College Board/National Journal Poll

Few Americans Worry That Pre-K Takes Children Out of the Home Too Soon

Older Americans are most likely to fear that programs separate kids from their families.

A child's successful education starts in preschool -- or even before. 
National Journal
Ronald Brownstein
April 21, 2014, 7:58 a.m.

Would uni­ver­sal pre-K un­der­mine the fam­ily and move chil­dren too quickly out of the house in­to an or­gan­ized learn­ing en­vir­on­ment? A pre­pon­der­ant ma­jor­ity of Amer­ic­ans say no, ac­cord­ing to the latest Col­lege Board/Na­tion­al Journ­al Next Amer­ica Poll.

Asked about the im­pact of gov­ern­ment policies to en­sure that all 4-year-olds could at­tend pre­kinder­garten classes, just 21 per­cent said they wor­ried that such an ini­ti­at­ive would “move chil­dren out of the house and away from their fam­ily at too young an age.” By con­trast, a 70 per­cent ma­jor­ity said such policies would “provide more chil­dren a bet­ter chance to suc­ceed.”

Faith that ex­pan­ded preschool would im­prove the odds for more chil­dren was es­pe­cially pro­nounced among Afric­an-Amer­ic­ans (82 per­cent), Asi­an-Amer­ic­ans (80 per­cent), and His­pan­ics (78 per­cent). But 66 per­cent of whites also agreed; just 25 per­cent of whites said they be­lieved that ex­pan­ded preschool would sep­ar­ate chil­dren from their fam­il­ies at too young an age.

Some party dif­fer­ences en­dured. Among self-iden­ti­fied Demo­crats, sup­port for preschool was near-uni­ver­sal: 87 per­cent said it would in­crease op­por­tun­ity, while only 9 per­cent wor­ried it would sep­ar­ate kids too quickly. In­de­pend­ents also bent to­ward op­por­tun­ity by a sub­stan­tial 64 per­cent to 25 per­cent mar­gin. Re­pub­lic­ans were slightly more equi­voc­al, but not much: 60 per­cent of them thought uni­ver­sal preschool would in­crease op­por­tun­ity, ex­actly double the share that wor­ried about mov­ing young chil­dren from the home.

Fear of loosen­ing fam­ily bonds was muted even among the GOP-lean­ing con­stitu­en­cies usu­ally most re­cept­ive to so­cially con­ser­vat­ive ar­gu­ments. Just 21 per­cent of rur­al adults wor­ried about sep­ar­at­ing kids too fast; 71 per­cent thought ex­pan­ded preschool was more likely to ex­pand op­por­tun­ity. Like­wise just 26 per­cent of whites without a col­lege edu­ca­tion saw a threat to fam­ily, while 64 per­cent saw more op­por­tun­ity; that wasn’t much dif­fer­ent than the 22 per­cent to 69 per­cent split among col­lege-edu­cated whites, who usu­ally take much more so­cially lib­er­al stands.

The most hes­it­a­tion was evid­ent among whites over 65: Fully 36 per­cent of this group wor­ried about sep­ar­a­tion, com­pared with 47 per­cent who saw more op­por­tun­ity. That con­trasts sharply with whites un­der 35 — who were over four times as likely to view ex­pan­ded preschool as an op­por­tun­ity than a threat — as well as with older minor­it­ies. Minor­it­ies over 50 were ex­actly as likely as young­er minor­it­ies to see mostly be­ne­fits in ex­pan­ded preschool; in each case, just 16 per­cent of those sur­veyed wor­ried about mov­ing kids away from their homes too fast, while 80 per­cent thought it would pro­duce ex­pan­ded op­por­tun­ity. (Un­der­scor­ing the depth of the con­sensus, those num­bers were vir­tu­ally identic­al among both male and fe­male minor­it­ies and those with and without four-year col­lege de­grees.)

A sep­ar­ate Next Amer­ica Poll ques­tion fo­cus­ing on the ef­fect­ive­ness, rather than the fam­ily im­pact, of early-child­hood in­ter­ven­tion re­vealed some­what more vari­ation. On that ques­tion, Re­pub­lic­ans were less likely than Demo­crats, and whites and Asi­ans less likely than Afric­an-Amer­ic­ans and His­pan­ics, to agree that ex­pand­ing ac­cess to pre-K would sig­ni­fic­antly boost the pro­spects for chil­dren. Still, even on that ques­tion, a ma­jor­ity of whites and Re­pub­lic­ans said they be­lieved ex­pan­ded pre-K would ex­ert a “ma­jor im­pact” in help­ing more chil­dren suc­ceed.

The Col­lege Board/Na­tion­al Journ­al Next Amer­ica Poll, con­duc­ted by Prin­ceton Sur­vey Re­search As­so­ci­ates In­ter­na­tion­al, sur­veyed 1,271 adults, in­clud­ing over­samples of Afric­an-Amer­ic­ans, His­pan­ics, and Asi­an-Amer­ic­ans, March 18-26. The in­ter­views were con­duc­ted by land­line and cell phone in Eng­lish and Span­ish. The poll has a mar­gin of er­ror of plus or minus 3.9 per­cent­age points for the en­tire sample, and lar­ger mar­gins for ra­cial sub­groups.

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