Pre-school education: Mind the gap

POLITICIANS rarely agree on anything these days, so it is impressive that so many are now rallying behind expanding pre-school (nursery, in British parlance). The benefits of early education are indeed striking, not least because children go through critical phases of development between the ages of three and five. Pre-school can help with numeracy, social skills and readiness for school. Many states now believe that early-learning programmes deliver better dividends than similar investments in university education—and the earlier they are made, the more they pay off. Thirty states and the District of Columbia have increased appropriations for state-funded pre-school programmes in the current school year, marking a 6.9% or $364m rise on last year.Barack Obama has made it a national priority to expand pre-school for four-year-olds. Bill de Blasio, the new mayor of New York, is similarly keen to expand pre-school programmes for every child in his city. While these efforts are laudable, some wonder how effective they will be at both bridging the achievement gap between rich and poor students and raising academic standards across the board. For starters, pre-school programmes must be measurably better than what children would otherwise get at home for this investment to pay off. This is easier to do for children in high-stress, low-income …

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