Two on Universal Preschool

Having failed to see one quarter of all high school students graduate (and in some places, an even higher percentage), one of the latest “reforms” of the public school establishment is to enroll ever-younger children in school.

The results are mixed, at best.

Head Start isn’t terribly effective, and it’s the largest and well-funded program. From Investors’ Business Daily:

Study after study shows Head Start doesn’t work. Tykes enrolled in the program, at an average cost of $7,700, were able to name only about two more letters than disadvantaged kids who were not in Head Start, according to the Hoover Institution’s “Education Next” reform project. They also didn’t show any significant gains in early math, pre-reading, pre-writing, vocabulary or oral comprehension.

“The unavoidable conclusion,” says Douglas Besharov, an American Enterprise Institute scholar, “is that the measured impacts of Head Start, Early Head Start and Even Start have been tragically ‘disappointing’ — the word used by most objective observers.”

He added, “These three programs do not make a meaningful difference in the lives of disadvantaged children.”

Even Start was authorized in 1988 as a family literacy program covering low-income kids from birth through age 7. Head Start was established in 1965 for 4- and 5-year-olds. Early Head Start was formed in 1995 for children from birth to 3, plus pregnant women.

In the Recovery Act budget just passed, the Democrat Congress added an additional $2.3 billion to the $7 billion-a-year Head Start program.

As well-intentioned as it may be, Head Start plainly has an unacceptably small impact on learning to justify its cost. Yet Obama wants to expand not only Head Start funding, but also its reach by offering the program beyond the inner cities and poor rural areas. His goal — one shared and championed by the first lady — is “universal pre-K,” or mandatory preschool modeled after Head Start.

It’s hard to see why the president thinks it’s a good idea to entrust all pre-K programs — nationwide — to a public system that he admits is fraught with serious shortcomings, especially in inner-city areas most in need of reform.

The Heritage Foundation gives a more thorough review of four federal proposals to expand pre-K programs, and looks at the performance of universal programs in Oklahoma and Georgia.

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