Early Start

Preschool Politics in the United States
Andrew Karch

A political history of the debate over preschool education policy in the United States


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.

"Karch's work represents an important, original contribution to our understanding of the state of American preschool policy from the standpoint of political science. . . . Given what we know about the importance of preschool education for closing achievement gaps, increasing graduation rates, and other positive outcomes, including economic goals, this book is very timely."
—Barbara Beatty, Wellesley College

"Although there are many studies of early U.S. childhood education, none have analyzed the long-term politics of preschools as thoroughly and broadly as Andrew Karch's fine new book. In this original and thoughtful analysis, Karch judiciously examines not only the politics of Head Start but other preschool programs as well."
—Maris Vinovskis, University of Michigan

"Authors and analysts have studied the impacts and history of preschool education in America extensively. But not until now, with Andrew Karch's new book, have the politics of this important area been rigorously explored. In drawing on multiple data sources and his own expertise as a leading scholar of American political development and federalism, Karch superbly illuminates how the nation's preschool policy agenda, and the politics that orbit it, have unfolded over time."
—Paul Manna, The College of William & Mary

"Andrew Karch's Early Start is a significant study on the politics of early childhood policy in America. Combining historical institutional analysis with an analysis of social movement actors' political strategies, Karch's book carefully traces how key political events, combined with federal-state-stakeholder dynamics, led to fragmentation within the policy movement and in the resulting state and federal policies. This book will be of interest to political science scholars of federalism and social movement politics, as well as early childhood scholars and practitioners."
—Linda White, University of Toronto

Andrew Karch is Arleen C. Carlson Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Minnesota.

Praise / Awards

  • "By itself, Karch’s detailed history of the evolution of early childhood policy in the United States represents an impressive contribution to scholarship on the topic. More than that, though, Karch’s detailed analysis of previous efforts to develop and reform early childhood policy provides important insight into the likely hurdles that future reform efforts will face. As such, this lucid and well-researched book is clearly a valuable resource for scholars, advocates, and policymakers alike."
    APSA Legislative Studies Section Newsletter
  • "Early Start is an important addition to the growing library of histories of
    preschool initiatives in the USA."
    Journal of Children and Poverty
  • "the book... provides a useful, broad, and well-informed account of preschool politics; it is an essential addition to an academic library in several fields."
  • Winner: American Library Association (ALA) Choice Outstanding Academic Title

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News, Reviews, Interviews

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 288pp.
  • 1 figure, 3 tables.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2013
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-11872-4

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  • $54.95 U.S.

  • Paper
  • 2014
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-03588-5

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  • $29.95 U.S.

  • Open Access
  • 2017
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-90078-7

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