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Another seemingly overlooked article comes from the most recent NYT Sunday Magazine, in which Ann Hulbert charts the growing tide of interest and action towards universal preschool (Universal Prekindergarten). We all know that, of course. But Hulbert points out a couple of worthwhile reminders.
First, that increasing access creates quality problems (spending per pupil is going down, see chart). Second, that the kind of preschool that advocates would design for low- and middle-income children is not the "free play" preschool that progressives (and wealthier families) seem to want for their own children. Advocates are pushing UPK in "notably wonky, rather than warm and cuddly, terms," notes Hulbert in her roundup of recent books by Fuller and Kirp, focusing on cost-effectiveness and brain research. So do we end up with a two-tiered system replacing the current patchwork, or a mix of progressive and readiness? I don't know. For her part, Hulbert thinks that a dose of structure might not be such a bad thing for kids, rich and not so. For my part, I think that recent experience with the SCHIP suggests that anything on this front is going to have to happen in 2009 at the earliest, and even then will face an uphill battle.