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Corbin: Universal preschool is a no-brainer
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Corbin: Universal preschool is a no-brainer

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From time-to-time during one’s life, “no-brainers” evolve when a concept gets researched and we see positive results. No-brainer examples include exercising three to five times a week, obtaining a high school diploma, eating vegetables and fruits, wearing a seat belt and not smoking.

When research on the value of universal preschool shows it will, not maybe, but will provide statistically significant differences not only in K-12 educational attainment and social development growth but later on as an adult while additionally saving tax dollars, we’ve got a no-brainer.

Heretofore, preschool has been oriented to help low-income children start kindergarten on a stronger academic footing. It was thought the benefits of preschool for children from middle to high income families was not that pronounced. This is why most cities, states and the federal government have chosen to spend taxpayer dollars on “targeted” preschool programs open only to low-income families.

Recent research by Dartmouth College has shown “universal” preschool for all children, whether they come from poor, middle or high income families, produces greater results than targeted preschool programs for low-income children only. Taxpayer alert: universal preschool is also more cost effective than targeted preschool education.

In universal preschool programs open to all children regardless of the family’s income, not only will low-income students perform better in reading and mathematics, but when socialized and educated with other students, every child’s development and improved educational attainment is witnessed.

If you are a parent, parent-to-be, grandparent, taxpayer, school board member or policy maker, the following information from Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child should cause you to become an advocate for universal preschool:

• The greatest growth of the human brain’s sensory pathways (e.g., touch, vision, hearing, etc.) occurs within the first four months of birth.

• The greatest growth of the human brain for learning a language occurs during the first eight months of life.

• Third grade reading scores can be predicted by the vocabulary of an 18-month-old child.

• The vocabulary of a 3-year-old child will predict his or her fourth grade vocabulary.

• Kindergarten vocabulary predicts seventh grade reading comprehension and decoding skills.

• The vocabulary of a first grader predicts the child’s 11th grade comprehension skills.

Witness these three research findings: First, children who participate in a universal preschool program will see higher rates of high school completion, higher overall test scores, better attitudes toward school, lower rate of remedial education and lower rate of special education.

Secondly, when the universal preschool child becomes an adult, s/he will enjoy a higher rate of stable employment, savings accounts, family involvement, educational attainment and lower rate of social service use, criminal involvement and substance abuse.

Finally, universal preschool is a taxpayer’s delight. Regardless of the universal preschool program utilized (e.g., Abecedarian Project, Nurse Family Partnership, Perry Preschool, etc.), a $4-$9 return for every dollar invested is realized. Universal preschool is not an expenditure; it is an investment.

More and more parents, grandparents, educators, legislators (some) and now you understand the greater value of universal versus the heretofore accepted targeted preschool programs. In fact, 79 percent of the public, Democrats and Republicans alike, want local, state and federal public policy officials to adopt universal preschool.

James Heckman, Nobel prize-winning economist, may have best summarized the research-based human gain and return-on-investment of universal preschool: “Invest more in prevention and less in remediation. Invest in flourishing lives, not in correcting problems after they appear.”

Steve Corbin is an emeritus professor of marketing at the University of Northern Iowa. Reach him at


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