Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Obama Plans to Expand Early Education

I decided to separate out these 6 articles on a critically important issue that’s come to the forefront recently: the Obama administration’s push to expand early childhood education. Not surprisingly, the NYT is in favor (an article, editorial, and op ed below; articles 1-3) and the WSJ is opposed (an op ed and editorial below; articles 4-5). Plus a final, longer article from (of all places) Hawaii Business.

It seems that very comprehensive, expensive programs work – but will the current crop of much less comprehensive, cheaper programs work? It also seems clear that giving kids good pre-K, but then sticking them in horrible schools for the next 13 years wipes out almost all of the gains from even the best pre-K, so maybe this falls into the category of more spending in general: by itself, it does little; but married to genuine reform, it’s an important component.

In Alabama, a Model for Obama’s Push to Expand Preschool

President Obama’s call in his State of the Union address to “make high-quality preschool available to every single child in America” rallied advocates across the country who have long argued that inequity in education begins at a very young age.

In details that emerged early Thursday, the administration proposed that the federal government work with states to provide preschool for every 4-year-old from low- and moderate-income families. The president’s plan also calls for expanding Early Head Start, the federal program designed to prepare children from low-income families for school, to broaden quality childcare for infants and toddlers.
While supporters herald the plans as a way to help level the playing field for children who do not have the advantages of daily bedtime stories, music lessons and counting games at home, critics argue that federal money could be squandered on ineffective programs.

In the 2010-11 school year, the latest year for which data is available, 28 percent of all four-year-olds in the United States were enrolled in state-financed preschool programs, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research.

Getting Preschool Education Right

Even before the cost estimates and program details have been made public, President Obama’s proposal for expanding high-quality preschool education has encountered criticism from House Republicans. Yet decades of research has shown that well-designed preschool programs more than pay for themselves by giving young children the skills they need to move ahead. The challenge at the federal level will be to make sure that taxpayer dollars flow to proven, high-quality programs instead of being wasted on subsidies for glorified day care.

Countless studies have found that preschool education has real value, both for the children and for society as a whole. But design is obviously crucial. The most famous and frequently cited program was conducted at Perry Elementary School in Ypsilanti, Mich., during the 1960s, where the teachers focused on a creative process in which low-income children were encouraged to plan, initiate and discuss their learning activities. In addition to teaching the children for 2.5 hours during the school day, the teachers regularly visited their homes to reinforce the lessons and forge partnership with parents.

Capitalists for Preschool

IN his State of the Union addressPresident Obama called for making preschool available to every 4-year-old in America, opening a welcome discussion on whether and how to make the investments needed to realize this vision.

As two longtime corporate executives who have been engaged in education for decades, we have no doubt about the answer to this question. Children who attend high-quality preschool do much better when they arrive in kindergarten, and this makes an enormous difference for their later success. The data on preschool is overwhelmingly positive. Although some studies suggest that the positive impact decreases over time, this is mainly attributable to differences in the quality of preschool and of the schooling that follows — not a deficiency in preschool itself.

The effectiveness of quality early childhood education has been affirmed by many business-related groups, including ReadyNation, a coalition of business leaders, organized in 2006.

The Dispiriting Evidence on Preschool

President Obama has announced a cure for the country's social ills: universal preschool. It would help children "read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, form more stable families of their own," and also reduce teen pregnancy and violent crime, he said in his State of Union address. As evidence for these remarkable claims he pointed to Oklahoma and Georgia, the early adopters of universal preschool. But the real evidence from those states suggests that preschool doesn't deliver on even its most basic promises.

Oklahoma implemented its program in 1998 and is the pet of universal preschool activists because it's a red state that has diligently applied their playbook. It spends about $8,000 per preschooler, about the same as on K-12. Its teachers are credentialed, well-paid, abundant (one per 10 children) and use a professionally designed curriculum. Georgia expanded a pre-K program for high-risk children to all 4-year-olds in 1995.

Head Start for All

Government failure is hardly new, though President Obama has given it a characteristic new twist: A program's proven inability to do the things it is supposed to do is now an argument for expanding it. In our new progressive era, no program can ever end because the only reason government fails is that there wasn't enough government in the first place.

The 2009 stimulus, the greatest burst of spending in 30 years, produced the worst recovery in 80 years—so therefore we now need even more spending. The economy requires QE-infinity because it is still too weak despite years of historic monetary easing. The entitlement state is dysfunctional and unaffordable, so add another entitlement. Oh, and ObamaCare is supposed to be Washington's biggest attack on economic inequality in generations, yet we must create still more transfer payments in the name of the Gini coefficient.

There may not be a better illustration of this contradiction between intentions and results than Mr. Obama's new demand for free universal preschool.

This legislative session, as lawmakers debate a bill that would make preschool universal among Hawaii children, you may hear some outrageous claims from the advocates of early childhood education:
For a boy growing up in a poor, crime-ridden neighborhood, just a year or two of preschool will reduce the chance he’ll ever be arrested for rape by more than 50 percent. He’ll be less than a third as likely to commit assault. And he’ll collect $23,000 less in welfare over the course of his lifetime. For a poor girl, a whiff of preschool will double the likelihood she’ll finish high school. Her total lifetime earnings will increase by 36 percent. And she has a 57 percent better chance of owning her own home by the time she’s 40.

These grand pronouncements are in addition to the more plausible claims, such as early childhood education improves kids’ cognitive skills and prepares them better to learn once they get to school. That’s a lot to attribute to just a few hours a week of preschool. In other words, we had our doubts.

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