Instead of universal preschool …

Federal early childhood programs are “incoherent” and “largely ineffective,” Russ Whitehurst, director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution, told the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

 The federal government spends heavily on Head Start, Child Care Development Block Grants and other early childhood programs, writes Whitehurst. Head Start produces no lasting gains. CCDBG may harm children, because some end up in low-quality centers, though it helps single parents work or train for jobs.

There’s no evidence state programs do any better, he adds. Researchers compared children in Tennessee’s high-quality Voluntary Pre-K Program (TN-VPK) with a control group. At the end of first grade, children who’d had a year of pre-kindergarten performed less well on cognitive tasks and social/emotional skills than the controls.

The long-term benefits of the Perry and Abcedarian pilots 40 years ago can’t be generalized, Whitehurst argues.

The most vulnerable children and their parents need help that starts earlier than preschool, he writes.

 The CCDBG program should be reformed so that the funding stream is part of a reliable and predictable source of support for out-of-family childcare for low-income working parents and so that it provides parents with useful information about their choices of childcare.

Head Start should be sunset, with the funds redirected to the same purpose as the CCDBG program – a reliable and predictable source of support for out-of-family childcare for low-income working parents.

Whitehurst proposes a federal Early Learning Family (ELF) grant modeled on the Pell Grant.  ELF grants would go to parents as a means-tested voucher that could be used at any state-licensed childcare provider.  “ELF grants would replace most present forms of federal financial aid for early learning and childcare, including Head Start and CCDBG, and would place families in the driver’s seat instead of federal and state bureaucracies.”

Whitehurst questions New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio’s plans for universal pre-K in a New York Daily News op-ed.

Study: Math skills at 7 predict earnings at 42

Math skills at age seven (and reading and math for girls) predicted earnings at age 42 in a British study that followed subjects from birth to middle age, reports The Atlantic.

Researchers also analyzed socioeconomic class at birth, IQ at age 11, academic motivation at 16. Controlling for other factors, “the association between basic math and reading skills and future socioeconomic status remained” and was significant.

As a next step, the researchers hope to assess the long-term impact of early education and interventions.

If Mama ain’t reading, ain’t nobody reading

Preschool can’t compensate for poor parenting, editorializes USA Today.

A few small, high-quality programs have shown enduring benefits for at-risk kids. But intensive study of Head Start, the nation’s largest and oldest preschool program, finds that the beneficial effects, which are real, wear off by third grade.

. . . Children are most likely to succeed in school when pushed by parents who provide stability, help with schooling, and instill an education and work ethic. But for decades now, the American family has been breaking down.

Two-fifths of children born in the USA are born to unmarried mothers, an eightfold increase since 1960.

Children born to unmarried mothers usually lose contact with their father by the age of 5, researchers have found. Without a strong role model, boys “are more likely to turn to gangs and crime.”  Single mothers ”

read less to their children, are more likely to use harsh discipline and are less likely to maintain stable routines, such as a regular bedtime.” It adds up.

What if there is nothing the government can do for low-income children to improve their educational performance?” asks David Hogberg. Parents reading to toddlers shows a lasting educational benefit, he writes. “A study in Child Development found that only about half of low-income mothers were reading regularly to their children.”  Is it hopeless?

In Reroute the Preschool Juggernaut, Fordham’s Checker Finn argues against tax-funded preschool for all children and expores which children need it, who should provide it and “what’s the right balance between socialization and systematic instruction.”

Good news, ugly truth on pre-k ‘savings’

Michigan will save $39,000 in public costs for every high-risk child in pre-kindergarten — $100,000 in Detroit — according to a Fisher Foundation report. These “investment” claims should  be taken with a grain of salt, writes Sara Mead, who links to Lisa Guernsey’s analysis of the claim that preschool saves $10 for every $1 spent.

Very high-quality programs — which are not the norm — can improve outcomes for high-risk kids, Mead writes. But only 3 percent of savings from improved school readiness flow to K-12 schools, the report estimates.

. . . the really flashy high-value savings come from benefits far down the road, such as reduced crime and prison costs, (that) are hard to capture to pay for pre-k. And when early childhood advocates cite such diffuse and distant benefits to claim that the “value of investing in school readiness for just one child at risk of academic failure in Detroit, Michigan, is…about $100,000,” I worry that the perception such claims are oversold may actually increase skepticism about the value of pre-k investments, rather than building support.

It’s more persuasive to cite immediate savings to the school system, Mead argues. The Fisher researchers estimate pre-k saves $2,374 per child in reduced special education and grade retention costs, $3,376 in Detroit.  Michigan spends about $4,453 per child in pre-k. If that’s true, pre-k isn’t free but it’s awfully cheap.

Early education shows long-term payoffs

Early education paid off in the long run for low-income children who spent two to six years in Chicago’s Child-Parent Center Education Program (CPC). In a study published in Science, University of Missouri and University of Minnesota researchers found 9 percent higher high school graduation rates,  22 percent fewer felony arrests, less substance abuse and higher earnings by age 28 for CPC graduates compared to a control group.

The Chicago Child-Parent Center program begins in preschool and provides up to six years of service in the Chicago public schools.

Fibbing about early education

The Early-Ed Big Lie, writes Adam Schaeffer of Cato @ Liberty, is that  “$1 of early education leads to $10 in saved social services.” That’s how President Obama put it in his education speech.

Unfortunately he’s referring to small-scale programs that involved extensive and often intensive total-family intervention rather than simple “early education.”

These programs also involved the children of very poor, uneducated, single mothers.  Most early education programs don’t do nearly enough for these high-need kids, but are unnecessary for average children.