Behind the Headline: Preschool is Good for Children, but it’s Expensive. So Utah is Offering it Online.

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Preschool is Good for Children, but it’s Expensive. So Utah is Offering it Online.
Washington Post | 10/10/15

Behind the Headline
The Preschool Picture
Education Next | Fall 2009

In Utah his year, more than 6,600 children are  attending preschool online, using laptops at home to access lessons, games and songs.

As Emma Brown explains in the Washington Post,

Called Upstart — or Utah Preparing Students Today for a Rewarding Tomorrow — the program has grown quickly since its inception in 2008, bolstered by external evaluations that have shown early literacy gains among children who use it. It is a program of the Waterford Institute, a Utah-based nonprofit center that has long sold instructional software to K-12 schools.

Upstart will cost about $5.3 million this year, or about $800 per student. That is about half the cost of Arizona’s state-funded traditional preschool program, which is the least-expensive in the country, and a fraction of Washington’s universal preschool program, which costs $15,000 per student, according to Barnett’s early education research center at Rutgers.

Waterford provides participating families with software and parent training sessions and, if need be, laptops and Internet access. The nonprofit also has installed solar panels for several students whose homes do not have electricity, including for the Parrish family, who live in the Navajo Nation’s iconic Monument Valley.

Brown interviews a variety of experts with a variety of opinions about what online preschool can and cannot accomplish.


In a 2009 article for Education Next, The Preschool Picture, Chester E. Finn Jr. noted that the preschool movement may be motivated by a desire to give disadvantaged children a boost up the ladder of educational success, but the result of their efforts is often limited preschool services for all 4-year-olds. However, Finn writes, what the least advantaged kids really need is very intensive programs starting earlier in their lives.

A good overview of earlier efforts to promote preschool for all can be found in Nathan Glazer’s review of The Sandbox Investment: The Preschool Movement and Kids-First Politics, by David Kirp

– Education Next

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