New day care center features "educational toys, friendly, well-educated staff," and "a large, brightly-lit play area," but the room was "a bit crowded." Two stars.
A Zagat-style guide to childcare is just one of the possibilities proposed in "Growing Arizona," a new report released by the Arizona School Readiness Task Force. The report recommends that the state "establish a voluntary quality rating system, such as a one-, two-, or three-star rating, to give parents simple information they can use in choosing child care and preschool."
But do we really need a state-sanctioned daycare rating system that boils down to one-, two- or three-stars? Are parents really only willing to spend as much time choosing childcare as they would a movie or a restaurant?
The suggested multi-star rating system is one of four recommendations put forth in the report, which addresses the overlapping issues of childcare and preschool. The other three recommendations are scholarships for childcare teacher training, salary increases for childcare teachers and resources for childcare and preschool centers to improve their ratings.
Putting aside the stars, the proposal boils down to the same old panacea: money. The Task Force's idea that money and a rating system are the solution for early education indicates the major problem with this report. Namely, a reliance on the state, not parents, to improve the quality of childcare. This approach is doomed.
Any attempt to improve the quality of childcare needs to begin with parents, as naturally they have the most interest in the health of Arizona's children. The "Growing Arizona" study admits that even the most ambitious preschool program falls short. According to the report, "Landmark brain research confirms that a child's earliest years dramatically shape lifelong learning capacity and behavior. This research concludes that 90 percent of brain development occurs between birth and age three."
In New York City, home to one of the nation's most ambitious pre-school programs, children do not begin to attend classes until they are three. Is the Arizona School Readiness Task Force suggesting that school begin earlier? What's next, posting state workers in the hospital nursery?
The report bemoans the fact that "Despite the number of children needing child care and the critical importance of quality, Arizona has no child care 'system.'" We should celebrate this fact. Anyone who feels that the state is well-qualified to supervise the construction of an early education system needs to take another look at the 13 years of state schooling Arizona children are already required to attend. As the perennial crisis of K-12 public education indicates, the state is the last entity parents should trust with providing quality pre-school for their children.
The early years of a child's life are important for the development of the young mind. The young mind, however, does not need to be in a state-approved educational setting in order to progress. According to the U.S. Department of Education, 94 percent of pre-kindergartners are able to recognize shapes and numbers and count to ten. 92 percent arrive eager to learn. Parents, it would seem, are up to the task of getting their kids ready for school.
The campaign for state-sponsored preschool is driven not by parents, but professional children's advocates. 68 percent of those who identify themselves with this group support a push for universal national child care. In sharp contrast, only 27 percent of parents favor such a plan, according to Public Agenda, a non-partisan research group.
The various levels of government in Arizona already pay for 13 years of education; the justification for adding two more has not yet been established. Parents, not bureaucrats, need to take an active role in this area in order to assure a bright future for Arizona's children.
"Clearly, families have the most responsibility and the greatest role in raising healthy children," the Task Force states. The report should have just stopped there. Instead of rigging a three-star rating system for child care centers and pouring ever more money into the leaky boat that is state-run education, government should stay out and leave decisions about preschool to the three groups that are in the best position to make informed decisions about Arizona's children: parents, parents, parents.
Ross Groen is an education research assistant for the Goldwater Institute, a free-market think tank in Phoenix.