The Promise of Preschool: From Head Start to Universal Pre-Kindergarten

The Promise of Preschool: From Head Start to Universal Pre-Kindergarten

The Promise of Preschool: From Head Start to Universal Pre-Kindergarten

The Promise of Preschool: From Head Start to Universal Pre-Kindergarten


The past 45 years have seen the emergence of education for young children as a national issue, spurred by the initiation of the Head Start program in the 1960s, efforts to create a child care system in the 1970s, and the campaign to reform K-12 schooling in the 1980s. Today, the push to make preschool the beginning of public education for all children has gained support in many parts of the country and promises to put early education policy on the national agenda. Yet questions still remain about the best ways to shape policy that will fulfill the promise of preschool.

In The Promise of Preschool, Elizabeth Rose traces the history of decisions on early education made by presidents from Lyndon Johnson to George W. Bush, by other lawmakers, and by experts, advocates, activists, and others. Using this historical context as a lens, the book shows how the past shapes today's preschool debate and provides meaningful perspective on the policy questions that need to be addressed as we move forward: Should we provide preschool to all children, or just to the neediest? Should it be run by public schools, or incorporate private child care providers? How do we most effectively ensure educational quality and success?

The Promise of Preschoolis a balanced, in-depth investigation into these and other important questions and demonstrates how an understanding of the past can stimulate valuable debate about the care and education of young children today.


Hannah and Thomas were the parents of three children in a small rural area in San Diego County, California. Though they were barely making ends meet with an income of around $35,000 a year, they earned just a little bit too much to qualify for a child care subsidy for their youngest. Hannah explained, “it seemed like every program we went to, we just couldn’t get help… so that’s why we ended up just going on our own and trying to wing it.” They ended up placing their son Seth with a family day-care provider who did not take good care of him; although he was unhappy there, Hannah explained, since “we couldn’t afford to pay for a day care anywhere else in the world, it was pretty much we were stuck with it.” Indeed, even the relatively modest fees they paid for this day care put a strain on the family. Later, Hannah took on a second job, and found a faith-based preschool where Seth was happy. The staff at this preschool had early childhood training, and they taught him the alphabet, numbers, and reading skills. Thomas noted, “Such a big difference between one child care facility and another one. It amazed me!” But this happy arrangement came to an end when the family moved to another community in the county. Seth soon entered kindergarten, but it was only a half-day program, so he spent his afternoons at an inadequately staffed private center where he was bullied by older children. Although there was a better center nearby, Hannah lamented, they could not afford its fees: “The quality of care we would like to see him in is not in our world!”

In New York City, single mother Uma relied on the Head Start center her daughter attended. With no family to help her with child care (her own parents had died before her daughter’s birth), she had visited more than a dozen Head Start centers until she found one with a program that would accept her daughter at the age of two. Uma put up with problems at the Head Start center, saying, “They know you have no choice, I mean, when the program is free, what can you do? The program is not that good, but what can you do? It’s like when you begging or they think you beggin,’ you can’t be choosy… you should just be happy with what you got.”

Traci, a Brooklyn native, struggled to find good care for her two children so she could work, rather than depending on public assistance. She felt that life in New

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