Something very intriguing occurred this week when President Obama made his high-profile pronouncement about education policy. If you read or listened closely, you noticed how adept the president was at channeling predecessors Lyndon Baines Johnson and George W. Bush - and simultaneously, at that.
Mr. Obamas spirited effort came Tuesday, when he announced that by executive fiat his administration would demand accountability and no longer allow automatic grant renewals for participants in the federal Head Start program.
On first blush, that might garner a hip, hip hooray from advocates of the early-childhood education program, which Johnson established in 1965 and, according to 2010 data, now has an annual federal price tag of $7 billion.
But like Franklin D. Roosevelt’s public-housing “projects” for poor people, LBJ’s attempts to give low-income children a head start and Mr. Bush’s strategy to leave no child behind are failed experiments.
In fact, when it comes to Head Start’s outcomes, the Department of Health and Human Services, the very agency tasked with dispensing tax dollars for the program, said in its own 2010 “Head Start Impact Study” that the program had a positive effect on children through the preschool years but “advantages children gained during their Head Start and age 4 years yielded only a few statistically significant differences in outcomes at the end of 1st grade.” It also said outcomes at “the end of kindergarten were scattered.”
That Mr. Obama deemed Head Start in need of a competitive grant-making component would be worthy if the youngsters Head Start was designed to target - blacks, American Indians, Hispanics and children living in poverty - were closing in on their white counterparts. The same argument applies to Mr. Bush’s signature No Child Left Behind Act, which also focused on closing stubborn racial and class achievement gaps.
But four-plus decades of Head Start prove that the federal government’s one-size-fits-all policies, whether designed by Democrats or Republicans, have done little more than use pre-K youngsters as guinea pigs. (View the evidence at nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/studies/gaps/.)
Mr. Obama was on point Tuesday when he said Head Start children deserve the best of the very best.
But he was way off mark to suggest that his plan to reposition the program will deliver the best return on our investments in education.
“Head Start should be dismantled, not merely rearranged,” said Joy Pullman, a research fellow at the Heartland Institute. “Every study of it, including the federal government’s own reviews, has concluded the $7 billion-a-year program contributes nothing to children’s academics or well-being.”
After 45 years and three generations of agonizing defeat, it is time to concede that $7 billion worth of minds is a terrible thing to waste.
Kwame R. Brown update: On Monday, I reported that a link from the website dccouncil.us to dccouncilchair.com led visitors to a page that said “NOTICE: This Domain name expired on 11/05/2011 and is pending renewal or deletion.” And I said that perhaps that was the price the D.C. Council chairman had “to pay for trying to ‘fix’ the council’s website, which wasnt even broken.”
Well, Mr. Brown phoned me Tuesday night to report that his dot.com site is up and running smoothly.
A tip of the locks to the chairman: He fixed it, and now they will come.
c Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washington times.com.