The Preschool Predicament - OZY | A Modern Media Company
The Preschool Predicament
SourceStephanie Hafner/Gallery Stock


Because early-childhood education counts.

By Rachel Levin

It’s become clear that preschool education makes a huge difference to the child, in terms of health, cognitive and emotional development and basic survival in the developing world. Nobel Prize-winning professor James Heckman famously documented the actual economic return on investing in a child’s (quality) preschool education.

U.S. Preschool Report Card: NEEDS TO IMPROVE


(or 4.3 million) American kids not enrolled in preschool (2009-2011)


 New Jersey, lowest percentage of kids not enrolled in preschool


Nevada, highest percentage of kids not enrolled in preschool 

Source: Annie E. Casey Foundation

The problem is, there are just not enough public pre-Ks to go around. Manhattan has made some big efforts to ameliorate the system by spending $20 million to add 4,000 new slots this year, and President Obama has proposed spending $75 billion on a “Preschool for All” campaign over the next 10 years, starting in 2014. But unless you live in one of the few states getting it right, like Oklahoma or Florida, most parents are left with no choice but private preschool.

Approx. $67,867

 Reported tuition at one prestigious private east London preschool (arguably the most expensive in the world)

And that doesn’t come cheap. (Tuition typically hovers between $15,000 and $20,000 for private full-time preschool in the U.S.) Families who make $200,000 a year are considering taking out subsidized loans for preschool, for crying out loud. No wonder the country is lagging significantly behind others, ranking close to sub-Saharan Africa when it comes to public preschool attendance — 27 percent for the U.S. versus 17 percent for sub-Saharan Africa. The U.S. gets a somewhat better grade when private preschool is factored in, pulling it up to 69 percent overall for 4-year-olds (51 percent for 3-year-olds) according to the Center for American Progress. That’s, like, a C+ bordering on barely passing. It puts America in 26th place among Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries. 

So, America isn’t getting an F. But we’re smarter than that. Time to call in the tutors.

STRAIGHT As: Top Countries for Preschool Attendance Globally


preschool gross enrollment* in Mexixo


preschool enrollment of 4-year-olds in France


preschool enrollment of 4-year-olds in Japan


preschool enrollment of 4-year-olds in the U.K.


preschool enrollment of 4-year-olds in Korea

* “Gross enrollment” means all ages — not strictly 3 to 5 year olds, which is complusory in Mexico. So, addition of other-aged kids brings the figure over 100%.

Sources: American Progress, Annie E. Casey FoundationPew Trust, Unesco


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