The authors of last week’s Wall Street Journal anti-preschool opinion piece hung part of their analysis on research conducted by scholars at Stanford and U.C. Berkeley that included Bruce Fuller, Susanna Loeb, and Russell Rumberger. Here’s a link to the actual paper, which found that the social skill development was slightly slower in children enrolled in preschool at least six hours per day. Here’s a link to the actual paper.
Fuller sent this message regarding the Reason Foundation op-ed:
The study with Stanford’s Susanna Loeb shows distinct gains from preschool centers for children from low-income families in terms of cognitive skills displayed in kindergarten. Very small gains for children from middle-class families were observed, which is consistent with other work by NICHD researchers and by Katherine Magnuson at U.Wisconsin. What’s worrisome is that we found that after about six hours a day in a preschool center, a slow-down in children’s typical rate of social-skill development was observed. The NICHD study of early child care and adolescent development found that this negative effect persists at a very small level of magnitude into the fifth grade. It’s a small effect and one that is not clinically troubling (although it is statistically significant). It does suggest that preschools have lots of room to improve social skills, and that obsessing on preliteracy skills, or tightly aligning preschool “curriculum” with elementary curriculum and standardized tests may distract from social-developmental activities.
The authors of the WSJ commentary captured the meaning of our research, but they failed to emphasize the positive benefits of preschool centers for children from low-income families, and they failed to recognize that the slow-down of social development largely disappears by the end of elementary school, based on what we know empirically to date. My book, Standardized Childhood, details how this one-sided emphasis on narrow cognitive skills is playing out in parts of California and Oklahoma.
The New York Times’ Tamar Lewin wrote about the Fuller et. al. research as well as two other studies of similar issues back in 2005. Here’s the link (free login may be required).
Lewin put it in perspective with this quote from Jeanne Brooks-Gunn of Teachers College: “It isn’t that these kids are more likely to have clinical levels of behavior problems…You’re getting a slight uptick, but it’s still in the normal range.” See more from the article after the jump.
From the New York Times article:
Four years ago, the nation’s most ambitious and longest-running child care study sparked a firestorm with its findings that 4½-year-olds who had spent more than 30 hours a week in child care were more demanding, more aggressive and more noncompliant than others, regardless of the type or quality of care, the family’s socioeconomic status or the sensitivity of the mother’s parenting.
Now a new report from that research – the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development’s Study of Early Child Care – has tracked the same children through early elementary school and found that by third grade, those who had spent long hours in child care continued to score higher in math and reading skills and that their higher likelihood of aggressive behavior had dissipated. But it also found that they still had poorer work habits and social skills.
Researchers cautioned that the findings should not be a cause of alarm, since the effects of child care were found to be small.