who want to spend more time with their children.
Educational public policy should encourage excellence and responsibility in parenting so that children will develop emotionally and socially, will achieve academically, and will be better able to handle the challenges of adulthood when they mature.
Reprint permission granted.
- Marcon, Rebecca. “Moving up the Grades: Relationship between Preschool Model and Later School Success,” Early Childhood Research and Practice, Spring 2002.
- Elkind, David. “Making Healthy Educational Choices,” Miseducation: Pre-schoolers at Risk, 1987.
- Fuller, Cheri. “Early Schooling: An Idea Whose Time Has Gone?” Southwest Policy Institute Policy Study, No. 2, 1989, p. 3.
- Lynn, Lee Anne and Vicki Winstead. “Mandatory kindergarten means parents lose even more control.” The Birmingham News, June 5, 1991.
- UC Berkeley/Stanford report, “The Influence of Preschool Centers on Children’s Development Nationwide: How Much Is Too Much?"—(will appear later this year in Economics of Education Review). Can currently be found at http://pace.berkeley.edu/pace_publications.html
- McGroder, Sharon M., “Head Start: What Do We Know About What Works”—U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
- EducationNews.org: All-Day Kindergarten Failing as Education Reform;
Putting Arizona Education Reform to the Test: School Choice and Early Education Expansion: The executive summary;
The full Goldwater Study.
- Belskey, Jay Ph.D. “Early Child Care Linked to Increases in Vocabulary, Some Problem Behaviors in Fifth and Sixth Grade,” NIH News, March 26, 2007.
- Snell, Lisa. “Don’t Expect Long-Term Gain from Early Education Money,” published by The Michigan Education Report, Fall 2007 Issue.
- 2000 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
- Benchmarking Report Third International Mathematics and Science Study: 1999 —Eighth Grade (TIMSS).
- Winstead, Vicki. “A Study in Support of Parental Choice in Early Childhood Education,” published by Eagle Forum of Alabama, 1991.
- Testimony before the Connecticut House Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee meeting, March 27, 1998.
- Andrade, Jane Carroll. “Kindergarten May Be Too Late,” State Legislatures, June 2002, p. 24.
- Rockwell, Llewellyn H. “Dead Start,” Free Market, January 1991, p. 2.
- Klicka, Christopher J. Home Schooling in the United States: A Legal Analysis, Home School Legal Defense Association, 1985, 1998.
- Testimony before the Connecticut House Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee meeting, March 27, 1998. Elaine Zimmerman, Executive Director of the Commission on Children and George Coleman of the Connecticut State Department of Education Division of Educational Programs and Services Bureau of Early Childhood Education and Social Services..
- Reading scores based on 1998 NAEP Reading Assessment; Math scores taken from 2000 NAEP Mathematics Report Card.