Monday, March 15, 2010

Elizabeth Rose's "The Promise of Preschool"

Elizabeth Rose is a historian with interests in women, children, education, and social policy, and is also the author of A Mother’s Job: The History of Day Care, 1890-1960 (Oxford University Press, 1999). She has taught at Vanderbilt University, Trinity College, Wesleyan University, and Central Connecticut State University, and is the director of the American Voices project at Central Connecticut State University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Promise of Preschool: From Head Start to Universal Pre-Kindergarten, and reported the following:
The Promise of Preschool tries to answer the question of how the United States moved from seeing preschool as a way to give the nation’s poorest children a “head start” to the goal of providing preschool for all children as the beginning of public education. I investigate how policy choices in the past forty-five years – such as the creation of Head Start in the 1960s, efforts to craft a child care system in the 1970s, and the campaign to reform K-12 schooling in the 1980s – helped shape the decisions that policymakers are now making about early education. Looking at the roots of today’s movement for universal preschool, I examine how history both inspires and constrains change in this important area of policy.

Conveniently enough, Page 99 concludes a chapter about the separate strands of public programs for young children during the 1980s: Head Start, child care, and preschool education:
By the end of the decade, the question of public responsibility for young children was being intently debated within the separate policy worlds of K-12 education reform and child care. The education reform movement of the 1980s drew preschool closer to the world of public education, making school readiness a central part of school reform. States launched pre-kindergarten programs; leading reformers and education groups called for a coherent system of early education for disadvantaged children; and federal policymakers seemed united behind expanding Head Start. At the same time, child care, which had been largely invisible as a political issue since the mid-1970s, briefly became a focus of national politics as Congress wrestled with competing approaches. In neither education nor child care were the policy responses adequate to address the need: state pre-kindergarten programs, Head Start, and subsidized day care served only fractions of the poor families who were eligible, while the needs of middle-class families were not directly addressed at all. But these new commitments to young children’s care and education strengthened the different strands of policy for young children, creating the possibility that they might later be woven together.
This is a sort of turning point in the book, as it moves from previous chapters’ discussions of the origins of Head Start and child care policy to set the stage for an account of how advocates and policymakers started creating universal pre-kindergarten programs and ultimately built a movement for “preschool for all.” The tensions between the separate strands of policy discussed here, as well as questions about the extent of public commitment to young children, were carried into these new efforts to expand preschool education, and continue to shape the policy landscape today.
Learn more about the book and author at the official The Promise of Preschool website and the Oxford University Press webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue