California voters are being asked to vote on establishing a new state program to provide daycare ("preschool") at state expense for young childfren. Bookworm has an insightful critique of this program, which has every prospect of turning into a major boondoggle, costing too much, worsening the situation, and creating a new bureaucracy which will look for more ways to justify its existence. Here are a couple of examples:
One fact is how little benefit will actually accrue if Prop 82 goes into effect. The Proposition's stated goal is to provide a year of preschool for 70% of California's average annual population of 550,000 four year olds. That is, the plan proposes sending 385,000 four year olds to preschool every year. What a noble number! The plan, however, ignores the fact that, annually, 66% of California's four year olds — or 363,000 — already go to preschool. This means a huge tax bill and the creation of a bureaucratic monster for a mere 22,000 four year olds.
Another fact is the fundamental premise underlying Prop 82, namely, that its passage means the State of California will step in and manage yet more education in California. This is not a good thing. It's no secret that California schools went from being first in the nation to just about worst in the nation. They are now struggling along in the bottom half of the nation's schools. The State's promised involvement doesn't inspire me to believe that, even assuming huge benefits from preschool education, we'll ever see them.
(Incidentally, I hit the California school system just as the precipitous decline began. My own experience tells me that, as to middle class schools, the decline had little to do with funding, and lots to do with the fact that California gleefully embraced every crackpot educational theory that came along, all of which required abandoning basic educational principles and classroom behaviors.) [....]
Based upon the State's already existing educational requirements, it is likely that schools will be required to have teachers with Bachelor's degrees, will have to conform to small classroom sizes, and will have strict age segregation. I can hear some of you thinking, 'Well, what's wrong with that? Our children deserve the best.' But the fact is, these requirements may not be the best. Montessori schools are a good example of the destructive effect of these unthinking requirements.
Unlike the trend in regular schools, the Montessori approach does not segregate children by age but, instead, groups three through five year olds together, something that Montessorians believe (and studies support) benefits all ages. A Montessori classroom doesn't have eleven children, it has thirty children. This works — and works well — because a Montessori teacher works with small groups throughout the day, getting each group going on a lesson plan before moving to the next group (think of it like those Chinese plate spinners you used to see on the Ed Sullivan program). The classroom is a dynamic place with children constantly learning and working. In this, it differs from a traditional environment where the teacher is attempting to engage the entire class's attention at any given time. (You can read more about Montessori here.)
Because Montessori is an entirely different (and quite successful) approach to early childhood education, teachers do not earn their teaching degrees by attending traditional four year colleges. Instead, they embark on a lengthy and intense Montessori training program. This program doesn't qualify them to teach at high school and college, but it is certainly more than enough to make a well—trained teacher an extraordinary person to help cultivate a three, four or five year old's intellectual, academic and social abilities.
Of course, under a State—run program, these unique Montessori virtues will vanish.