Obama’s Federal Nursery School

In his State of the Union speech President Obama ran through his laundry list of proposed new government run programs and government spending that he called “investments,” including this:

Research shows that one of the best investments we can make in a child’s life is high-quality early education.  Last year, I asked this Congress to help states make high-quality pre-K available to every four year-old.  As a parent as well as a President, I repeat that request tonight.

This is a familiar, progressive formulation. 

  • Start with appeal to authority, in this case “research shows.” Other variations include “study after study shows” and “independent experts confirm.” But never name the studies or experts.
  • Then, make an assertion – in this case the obvious – that it’s good for children to begin learning early. 
  • Finally, leap to the  conclusion that Washington politicians and bureaucrats, with their volumes of regulations and piles of money should jump in and take control to “help states.” 

Federal “help” always involves rigid regulations and payoffs to special interest cronies.  And, dictating that “every four year-old” shall be enrolled strongly appeals to Obama’s base, 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 three years ago by the staff of Obama’s own Department of Health and Human Services.  For several years they tracked the progress of 5,000 children who were eligible for Head Start, a program offered only to low income families.  Half of the 5,000 kids were enrolled Head Start programs, while the other half became a control group that did not attend Head Start or any pre-school. 

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 asks Congress to pay for “high quality” preschool.  In his 2013 State of the Union he asked for funding for private preschools.

Obama’s most recent budget proudly proclaimed an annual cost of $8.1 billion for Head Start “to serve approximately 962,000 children.”   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, Head Start graduates are no better prepared for school than children who didn’t attend any preschool.

Apparently, the President’s response to the failure of government’s existing national preschool is demand that Congress launch a second, national 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!

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.  But the progressive movement Obama leads does not trust The People to figure out their own, varied, approaches and as always demands nation-wide uniformity.

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