As argued in my new book, From Preschool to Prosperity, expanded early childhood education represents a continuation of the American historical tradition of promoting economic opportunity and growth via expanded education. But why is there a need for early childhood education now, when apparently we did not perceive a need for such programs in the past?
First, the American economy has changed so as to put a much greater premium on higher skills. Higher wages require higher skills to a much greater extent than was true in the past. This puts pressure on policymakers to figure out as many ways as possible to improve skills, including but not restricted to early childhood education.
Second, we now understand to a greater extent the importance of early learning. It is now clear that what happens in the years from birth to age five are critical to setting the stage for later learning. This was not fully appreciated in the past.
Third, American families are now under more economic and social stress than they were in the past. Many more families need to put younger children in child care and pre-K so that parents can work. If children are in child care and pre-K settings, it makes sense to try to make those settings as high-quality as possible in promoting long-run development.
The world has changed, our scientific understanding has changed, and our families have changed. All these changes mean that broadening access to high-quality early childhood education is a needed initiative to meet the challenges of our times.