February 21, 2013
Would Obama's Proposed Pre-School Program Work?

Would it improve long-term outcomes for kids, especially poor kids?

Almost certainly not, says Charles Murray.

"Study after study shows that the earlier a child begins learning, the better he or she does down the road," said U.S. President Barack Obama in Feb. 14 speech in Decatur, Georgia.  "Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than seven dollars later on -- boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, reducing violent crime."

Obama wants to help our nation's children flourish.  So do I.  So does everyone who is aware of the large number of children who are not flourishing.  There are just two problems with his solution: The evidence used to support the positive long-term effects of early childhood education is tenuous, even for the most intensive interventions.  And for the kind of intervention that can be implemented on a national scale, the evidence is zero.

Will our anti-scientific president pay any attention to this evidence, including evidence from his own Department of Education?

It's not impossible, but it's unlikely.  Programs like Head Start may not do anything measurable, long term, for the kids in them, but they have done a lot for the politicians who have promoted them.

And so, most likely, Obama won't even sit down to look at this evidence.

We had a parallel experience here in Washington state.  Former governor Christine Gregoire promoted early childhood education with almost identical arguments.  As far as I could tell, she rejected the studies that found that it usually has no long-term effect.  And I am almost certain that her programs did not include the kind of long-term testing that would enable us to decide whether they were worth while.

Cross posted at Jim Miller on Politics.

(I should add that it seems as if these programs should work, seems as if giving kids, especially poor kids, extra years of early schooling would, in fact, give them a head start, and that the effects of that head start would continue after, say, the third grade.   I haven't seen any explanation for the almost universal failures of these programs — and so I would strongly favor more research on the problem.)

Posted by Jim Miller at February 21, 2013 12:38 PM | Email This