The president makes misleading claims in his effort to sell a universal preschool plan.
President Obama exaggerates the potential benefits of his ambitious plan for universal preschool, as he first outlined in the State of the Union and repeated elsewhere since then:
Obama says every dollar invested in “high quality” preschool can return “seven dollars later on” but that is based on an economic analysis of a small, two-year program that targeted disadvantaged youth in Michigan. Obama is proposing a one-year program for “every single child in America.”
Obama also points to the success of universal preschool programs in Georgia and Oklahoma, saying “studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, form more stable families of their own.”
But the oldest students from the Georgia program - the first state to offer universal preschool - are now just 20 years old, and those in Oklahoma are even younger. So proclamations about the ability to hold jobs or form more stable families, for example, are premature.
In both cases, Obama is extrapolating the results of small, expensive programs and applying them to universal state programs.
Academics who have studied preschool programs say it is too soon to know the long-term results of statewide universal programs, but evidence suggests Obama’s plan to include all 4-year-old kids - including those from middle-income families - would not see nearly as dramatic results.
For example, a study of the Georgia program - which Obama touts as an example of cost-effective universal preschool - found that “disadvantaged children residing in small towns and rural areas” benefited the most. But, the study’s author tells us, “We just haven’t seen the same types of gains for all kids when programs become available more broadly.”