February 3, 2013

Early Childhood Education Funding

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial board recently wrote a piece in favor of spending more money on early childhood education. The board noted that many states are cutting early childhood funding and declared, “This is a step backward, and it goes against all of the academic evidence on the subject. Study after study has shown that spending money on early childhood education is one of the best investments a parent or a state can make.”

There is just one problem with this statement: it is wrong, or at least misleading. For starters, the study referenced in the editorial suggested we could expect an $8 return on every $1 invested in early childhood education. The results they are citing come from a 1960s study that has been wrought with criticism. Moreover, the pre-school program in the study does not even resemble most of today’s early childhood education programs.

A good example of a failed modern early childhood program is Head Start. A recently released U.S. Department of Health and Human Services study of Head Start found that academic gains do not last, fading out by third grade. Add that to a growing list of evaluations of Head Start  that have the same findings. The Wall Street Journal editorial board concluded that Head Start “. . .wastes taxpayer dollars at a time when the country is running trillion-dollar deficits.”

The evidence is simply not as clear as the editorial board has made it out to be.

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