Here’s a textbook example of the continuous loop of failure that is government by the progressive political movement now led by Barack Obama.
In his State of the Union speech President Obama briefly assured us the deficit/debt problem was almost solved and then moved on. He proposed lots of new government run programs and government spending that he called “investments,” including this:
Study after study shows that the sooner a child begins learning, the better he or she does down the road. But today, fewer than 3 in 10 four year-olds are enrolled in a high-quality preschool program. Most middle-class parents can’t afford a few hundred bucks a week for a private preschool. So tonight, I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every single child in America.
This is a familiar, progressive formulation. Start with the usual “study after study” to support what in this case is obvious, that it’s better for children to begin learning early. Then try to piggyback a not so obvious conclusion that Washington politicians and bureaucrats, with their volumes of regulations and piles of money can reach into preschool rooms in Fargo, Kansas City, Denver and Chicago and ensure that 4 year old kids from diverse backgrounds all learn their letters and colors. And the bonus for progressives would be an ideal opportunity to begin indoctrinating a future generation of voters in progressive dogma.
But the federal government already operates a nation-wide preschool system called Head Start. Yet Obama chose not to mention it. Why?
Perhaps the answer lies in a meticulous study of Head Start results completed just two years ago by the staff of Obama’s own Department of Health and Human Services. They tracked the progress of 5,000 children from low income families who were eligible for Head Start over several years. Half were enrolled Head Start program, and the other half were a control group that did not attend Head Start. An extensive battery of tests was run on both groups of children just before Kindergarten, at the end of Kindergarten and at the end of first grade. It turned out that the Head Start group did not perform any better in Kindergarten and first grade than the control group. Here’s a summary, directly from the HHS study:
[I]t appears that access to Head Start has an impact on 4-year-olds’ language and literacy skills while they are in Head Start, but these early gains are not sustained as the children develop and move into the early school years. Furthermore, there is no evidence of impacts on children’s math ability, pre-writing skills, or teacher assessments at the end of Head Start, at the end of kindergarten, or at the end of 1st grade. In other words, the children in the Head Start group ended their Head Start year with moderately higher skills than their counterparts in the control group, but this advantage did not lead to longer term gains when they were in school. At the end of 1st grade, they end up at the same point as the children who were not given access to the program. Although both groups of children are making progress over time, in most instances, the Head Start group scores are not statistically different from the control group scores in kindergarten and 1st grade.
For decades politicians have routinely called on Congress to expand Head Start. But with this study documenting failure in mind, Obama presented the issue as parents’ inability to pay for private preschool. But that’s exactly the rationale that President Lyndon Johnson used back in the 1960s to sell Congress and the nation on Head Start!
Obama’s most recent budget proudly proclaimed an annual cost of $8.1 billion for Head Start “to serve approximately 962,000 children and families, maintaining the historic expansion undertaken in 2009–2010.” That works out to about $8,400 per year, per child, not as much as the elite preschools the children of Washington officials attend, but well above the average charged by private preschools across the country. Yet, after five decades Head Start graduates are no better prepared for school than children who didn’t attend any preschool.
The Constitution’s Tenth Amendment commands the President and Congress to restrict government’s power and reach only to those functions authorized by the Constitution. Everything else is to be left to the States or to The People. Operating preschools is definitely not authorized by the Constitution. So, the failing Head Start program shouldn’t even exist. And there certainly is no Constitutional authorization for a second national preschool system!
Obama’s “reasoning” leaps from the truism that children should begin learning early to the conclusion that the federal government should provide and supervise that learning. But there have always been successful sources of early childhood learning, from parents and grand parents, to siblings, to low cost and even free preschools, some organized by churches. This is a textbook example of why we should accept the wisdom of the founders and not turn early education of precious little children over to the tender mercies of the federal bureaucracy.