- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 20, 2001

In one of the worst ideas to come down the pike in a very long time, D.C. Council member Kevin Chavous wants to compel children as young as 2 years old to attend school or prove that they are being properly home-schooled. While Mr. Chavous presumably has in mind the best intentions for young children, his idea would present a logistical nightmare for a school system that already woefully and miserably addresses the needs of its current student population.
"It would force the school system to take charge and responsibility for every 3- and 4-year-old in the city to make sure they are prepared for kindergarten," Mr. Chavous said. What he failed to explain, however, is how such a dysfunctional system that is utterly unable to "take charge and responsibility" for the 5- through 18-year-old students already in its charge could somehow dramatically expand its province in a productive and meaningful way.
Lets lay it on the line: the D.C. Public School system, despite some recent improvements, is still one of the worst public school systems in the nation. And it isnt for lack of funding, either. Moreover, there is nothing about D.C. schools that would remotely suggest they are prepared to become the first district in the nation to require compulsory education for children so young. While Mr. Chavous explains that his plan would lower from 5 to 3 the age at which schooling is compulsory, in fact nearly half of all 2-year-old children those who would become 3 before Dec. 31 of the academic year would be required to enter the program.
It is already known that the longer students remain in such educationally dysfunctional situations that, unfortunately, characterize so many of the Districts public schools, the further behind they fall from their peers attending more functional schools. So, why would D.C. officials want to compound such an atrocious state of affairs?
The model for Mr. Chavous program is the much-ballyhooed Head Start program, which is administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The program attempts to prepare 3- and 4-year-old children from low-income families for school. Head Starts failure to produce any tangible long-term results a plethora of research has repeatedly demonstrated any positive effects of Head Start dissipate by the third grade has failed to diminish its undeserved reputation. Hosannas for Head Start continue to proliferate, as has funding. Indeed, taxpayers have spent more than $30 billion on Head Start since 1965, including a doubling of annual funds during the Clinton administration. And now the District wants to spend who knows how much initial estimates call for $56 million for the first year of full access and $32 million per year thereafter on a program unprecedented in the history of American education that happens to be based on a failed model. This has fiasco written all over it.
Before District public schools race to be at the vanguard of revolutionary, compulsory, early childhood education, perhaps they should set more modest goals. After all, even infants soon realize they must learn to crawl before they can walk.

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