Eagle Forum Legislative Alerts

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Keep Uncle Sam Away from Toddlers

Among Barack Obama's campaign promises was his promise to increase the federal government's commitment to early childhood education. He has announced his “Zero to Five Plan,” which emphasizes not only expanding educational opportunities for three- and four-year-olds, who are not yet eligible for kindergarten, but also will develop a federal government program for “early care and education for infants.”

The Stimulus Law includes $1 billion over two years for the federal Head Start program, for three- and four-year-olds from low-income families, and another $1.1 billion over two years for the Early Head Start program, which supports initiatives for infants, toddlers, and pregnant women. They claim that high-quality preschool programs lead to improved student outcomes and ultimately a more educated, productive workforce and expanded tax base. However, these preschool programs, which are cited as evidence of benefit, almost exclusively serve low-income children. Their own research shows that some early interventions have had meaningful short-term effects on disadvantaged students', but that the effects of early interventions disappear after children leave the programs.

It's important to note that there were only 58 preschoolers in the experimental group and all were not only disadvantaged but deemed at risk for “retarded intellectual functioning and eventual school failure.” It is a real stretch to generalize results about outcomes, and those gains quickly dissipate. By early elementary school, researchers could find no differences between the test scores of those who had participated in Head Start and those of their peers from similar socioeconomic backgrounds who hadn't participated in a preschool program.

Even some enthusiastic advocates of these programs admit that “It is foolish [for government] to try to substitute for what the middle-class and upper-middle-class parents are already doing.”

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