D. Dowd Muska


Big Education’s Latest Job-Protection Racket

October 16, 2014

Is there a trendier public-policy proposal than “universal preschool”?

Ubiquitous institutionalized 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.

Unfortunately, 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.

Armor 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.”

Closer to today, the “most rigorous studies” of preschool schemes, “particularly the federal Head 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.”

Armor’s 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 preschool?

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.

Another, more 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.

The K-12 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 the groupthink.

Universal 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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