from The Gray Area:
Fareed Zakaria talked about President Obama's SOTU announced expanded pre-K education program in his article in TIME Magazine, Upward Mobility. He described how the new pre-K program is "vitally important" and displayed facts from some studies to support his position. From our opinion, this analysis is good to a point, but woefully incomplete. Now don't get us wrong, we think pre-K education is vital for all the reasons Mr. Zakaria details; "improves children's cognitive abilities, helps to create a foundation for lifelong learning, makes learning outcomes more equitable, reduces poverty and improves social mobility from generation to generation". But not without other considerations. Primary among those are the number one impact on children's educational success - parents. Every study for decades reveals this. Nothing in Mr. Zakaria's article talks about how this changes when providing this new pre-K educational program. Again, that is not to say we should not have a focus on pre-K, we should, but it should include a complete analysis of the circumstances that affect results of the program, not just the feel good because we have a program.
Mr. Zakaria explains that Head Start is an existing program that provides early education to disadvantaged children. The Dept of H & HS released a study that concludes Head Start's positive affects begin to fade within a few years. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is public schools have been getting better. If that is the case, won't it be the case for a new pre-K program too? So we will now have two programs fading.
Next the usual tome about the US education spending on early childhood education is less as a percent of GDP, but doesn't say that we spend far more in gross dollars. The "law of large numbers" tells you that percentage of big numbers become irrelevant in comparison to small numbers. Would you spend 24% of your income on a car vs the 24% of a smaller income on a car? If someone makes $50,000 a year, $12,000 (24% of $50,000) on a car makes sense (actually they probably spend $20,000 - 40%). If you make $1,000,000, $240,000 for a car is certainly possible, but really makes no sense. Especially when 12% will get you a nice $120,000 car without overspending. Money gets wasted when we try to spend ourselves out of our quality of education issues. The appropriate measurement here would be per student vs GDP to reflect what's needed for the size of the target market.
And, Mr. Zakaria appropriately mentions that the US comes up short in educational comparisons to the rest of the world because we have programs that are "more limited and targeted at the poor" vs whole child learning. How do we fix that with this program?
And speaking of money, lets examine the money to be spent for a new pre-K program to make everybody "feel good". We have one program, Head Start, with plenty of time in use to evaluate performance and have identified issues that need to addressed. Now we want to add another program that is very similar to the one we spend money hand over fist to maintain! How many other programs are out there with the same goals of early education? No Child Left Behind comes to mind. Good idea, bad execution, mixed results - sound familiar? Obama's previous initiatives include the $4.35 billion Race to the Top competition, the $650 million Investing in Innovation Fund, the $3.5 billion School Improvement Grant program and its waiver process that allows states to opt out of the No Child Left Behind mandate if they adopted administration priorities and the Common Core Standards. Why not use available data about where these programs are falling short and propose changes to improve the quality of results. Why not combine all these programs and create one program that costs half as much and provides twice as much? Mr. Zakaria does summarize in his article with a recommendation to "reform Head Start AND go ahead with the President's pre-K program". This reform should be to combine if possible, or separate based on goals at a minimum.
This article is titled "Upward Mobility" and Mr. Zakaria ties pre-K education to as a step to catch up citing studies over the past two decades. It most certainly is and he goes one to talk about how "rich people rarely become poor in a generation--and the poorest seldom get rich". Most everyone would agree it is a long climb. He also explains how US economic mobility is low compared with "Canada and many European countries". He follows this with statements like "the rages to riches myth" and "such stories are the exception". Again, as with the rest of this article, the circumstances for equality and mobility, some clear and some debatable, are many and varied. To take a slight of hand at upward mobility is to be solved by pre-k education, more money, and better attention to the poor is irresponsible at the least and contradicted in his own article. Examples of achieving the American Dream can be found in each of our families without looking too far. Aunt Sally or Uncle Jimmy have moved up the ladder vs their parents and grandparents. But the future doesn't look as good for that continuing as it has been. Who is too blame, we are. The baby boom generation did this. Government programs over the last 50 years that push what we now call economic repression and confiscate wealth from the citizens through cheap money and higher prices has done that. This program if thought through at that same incomplete level, will just make upward mobility worse, not better.
Our view is that we begin to fully analyze education (and any other) program development based on all available data (not just the data we like) and create programs based on results, measurable to those same results and not just on feel good programs so we can say we created a program that, oh by the way, doesn't work too well, but at least we have it, so lets not talk about results. Our government is already full of those programs!