It seems that almost everywhere one turns these days you find a Democratic politician or liberal pundit singing the praises of early childhood education. Not only does it sound good, not only does it help the children, but it pays off with promised rates of returns straight out of a glossy Madoff investment brochure. Why would anyone possibly not be in favor of “investing” more in such an obvious winning proposition for all involved?
Well, there is that whole thing about how it doesn’t really deliver the benefits that its proponents claim it does. And then there is the fact that rather than being an innovative approach that we just haven’t fully embraced, government subsidized early childhood education programs have already been tried, tested, and found wanting.
An editorial in today’s WSJ called Head Start for All contained details on the current extent of government involvement ($) in early childhood education that you rarely hear from supporters:
Counting Head Start, special education and state-subsidized preschool, 42% of four-year-olds are now enrolled in a government program. Federal, state and local financing for early learning is closing in on $40 billion a year, double what it was a decade ago. But can anyone say that achievement is twice as good—or even as good?
The problem of America's undeveloped human potential is real, but Mr. Obama has set up a non-falsifiable evidentiary standard for government. The public schools fail the poor, but reforming them is hard and would upset the unions. So instead liberals propose Head Start to prepare poor kids for kindergarten. Head Start has little to show after 47 years, but rather than replacing it, the new liberal solution is to expand it to everyone.
Meanwhile, pundits who claim to be empiricists lecture Republicans to agree to all this so they don't appear to be so hostile to government. Everyone pretends that spending more on programs that have demonstrably failed is a sign of compassion and "what works," government expands without results, and the poor are offered only the false hope of liberal good intentions.
So over 40% of preschoolers are already involved in some form of government program and we’ve doubled spending on these programs in ten years. And the results have been what exactly?
But when it comes to government programs, results don’t matter. It’s only about more. More money, more bureaucracy, more control.