Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

“Do we know what to do? Of course we do. Do we do it? Of course not.”

Such is the crux of the case John Merrow, education correspondent for PBS NewsHour,  makes in “The Preschool Education Issues in America” on the Huffington Post.

“Educationally and linguistically, poor children are behind from the beginning,” he writes, noting that less than half of children, age 3-5, in poor families attend a center-based early education program, compared with 60% whose families are not poor.

“Shouldn’t we be embarrassed about our approach to early education? Most industrialized countries provide free, high-quality preschool for 3-, 4- and 5-year- olds, regardless of family income,” Merrow writes. “We’re the opposite: a patchwork non-system with weakly trained, poorly paid staff. The quality ranges from excellent to abysmal, the tuition from $15,000 to zero, the teachers’ salaries from $45,000 or more a year plus benefits to as little as $8 or $9 per hour, without benefits. In the United States, quality preschool is a seller’s market, and even well-to-do parents endure ‘preschool panic’ when they realize there’s not enough quality to go around.”

The answer, Merrow argues, is to build a system of high-quality early education that meets the needs of all children, an approach, he observes, that is embraced by Head Start founder Edward Zigler.

“We ought to design preschool systems the way we built our Interstate highway system,” Merrow writes. “President Eisenhower didn’t create separate highways for rich and poor. Instead, we built an Interstate system that was good enough for people behind the wheel of a Cadillac, and no one driving a cheap Plymouth complained. If we follow that road map, the journey will be long, but we’ll get there.”