Wednesday, August 2, 2017

On ‘Access’ to Pre-K Education

W. Steven Barnett is director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University (NIEER) in New Jersey. According to a biographical profile at the end of an article he wrote, “NIEER conducts and communicates research to support high-quality, effective early childhood education for all young children.”

But its real goal appears to be a government takeover of preschool, not quality education.

In a NJ Spotlight article last year, IN EDUCATION OLYMPICS POLITICIANS PROMISE MUCH BUT FAIL AT FIRST HURDLE, Barnett uses the occasion of the 2016 Summer Olympics to push for more government control of education. “As the U.S. falls behind in the quality of education, politicians are doing little to get it on track, certainly not when it comes to preschool.”

Of course, politicians have been controlling education through high school for a century. That escapes Barnett, as it does all statists. What about the parents? In response to continuing mediocrity and failure, statists call for more money and more control. He wants public schools expanded to cover “universal” pre-school, and advocates for expanded funding for pre-school in NJ’s 560 school districts.

I posted these comments:

There are two aspects to this issue: funding and administration. First, let’s clarify the terminology.

When Barnett  says “access to quality preschool education,” he means access to other people's wallets to pay for preschool that some parents fail to provide their children. Private pre-school has never been illegal in America. People can access a myriad of private preschool options, including home preschools, neighborhood or community cooperatives, and private for-profit or non-profit preschools ranging from Montessori to Progressive. Motivated parents can and do provide quality preschool for their children without picking other people’s pockets through government interference. My wife and I sent our daughters to Montessori schools. My one daughter followed suit with her children. My other daughter went the home preschool route. If you met our 6 grandchildren, you would immediately know that their parents gave them access to quality preschool (and beyond).

More critical than funding is administration of the schools. Barnett calls for “a robust debate across the country and in New Jersey about whose ideas will best provide our young children with a world-class early education.” This statist/collectivist premise ignores the rights and freedom of individuals. There is no “our”—meaning state-owned—children. Education should not be left up to some mastermind with the most politically expedient one-size-fits-all scheme that the government can impose on everyone. Educators and children are not robots.

Government-run schools are the fundamental problem. If we have to swallow government involvement in financing of education, it does not follow that we have to succumb to uniform government-run schools. In Newark, an educational renaissance is being engineered by parental pressure, as parents abandon the traditional public schools and flock to the expanding array of charter schools run by private entrepreneurial operators, with relatively good results in quality and cost. When a parent is lucky enough to get her child into one of the charters (which are still in woefully short supply), the tax funding follows the child. That’s the direction we should be moving in. We need to open the door to opportunity for entrepreneurial innovation and parental choice in a way that only free market reforms can provide. (It’s interesting, in this regard, that Barnett’s National Institute for Early Education Research “conducts and communicates research to support high-quality, effective early childhood education for all young children.” Why not put their ideas into action, and actually open real preschools and start offering “high-quality, effective early childhood education” to actual children?)

Rather than debate which one mastermind has the single best scheme, we should abandon the idea of central education planning and throw open a freer market for education by getting government out of the practice, if not of financing, at least of monopolistically administering and running the schools.

“Our young children” are actually a diverse array of individual uniqueness, and so are education ideas. If you want to find out which ideas are best, forget about a national debate and statistics and comparisons to other countries. Liberate educators and parents to choose and contract individually and privately. A free market, even a semi-free one, will give all education ideas an opening without excluding any competing ideas. Individual parents, in consultation with their children’s educators, can then choose which educational method and philosophy works best for their children—not for the sake of “the nation” or “the economy” or for some international statistical contest, but for the sake of each individual child. Funding can be helped along with a robust tax credit plan that goes well beyond parents to include any taxpayer to fund any child’s preschool.

Keep the statist masterminds out of the “debate,” and keep the government out of running preschools. We need all minds free to contribute, rather than a few “experts” to the exclusion of everyone else.

Related Reading:

Education in a Free Society—C. Bradley Thompson for The Objective Standard

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