A new book explains why other progressive causes should take some cues from the preschool movement.
In 1961, 13 three- and four-year-olds from poor black families began attending a preschool class at Perry Elementary School in Ypsilanti, Michigan. They were there as much to learn as to teach. A team of researchers followed not only their time at the preschool, but their trajectory over the next four decades, and the findings were startling:
Compared to a control group of similar children who didn’t attend preschool, this class from Perry Elementary School would be less likely to skip class, be placed in special education, or wind up in jail. They’d be more likely to graduate high school and college and have a job, and would earn more money than their non-preschool peers. And, 40 years later, their successes would launch a national movement to ensure all children the opportunity to attend and benefit from the same type of high-quality preschool they had.
The movement to expand publicly funded preschool education is perhaps the most ambitious, promising, and fundamentally progressive campaign in public education today. Its members want, first, to make an additional year or two of publicly funded education available to all four- and three-year-olds whose parents want it — an enormous step, representing a potential 15 percent expansion in the time children spend in public education. And at this, they’re succeeding: 950,000 children currently attend state-funded preschool programs, and the number of four-year-olds attending such programs has risen 40 percent in the past five years alone.