Ask advocates about prekindergarten and they'll rattle off a list of arguments in favor of its impact on children's academic and social development. In Georgia, for instance, which has had universal pre-K for five years, administrators say limited testing of first graders showed that children who had been in the program had better test scores, readiness to learn, and attendance records than those who had not.
But not all teachers agree that three- and four-year-olds are ready for structured learning. Dorothy Iantosca, who has taught first grade at a suburban New Jersey school for almost 30 years, says she's seen a negative impact on her first-grade students since the school began offering a prekindergarten program some years ago.
"They get too much school and too much structure too soon," Ms. Iantosca says. "They're being taught skills they are not ready for." By the time they get to first grade, she says, "They're burned out."
According to Iantosca, two or three half-days of prekindergarten a week could be useful to promote social skills and to accustom kids to the routine of school.
Donna Losovsky, a former pre-K teacher who now teaches second grade in another New Jersey school district, also questions pre-K. Staying home an extra year in a good home environment with a parent may be a better alternative, she says. At home, "they're listened to" and have more one-on-one conversations, which she says strengthens thinking skills. Some of her most successful second-grade students, she says, are the ones who didn't participate in prekindergarten. But, she adds, it's also true that not every home environment offers that kind of stimulus.