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Early Start

Preschool Politics in the United States

Andrew Karch

Publication Year: 2013

In the United States, preschool education is characterized by the dominance of a variegated private sector and patchy, uncoordinated oversight of the public sector. Tracing the history of the American debate over preschool education, Andrew Karch argues that the current state of decentralization and fragmentation is the consequence of a chain of reactions and counterreactions to policy decisions dating from the late 1960s and early 1970s, when preschool advocates did not achieve their vision for a comprehensive national program but did manage to foster initiatives at both the state and national levels. Over time, beneficiaries of these initiatives and officials with jurisdiction over preschool education have become ardent defenders of the status quo. Today, advocates of greater government involvement must take on a diverse and entrenched set of constituencies resistant to policy change. In his close analysis of the politics of preschool education, Karch demonstrates how to apply the concepts of policy feedback, critical junctures, and venue shopping to the study of social policy.

Published by: University of Michigan Press


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p. C-C

About the Author, Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x

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Introduction: The Preschool Puzzle

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pp. 1-15

On April 1, 1968, the U.S. commissioner of education, Harold Howe II, was supposed to address the annual meeting of the Department of Elementary School Principals of the National Education Association in Houston, Texas. When his presence was required at an appropriations hearing in Washington, Howe was unable to make the trip. Instead, his speech was ...

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1. Early Childhood Policy and the American Welfare State

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pp. 16-32

Scholars have long been captivated by the distinctive features of the American welfare state. One recent focus has been the pronounced role of the private sector in the pursuit of social policy objectives. The American welfare state is a divided one in which many of the duties carried out by governments elsewhere are left in the hands of the private sector.1 Various tax...

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2. Historical Precedents and Forces for Change

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pp. 33-58

Debates over the education and care of young children date back at least to the infant school movement of the early 1800s, and the contemporary rhetoric surrounding the issue resonates with the claims and counterclaims of earlier eras. After a brief review of developments in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, this chapter examines three national government endeavors that preceded the critical juncture of the late 1960s ...

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3. A Watershed Episode: The Comprehensive Child Development Act

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pp. 59-85

Interest in early childhood policy remained high after the inauguration of President Richard Nixon, thanks in part to the widespread attention Head Start received. A March 1969 memo to the Advisory Committee on Head Start argued that the program helped produce “an unprecedented amount of national interest in the importance of early childhood development.”1 ...

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4. Venue Shopping, Federalism, and the Role of the States

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pp. 86-105

One of the distinctive features of the American political system is the extent to which it decentralizes political authority. This institutional fragmentation can impede the adoption of expansive policies, but it also provides multiple access points for reformers. Frustrated in one institutional context, reformers can try to achieve their goals in another setting, a phenomenon known as venue shopping. Child development advocates were...

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5. Congressional Activity and the Dissolving Early Childhood Coalition

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pp. 106-134

As state officials established early childhood programs in the early and mid-1970s, Congress continued to debate the appropriate role for the national government in this policy arena. The demise of the Comprehensive Child Development Act did not settle the issue, even though the measure’s supporters recognized that major policy changes were unlikely. This chapter examines the congressional aftermath of Nixon’s veto, during which...

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6. Policy Stability and Political Change in the 1980s

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pp. 135-154

The fragmentation of early childhood policy in the United States can be traced to developments in the late 1960s and early 1970s, especially Nixon’s veto of the Comprehensive Child Development Act. The veto was a critical juncture not only because it dashed the hopes of those who wanted a larger role for the national government. It also caused those advocates to engage ...

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7. The Congressional Heritage of a Critical Juncture

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pp. 155-174

During the past fifteen years, national and state officials have devoted substantial attention to early childhood policy. After chronicling the demographic, intellectual, and political forces that returned the issue to the political agenda, this chapter focuses on the congressional developments of the late 1990s and early 2000s. During the last two decades, Congress has ...

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8. The Contemporary Preschool Movement in the States

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pp. 175-199

During the last two decades, many states have expanded access to and increased public spending on preschool education. Some recent initiatives built on the publicly funded programs that were established during the 1970s, while other states created new programs. One source of heightened state-level activity in the late 1990s and early 2000s was the absence of...

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Conclusion: The Future of Preschool Politics

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pp. 200-210

In a November 2011 interview, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was asked what her legislative goals would be if the Democrats were to retake control of the House of Representatives. The former Speaker of the House answered that her top priority would be to push for comprehensive change in early childhood policy. Describing how she struggled to ...

A Note on Archival Sources

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pp. 211-212


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pp. 213-252


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pp. 253-262


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pp. 263-274

E-ISBN-13: 9780472029075
E-ISBN-10: 047202907X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472118724
Print-ISBN-10: 0472118722

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 1 figure, 3 tables
Publication Year: 2013