By David L. Kirp, Special to CNN
Editor's note: David L. Kirp, professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley, is the author of "The Sandbox Investment" and the forthcoming book "Improbable Scholars: The Rebirth of a Great American School System and a Strategy for America's Schools."
(CNN) - Kudos to the president - his call for preschool for every 4-year-old, in the State of the Union address, is a bold and visionary idea. It’s what those who understand the power of early education to unlock children’s minds have been urging for years. It’s what I promoted when I served on the 2008 presidential transition team. But - and it’s a very big but - whether universal prekindergarten really makes a difference in children’s lives or turns out to be a false hope depends entirely on the quality of what’s being offered.
The plus-side first: It takes nothing away from the president’s boldness to note that early education, which used to be derided as baby-sitting, now enjoys widespread popularity. Scientists have learned how rapidly the brain develops during the first years and how much those early experiences build a foundation for later learning. “Skill begets skill,” as Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman puts it, and studies of marquee prekindergarten programs show its potential for lifelong impact. Economists have calculated that every dollar invested in high-quality preschool returns $7 - a figure that would make Warren Buffett envious - with greater educational achievement, higher earnings, fewer unwanted pregnancies, lower welfare costs, even lower crime rates.
Parents get it. They are voting with their feet by increasingly enrolling their toddlers in preschool. Voters get it, too. Polling done by First Focus, a bipartisan advocacy organization for children, shows that conservatives as well as liberals support early education. The biggest naysayers are the Republicans on Capitol Hill, but as with immigration reform, gun control, marriage equality and raising the minimum wage, they’re on the wrong side of history.
But expanding preschool isn’t enough. The research shows that if it’s going to have an impact, preschool must be good. Quality costs money, though, and lawmakers have often been loath to underwrite it.
By LZ Granderson, CNN contributor
Editor's note: LZ Granderson, who writes a weekly column for CNN.com, was named journalist of the year by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and is a 2011 Online Journalism Award finalist for commentary. He is a senior writer and columnist for ESPN the Magazine and ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter: @locs_n_laughs.
(CNN) - It seems everyone knows a college degree is important but few have a plan to keep it affordable.Just this past academic year, tuition went up twice as fast as inflation and the cost of textbooks rose faster than tuition. Meanwhile, The New York Times recently reported that "wages have fallen to a record low as a share of America's gross domestic product."As a result, the average 2011 graduate left school with $26,600 in student loan debt, helping to push the country's total student loan debt past $1 trillion.
Combine that with an unemployment rate for recent college graduates of 8.9%, and you see the impetus behind the First World question du jour - "Is college really worth it?" That's a question that is easily answered by the 23% unemployment rate for folks without a bachelor's.
In an ironic showing of big government, Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, both conservatives, decided to introduce plans in which state institutions charge less for STEM degrees (science, technology, engineering and math) than liberal arts degrees.
"We're spending a lot of money on education, and when you look at the results, it's not great," Scott told a crowd in Tallahassee in 2011. "Do you want to use your tax money to educate more people who can't get jobs in anthropology? I don't."
That's a pretty good zinger but it doesn't pass the smell test.
First of all - to borrow language from the GOP script - I don't think the government should be picking winners and losers. And state officials massaging tuition costs to lure students away from fields they don't approve of does just that.
There is a difference between an education and training. Just because the vocational outcome between the two might be different doesn't mean it's government's role to assign its value to society.
Not to mention the initial outcomes are not always black and white.