Sunday, August 24, 2008

Head Start is the most noble waste of federal tax dollars 

Universal Preschool is not the answer to poor family life and poor schooling...

Why don't preschool gains stick? Possibly because the K-12 system is too dysfunctional to maintain them. More likely, because early education in general is not so crucial to the long-term intellectual growth of children. Finland offers strong evidence for this view. Its kids consistently outperform their global peers in reading, math and science on international assessments even though they don't begin formal education until they are 7. Subsidized preschool is available for parents who opt for it, but only when their kids turn 6.

I came to this conclusion in a graduate Child Development class. We were discussing a study on the effects of early childhood education. The authors tried to dismiss the value of "quality" in a paragraph. A fellow student and I thought this was as close to researcher malpractice as we would ever see in printed scholarly journals. The quality of the early childhood experience has to matter in the outcome or there is no outcome worth measuring. The professor quickly deflected our attack by chastising us for speaking heresy. The discussion quickly ended and the class moved on to an inconsequential article that was also assigned.

Read the review here.

The title of this post is a motto that I pose to undergraduates. Head Start is a federally funded program that serves children at risk or with developmental disabilities. It is a wonderful program. In most cases, it would be rated as high quality when compared with other programs in the community. The problem always has been that the children, once served by Head Start, are handed over to the public schools. The public schools in most instances are not pursuing high quality education. They are serving the interests of the educational trade groups and unions. Why intervene in the lives of the children if we can document that the gains made will fade over time?

If Mr. Obama is serious about helping children, he should begin by fixing what is clearly broken: the K-12 system. The best way of doing that is by building on programs with a proven record of success. Many of these involve giving parents control over their own education dollars so that they have options other than dysfunctional public schools. The Obamas send their daughters to a private school whose annual fee in middle school runs around $20,000. Other parents deserve such choices too -- not promises of subsidized preschool that they may not want and that may be bad for their kids.

We bought a house this summer. It is a painful financial time for us. We did it because our daughter started 1sr grade this year. The school serving the community where we moved excels. It excels without additional funding. That is for a later post.

Universal preschool does not work. Read the research.

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