October 16, 2014
Is there a
trendier public-policy proposal than “universal preschool”?
education for tots satisfies elites’ need to wage what T.S. Eliot called “the
endless struggle to think well of themselves.” In addition to the president,
the Pew Charitable Trusts noted approvingly, “lawmakers and local officials
from both sides of the aisle agree on the benefits of prekindergarten.” Why, no
respectable person doubts that it can close the “achievement gap,” fight “income inequality,”
and boost the nation’s “competitiveness” in the global marketplace.
a check of the research reveals that preschool is worthless.
A newcomer to
the issue should consult “The
Evidence on Universal Preschool: Are Benefits Worth the Cost?” Published by
the libertarian Cato Institute and penned by David J. Armor,
professor emeritus at George Mason University,
the paper is a concise and scathing assault on the naïfs who believe that America’s
little ones need to spend more time in unionized, government-monopoly schools.
carefully scrutinizes “three historical ‘high-quality’ preschool programs that
have received considerable attention.” Proponents claim that experiments in the
‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s in North Carolina, Michigan, and Chicago
demonstrate the wisdom of present and future “investments.” Not so: “These …
programs differ markedly from contemporary preschools in ways that make them
incompatible to current and proposed … programs.”
today, the “most rigorous studies” of preschool schemes, “particularly the
Start program and a Tennessee universal program, show no lasting gains for
preschool students after they enter regular grades. According to these studies,
by the time children reach the early elementary grades, the average preschool
student has learned no more than children who were not in preschool.”
Head Start’s implosion
is a bitter setback for the moonbat community. As the
Heritage Foundation’s Lindsey Burke wrote, “time after time, the Great
Society program has proved ineffective in preparing children for academic
success. After 48 years and $180 billion in taxpayer money, the program has yet
to demonstrate any lasting improvement in educational or social outcomes.” An
evaluator of Tennessee’s
preschool initiative concluded that its results “greatly diminished by the end
of the kindergarten year and the differences between participants and
non-participants were no longer statistically significant.”
examination of rosy analyses of municipal and state preschool programs in Oklahoma, Massachusetts,
New Jersey, and Georgia found dodgy -- if not
dishonest --methodologies. “Regression discontinuity designs,” the approach employed,
failed to account for attrition, picked an unwise age-cutoff variable, and declined
to disclose “the timing of skill testing.” Thus, research on the four programs did
not “provide a rigorous assessment of either the short- or long-term effects.”
With evidence for
its value so feeble, why does Big Education continue to push for more
One answer is
educrats’ unwillingness to defy political correctness. As conservative
journalist Terence P. Jeffrey documented last month, 36 percent of our
countrymen born between 1993 and 2012 “were born to unmarried mothers.” Family
fragmentation is unquestionably the leading contributor to government
schools’ lousy performance.
Prior to the
dawn of if-it-feels-good-do-it America,
parents reliably sent their children off to kindergarten -- or first grade -- prepared
to learn. Things have changed. But calling out the appallingly selfish and
immature men and women who deny their progeny supportive, stable, two-parent
homes isn’t an option. The sensitivity cops won’t allow it. Better to lobby for
“reforms” such as class-size reduction, computers for every pupil, and pre-K.
cynical explanation for preschool boosterism involves demographics. The U.S.
birthrate was in retreat long before the Bush-Obama economic
apocalypse. The Great Recession has brought baby-making to a record low. A
sharp turnaround is nowhere on the horizon.
There’s a lot
of money -- many hundreds of billions of dollars annually -- in government
education. Teachers, administrators, and consultants have grown accustomed to
their lucrative gigs. Educrat-union bosses, too. The lawyers and activists who
bray and sue about “equity” have mortgage payments. And let’s not forget the secretaries,
janitors, nurses, tutors, guidance counselors, groundskeepers, lunch ladies,
security guards, and bus drivers.
monopoly needs “customers.” And it can see what’s coming. Making preschool
standard would help compensate for stagnant (and in
some places, falling) enrollment. School-board members, state lawmakers,
and fedpols understand. So with a few heroic exceptions, they’ve signed on to
preschool would be a fitting addition to the nation’s deeply dysfunctional
education system. It costs a fortune, bolsters educrats’ billion-dollar
political muscle, and has zero chance of producing positive, sustainable
outcomes. For the good of both taxpayers and students, it must be stopped.
D. Dowd Muska (www.dowdmuska.com) writes about government, economics, and technology. Follow him on Twitter @dowdmuska.
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