More on Head Start
The Kansas City Star
My recent post “Head Start is a waste of money” drew a rebuttal from Daniel Serda, who objected to my characterization of the program as a waste because any benefits largely vanished by 1st grade.
Serda offered quotes from the study, but they dealt only with benefits for 3- and 4-year-olds. Again, the question is whether these benefits disappear quickly. Even Serda admitted that they “may” do so. But the people who wrote the study were a lot tougher, once they stopped beating around the bush.
From the study (eric.ed.gov/PDFS/ED507845.pdf): “In sum, this report finds that providing access to Head Start has benefits for both 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds in the cognitive, health, and parenting domains, and for 3-year-olds in the social-emotional domain. However, the benefits of access to Head Start at age four are largely absent by 1st grade for the program population as a whole.”
“Largely absent”: For this, we pay $7 billion a year?
It’s extremely tough for an entity as remote as the federal government to run effective pre-school programs and keep them from running off the rails or degenerating into mere jobs programs. A big scandal here in KC years ago was a Head Start operation that paid its executive director, Dwayne Crompton, $800,000 over a three-year period. Crompton was riding around in a Mercedes SUV.
The genesis of the original post was a Joe Klein piece in Time, and my point was that it showed even liberals were recognizing the flaws in Head Start. I emailed one of Klein’s sources, Russ Whitehurst at the Brookings Institution, who had told Klein that the government study was so damning that apparently the feds sat on the results for years.
Whitehurst wrote back that Head Start provides some short-term effects on some school-readiness skills, but in general, “there are .. no positive effects and some negative effects (more classroom misbehavior) by the end of first grade.” Whitehurst suggests that Head Start be converted to a low-income voucher, rather than continue to spend money on “a federal program that is trapped in a previous century and resistant to change.”
Certainly, voucherizing it would be better. But the larger question is why do we assume a federal responsibility to provide pre-school classes in the first place. If it’s impossible to scale back or eliminate a program with so little warrant as this one, how can it ever be possible to stabilize the national debt — meaning curb its growth enough so that it’s no longer growing faster than the economy?