It just can’t be a very good sign that when someone raises serious questions about one of the liveliest and controversial issues in our field those questions are ignored or distorted and caricatured. I’ve heard Checker Finn’s new book on pre-kindergarten education referred to as an anti-pre-k book (it’s not), an intemperate attack on the pre-k movement (it’s critical, sure, but let’s assume they’re not as vulnerable as the kids they serve), or dismissed as simply too conservative to be taken seriously by the field (again it’s not).
That doesn’t mean it’s a flawless book. Sara Mead has engaged with it and points out some problems with the analysis (in particular Finn overstates current participation levels – especially from a quality standpoint – and that’s no small thing given his underlying point) and she also rounds up the other writing on it. But in general there hasn’t been a lot of discussion of Reroute the Preschool Juggernaut’s points about current program coordination, costs and how to think about costs, quality, and universality. These are not small matters; they cut to the heart of what is likely to be a massive public investment in an important strategy to improve outcomes for economically disadvantaged youngsters.
I support a more robust governmental role in ensuring access to good pre-k programs and the idea of a Mead-like federal-state partnership to help get us there – although I’d also favor something bolder to create a fuller 0-5 initiative. Regardless, various issues of program design are hardly obvious or settled, so more debate about the questions Finn raises and his contention that targeted pre-k is more the way to go seems a good thing for the issue in the long run.