There’s an emerging global consensus and expanding research literature that very early education matters, and is effective in determining life outcomes (abstract):
The Impacts of Expanding Access to High-Quality Preschool Education
Elizabeth U. Cascio, Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach
President Obama’s “Preschool for All” initiative calls for dramatic increases in the number of 4 year olds enrolled in public preschool programs and in the quality of these programs nationwide. The proposed program shares many characteristics with the universal preschools that have been offered in Georgia and Oklahoma since the 1990s. This study draws together data from multiple sources to estimate the impacts of these “model” state programs on preschool enrollment and a broad set of family and child outcomes. We find that the state programs have increased the preschool enrollment rates of children from lower- and higher-income families alike. For lower-income families, our findings also suggest that the programs have increased the amount of time mothers and children spend together on activities such as reading, the chances that mothers work, and children’s test performance as late as eighth grade. For higher-income families, however, we find that the programs have shifted children from private to public preschools, resulting in less of an impact on overall enrollment but a reduction in childcare expenses, and have had no positive effect on children’s later test scores.
Speaks for itself, I think.
The important point is this: over the long term, reducing income and wealth inequality depends on education. Meritocracy is only a viable strategy when everyone starts off on the same footing. But given that higher income families have a higher tendency to put their children through pre-school, that gives those children a head start which lasts into their teens and has ramifications for secondary and tertiary education.
So unless we move towards universal pre-school education, we’re handicapping children from lower and middle income families right at the get-go, and perpetuating an aristocracy of wealth.
Elizabeth U. Cascio, Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, “The Impacts of Expanding Access to High-Quality Preschool Education”, NBER Working Paper No. 19735, December 2013