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Matt Yglesias isn't sold on my idea that if we were forced to make a tradeoff, we'd be better off reducing our K-12 funding and putting the money into increased funding of pre-K programs:
I think a lot of the thinking about the efficacy of pre-K education is based on looking at the best performing programs while thinking about K-12 tends to be informed by thinking about the typical program. But in both cases quality matters. The best charter school networks in America really do seem to be incredibly effective at teaching children, but as charter school critics point out the average charter school's performance is merely average. The pre-K results look pretty similar to me. The best programs get amazing results, but lots of programs are non-amazing in practice.
I don't want to write a long post about this, but I do want to briefly explain the two beliefs that inform my thinking about this:
It's possible I'm wrong on either of both of these points. I'm happy to hear arguments. But if I were starting from scratch and you gave me the following two options:
I would choose Door #2 without any hesitation. By the time they finished high school, kids in the second system would almost certainly be better off on average — better educated and better prepared for life, with fewer behavioral problems, fewer drug problems, and fewer teen pregnancies — than the kids in the first system.