That's the question researchers at the conservative Washington Policy Center set out to answer in their recent review of research on universal preschool and all-day kindergarten. According to WPC scholar Liv Finne, research on the topic suggests there is a "dosage effect," meaning there's a limit to the amount of institutionalized care young children can handle without "suffering harm to their social and mental development."
Finne looked at studies conducted by other researchers at Berkeley and Stanford on the effects of children enrolled in "institutionalized care" for 15 to 30 hours, as well as research conducted by the RAND Corporation. All of the studies suggested that "too many hours in structured care tends to undermine a child’s natural curiosity and turn him or her against the entire school experience," Finne writes.
In Washington state, early learning has been the subject of increased policy debate, particularly in light of the report issued by Gov. Gregoire's Washington Learns. As Finne notes in conclusion:
What do you think? Does all-day K make a difference in the lives of your students?
Policymakers should avoid using a blanket universal preschool or all-day kindergarten programs to provide free childcare to middle and upper-income families, while neglecting the social and educational support that low-income families need most.
Providing training and skills to parents of at-risk children, to help them develop close, nurturing relationships with their children is a wiser policy. This approach is more beneficial to more children in the long run and is the most likely to prepare them for a lifetime of learning.