One of the main reasons to be a Democrat is the idea that the poor need help that the government can provide effectively. That last word is important if you are a moderate Democrat who wants to govern not fight. And it is especially important in discussing pre-K education.
I wrote a piece a few weeks ago on Head Start and the fact that Head Start is a failure as pre-K education. It is as inarguable as President Obama’s State of the Union Address pronouncement that the debate on the existence of climate change was over. This was established clearly and unarguably in the blue chip bipartisan Federal government study conducted over three presidencies released in 2012. (see my earlier piece for web links to the source material).
That is why it is so distressing to wake up day after day with truly passionate pre-K advocates on the left arguing against the data. They argue that the study actually demonstrates Head Start may have no lasting educational benefit, but we should still continue it. They base this argument on much less rigorous studies that are nevertheless valuable in proving one point.
That Head Start is effective day care for poor children.
Anyone who has dropped a child off at day care knows that high quality adult interaction in a safe environment with healthy food is good for the child and the family. In other words let us have the argument over whether we ought to have a national day care program for the poor. As I point out in my earlier piece, it is not a stretch of imagination to believe quality day care helps adults deal with all the other grinding challenges of poverty and gives the child structure and nutrition that could be helpful later life lessons.
But that is not early child education. Early child education focuses on providing children the basis for math, reading, and other elementary school curriculum. When it is effective it does not generate vague results decades later, but higher achievement immediately in elementary school that continues into middle school and beyond.
That is why to wake up today to Nicholas Kristof bemoaning conservatives misreading of the HHS study that demonstrated clearly that Head Start was a failure is so upsetting. If you slog through the whole study and the following studies Kristof references, they all can be read clearly to agree. Head Start is a failure as early childhood education preparing kids for elementary school. Head Start probably has some success as quality daycare preparing poor kids for the rigors of life.
But why is this upsetting? Because Kristof is a passionate, brave, and successful champion of women’s and children’s issues. Going into brothels in Southeast Asia to save young girls deserves a Presidential Medal of Freedom. But if he and other liberal intellectuals that are currently running the Democratic Party go off on “conservatives are now expanding their war on women to children”, we will have a campaign fight and no help to kids.
We cannot allow the pre-K education debate to descend into the usual right versus left of cost vs. heartlessness. Effective day care and effective pre-K education have the potential to produce more self-sufficient contributing members of society. The cost savings over time in reduced drug dependency, incarceration, and the drag on the social safety net are clear.
But we are not going to push this initiative forward by misrepresenting the facts and once again alienating the House of Representatives with cries of heartlessness. We have had five years of the President and his allies on the left bludgeoning the Republicans. It is not working, except in winning Presidential elections.
If Democrats cannot return their party to the center, cannot offer one single concession to Republicans, cannot face the data it is poor children that will suffer. It is time for the President to stop giving speeches and start negotiating on the facts. It is only fair on pre-K, since he is demanding the same of the Republicans on climate change.