Upward Mobility.
   < < Go Back
Obama’s plan to expand pre-K education is a step in a long catch up game.
from TIME Magazine,

by Fareed Zakaria.

America has long been seen–by its citizens and the world–as the place where anyone can make it. And yet studies from the past two decades all point to a different reality. Rich people rarely become poor in a generation–and the poorest seldom get rich. Despite the rags-to-riches myth, such stories are the exception. A comprehensive study by the Pew Economic Mobility Project documents that in the U.S. today, few poor people become even upper middle class.

That’s why President Obama’s proposal to expand early-childhood education is vitally important: the idea is to provide high-quality pre-K for 4-year-olds from families whose incomes are at or below 200% of the poverty line–that is at or below $47,000 for a family of four.

Critics share his goals, but worry about the government’s track record in the area. Specifically, they point to Head Start, the long-standing program that provides early education to disadvantaged children. The Department of Health and Human Services released a study of Head Start in 2010, updated in 2012, that concludes that the program’s positive effects begin to fade within a few years.

But critics are jumping to conclusions about a very complicated subject.

It is premature to reject Head Start. They note that many factors may have intervened to erode the early gains in scores, including sharp rises in single-parent families, non-English-speaking households and severe health problems like childhood obesity and diabetes. They also noted that early education in public schools has been getting better, a trend that might explain why Head Start kids lose their advantage over non–Head Start kids.

Early-childhood education “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.”

From a study of 34 rich countries, 90% of 3-year-olds get early-childhood education. The OECD average for 4-year-olds is 81%. In the U.S., it is only 69%, and those children tend to be from middle- and upper-middle-class families.

Head Start should be reformed to ensure its effectiveness. But Obama’s proposals will help the U.S. start to catch up in the great human-capital struggle that will define the new century even more dramatically than it did the last.

Read more: Upward Mobility