Obama's Underperforming Preschool Plan; Head Start Brings Children to a Standstill

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), February 27, 2013 | Go to article overview

Obama's Underperforming Preschool Plan; Head Start Brings Children to a Standstill


Byline: Vicki E. Alger, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Politicians staging photo ops with children is nothing new. President Obama stands out, however, for thinking he can grow the middle class with government-run, universal preschool.

He insisted during his State of the Union address that study after study shows the benefits of preschool, which translates into savings by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime.

However emotionally appealing, the idea that the nanny state is better at jump-starting children's learning than their parents is not supported by the evidence.

First, the programs the president relied on for his preschool claims did not involve middle-class children. Those programs, dating back to the 1960s, involved small-scale, highly targeted populations of low-income children, including infants and toddlers with learning disabilities.

Next, the early education services those children received encompassed far more than a few hours a day learning to count, reciting their ABCs or tying their shoes. In addition to traditional preschool activities, those children and their families also received an array of family services, including in-home visits, parenting classes and extensive tutoring.

That is why specialists reviewing those programs have admitted there is no scientifically credible way to attribute any benefits to preschool. It's also worth noting that none of the results from any of those programs has ever been replicated - a huge red flag for anyone interested in using them as models.

What's more, specialists also caution against universalizing programs intended for highly targeted child populations to middle-class children. In fact, David Weikart, past president of one of those targeted programs, the HighScope Educational Research Foundation, has cautioned, For middle-class youngsters with a good economic basis, most programs are not able to show much in the way of difference.

Conspicuously absent from the president's State of the Union plan to grow the middle class through government-run preschool were results from the nearly 50-year-old federal Head Start program, managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Launched in 1965, Head Start started out as a six-week summer catch-up program for about half-a-million disadvantaged pre-kindergarteners at a cost of $96.4 million. Today, this government program costs nearly $8 billion for 964,000 enrollees.

This means the cost of Head Start has skyrocketed from about $172 per participant to more than $7,800 now - 45 times more expensive. …

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