I spent my entire primary and secondary education in Michigan’s public schools. Along with my time teaching first grade in Brooklyn, those years frame most of my thinking about education reform. As pre-K’s rising political profile has recently sparked new conversations about pre-K research, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about the Midwest’s approach to early education. After all, two of the research studies anyone cites in these discussions come from the Midwest: the Perry Preschool Project and the Chicago Child Parent Centers. Yet the region has hardly been a leader in pre-K investments in recent years.
Like any good manufacturing hub, the Midwest has exported its expertise throughout the country. Oklahoma has dramatically expanded its state pre-K programs since 1998; 75% of four-year-olds are now enrolled. Guess what? Their leaders were inspired by the Ypsilanti study. Washington, DC has ramped up its public pre-K programs over the last decade; 92% of four-year-olds and 69% of three-year-olds were enrolled last year. One of the key local figures in the expansion was a former lead teacher in the Perry program. Iowa has been expanding public pre-K for the last five years—state documents cite Perry and the CPC in support of their efforts. Georgia’s Department of Education does the same. Heck, the research is even an international export. In the 1990s, Quebec policymakers saw the Midwest’s programs and funded universal pre-K (and child care)…Meanwhile, Michigan has no state program offering preschool to three-year-olds.