Pundits are perplexed trying to explain how Iowa went to Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee but New Hampshire went to Hillary Clinton and John McCain. How could there be so much diversity among voters? The presidential primaries remind us that there are millions of Americans with millions of ideas on how to get things done. And there could be no place where there are more ideas than when it comes to parenting.
One of my friends is home-schooling her three little girls. Another friend uses preschool two days a week and a grandparent to round out the middle. One colleague is eager to enroll her children in a Montessori program and return full-time to work. In fact, I don't know any two families with exactly the same child care or preschool arrangements.
This kind of diversity is good for children. According the U.S. Department of Education's national assessment, most children entering kindergarten are familiar with reading, such as knowing that print reads left to right, and they can read numbers, recognize shapes and count. They're also enthusiastic and eager to learn, personal qualities that kindergarten teachers say matter even more than concrete skills.
All but a few parents go to great lengths to seek out the best for their children. The strength of our early education system is that it can respond with as many options as there are children. For families struggling with job loss, single parenting or other challenges, federal and state governments have programs to help in hard times.
It's difficult to understand, then, why so many states are pushing to add preschool to their docket of free programs. Last year, California voters overwhelmingly rejected a universal preschool plan. Three-quarters of parents, conservative and liberal, say that one parent at home is the best arrangement for their young children.
The abundance of options available to families reflects the best of America. Do we really want lawmakers deciding how every 4-year-old should prepare for school? Rather than take over preschool, governments should lower taxes and adopt policies that increase parents' purchasing power and keep family decisions where they belong.
Darcy Olsen is president of the Phoenix-based Goldwater Institute.