Jon Stewart Thinks Katherine Mangu-Ward Is Wrong About Universal Preschool

Last night, The Daily Show did a
segment about opponents of universal preschool, including a
quick hit from yours truly at the 5:45 mark:

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
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I was part of a montage of people referencing the
federal government’s own assessment of the efficacy of Head
Start ;(and this earlier version ;of the
same study) ;the closest thing we have to a pilot program for
universal preschool. The findings of the study are pretty freaking

In summary, there were initial positive impacts from having
access to Head Start, but ;by the end of 3rd grade there were
very few impacts found for either cohort in any of the
four ;domains of cognitive, social-emotional, health and
parenting practices. The few impacts that ;were found did not
show a clear pattern of favorable or unfavorable impacts for
children. ;

Jon Stewart, who loves The Children, theorizes that we skeptics
are looking at things backwards: The study demonstrates how much
preschool rocks, he says—it’s just that the rest of the public
education system sucks so hard that it erases all traces of
preschool gains. While that’s not really what the (well-designed,
well-respected) study shows, let’s imagine for a second that he’s
Which do you think is more likely?:
(a) We make preschool universal and that starts a cascade of
awesomeness into the general public school system, or
(b) we graft a universal preschool entitlement onto the existing
universal K-12 entitlement, and preschool starts to suck just as
much as the rest of the system?
Call me a cynic, but I’m going with (b).
Jon Stewart also plays the “read the rest of the study” card,
quoting passages about longer term gains from preschool. Actually,
the government study doesn’t actually offer insight on long term
effects, since the kids in the cohort are only in third grade.
But it does have a quickie literature review embedded in it,
which points to other, less robust studies. Those studies offer
weaker evidence for possible “sleeper effects,” in which gains
disappear, but then reappear later in life in the form of higher
rates of school completion, and other social and health benefits.
That section boldly concludes that “research suggests that positive
outcomes later in life are possible.” ;
Call me a kid-hating curmudgeon, but I’m not sure “possible” is
a good enough foundation for hugely expensive universal
Jon Stewart, I love you man. You are so funny, and—in this case
anyway—so wrong.
Bonus: There’s a ;hilarious interview with uber-physicist
and man-about-town Neil DeGrasse Tyson at the end of the show. Come
for the anti-preschool invective, stay for the Russian meteor

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Jon Stewart Thinks Katherine Mangu-Ward Is Wrong About Universal Preschool

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