President Obama has repeatedly promised to use an “evidence-based approach” for social policy—and when it comes to education, he has been true to his word: He has systematically promoted programs such as universal pre-school with little evidence of success and panned ones such as school vouchers with lots.
In his recent State of the Union address, the president—not for the first time—hectored Congress to “make high-quality preschool available to every single child in America.” “Study after study shows that the sooner a child begins learning, the better he or she does down the road,” he insisted.
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Actually, “study after study” has shown the exact opposite—that publicly funded preschool programs make no lasting difference in a child’s life.
Consider Head Start, the nearly half-a-century old early learning program targeted at low-income toddlers. About a million kids are enrolled in the program every year and Uncle Sam spends about $8,000 on each, not exactly chump change. Yet a majority of studies have found that while these kids show initial cognitive gains that make them more “school ready,” these gains disappear once they enter regular school. Pre-K believers have pooh-poohed these studies on methodological grounds arguing that they did not track the kids long enough and weren’t based on random assignment with a valid control group.
None of these objections apply to the Department of Health and Human Services’ December Head Start Impact study. It is the most ambitious and expensive evaluation of the program that the administration did its best to bury by releasing it on the Friday before Christmas.
Read More at reason.com . By Shikha Dalmia and Lisa Snell.