Say that at small scale, you have really high-quality early childhood education — but at large scale, the education may not be that great, because of all the aforementioned difficulties in growing the program. It’s possible that the small project is better for kids than the various child-care arrangements that parents make now, and the large project is worse.
And indeed, that’s what a new study out of Quebec seems to suggest. In the 1990s, the province instituted an inexpensive universal child-care program. The program doesn’t seem to have produced much in the way of cognitive benefits, and its non-cognitive benefits were actually negative — that is, kids exposed to the program (those who lived in Quebec) were more likely to have various problems than control groups in other provinces.