The Universal vs. Targeted Debate: Should the United States Have Preschool for All?

What do we as a society want for our children? Few Americans would quarrel with the notion that all children should be ready to succeed in school and that no child should be left behind.Wide agreement on these broad goals reflects public awareness of research showing that learning is truly lifelong, beginning in the early years, and that early experiences build a foundation for learning.

But how can these goals best be reached? And what is the role of government in pursuing them? On these questions there is far less agreement. One key debate pits the notion of voluntary universal early learning programs, available to all preschoolers, against targeted services, reserved for those at greatest risk of poor achievement, based on economic disadvantage, disabilities or other special needs. Most public support for preschool programs today is for targeted programs but calls for universal programs have increased and several states seek to provide preschool for all 4-year-olds.


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Author(s)W. Steven Barnett, Kirsty Brown, Rima Shore
SubmitterAriana Sani

Filed under:

Policy Briefs, National Context