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No Zoe, Preschool is NOT That Important

August 27, 2011

Zoe Pollock uses a correlation to launch into a plea for better pay for preschool teachers as well as metrics to track which ones were getting the most effective results. The correlation is that people who went to preschool “have higher lifetime earnings, are more likely to be employed, and were less likely to be incarcerated.”

If this argument gives you a feeling of deja vu, you have likely been listening to any of a number of public service announcements reminding you of how much better college graduates have it than their less educated peers. The problem with these correlations is that they don’t take some MAJOR other factors into consideration and simply leap to the conclusion that the schooling caused these results.

In the latter case, this conclusion ignores the fact that for many employers, college is used as a sieve to collect the people with the intelligence, work ethic, talent and determination to make it through college – in many cases not even caring what the degree was in. It also ignores the fact that college DOES separate people with employable characteristics from those tho don’t. Essentially, comparing college graduates to non college graduates is comparing a more capable crowd to a less capable one – it says nothing about the process of going to college itself.

But what about preschool? Employers don’t look at your preschool record when hiring,the aptitude of a four year old is not exactly the primary criteria for getting into preschool and, for the most part, graduation is a foregone conclusion. So why does the fact that going to preschool correlates with better outcomes not necessarily mean that going to preschool causes these outcomes?

The problem with leaping to this conclusion is selection bias. If you send your child to preschool, you likely have a certain set of traits. First, you likely value education, which means you will likely make graduating college a priority for your children. Second, you have enough money to send your kids to preschool (which is not cheap), which suggests you are reasonably successful yourself. This means that you are more likely to be able to give your child assistance throughout his childhood and young adulthood that give him an advantage. Certainly you have enough money to ensure your child is adequately fed and taken care of. That alone will increase their chances of getting a good job and staying out of prison.

But what if there is some quality of preschool that makes your kid smarter? In that case, consider whether it is the ONLY source for that intelligence boosting. Perhaps providing a homeschooled alternative to preschool can achieve the same thing. There is certainly a very strong correlation between success in life and the amount of time parents spend interacting in a meaningful way with their children. If you simply spend a couple of hours playing, reading and talking to your child instead of letting them watch tv you will likely have provided at least as much as they will get from any preschool. And in addition, you will have helped them be more secure, happier and even nicer than they would have been if they had gone to preschool. Isn’t that at least as desirable as getting more money as an adult?

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