Mark Twain once said, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” Someone needs to get the message to President Barack Obama, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, Missouri Commissioner of Education Chris Nicastro, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and the St. Louis American that what they believe about early childhood education “just ain’t so.”
All of the above have been pushing increased funding for early childhood education on the basis that it will provide a great return on investment, up to a stratospheric level of 8–1 in the widely-criticized study the Post-Dispatch cites. (And they accuse us of being a “belief” tank?)
The folks at the Cato Institute have been doing a great job covering the topic of early childhood education. In a recent post, they state that the large returns on investment often cited do:
. . . not in fact refer to the typical return from federal or state pre-K programs. It refers to the findings from a single intensive 1960s early childhood experiment that served 58 children in Ypsilanti, Michigan- The High/Scope Perry preschool program. Out of the literally hundreds of preschool studies conducted in the past half-century, the Perry results are not representative and have never been reproduced on a national or even a state level. In fact, an earnest experimental effort to reproduce them for just a few hundred children at eight locations failed despite an annual investment of $32,000 per child, adjusted for inflation . . .
Spending money on children is appealing and it is something almost everyone agrees is a worthwhile endeavor. I am not opposed to spending tax money on early childhood education, but I am opposed to universal pre-school programs or systems that put the private market at a competitive disadvantage. I am also opposed to selectively using the research to advance a point, when the data simply do not bear out. The Post-Dispatch would, no doubt, call us out if we did that.
As Cato puts it, “What we have here, in other words, is a monumental act of cherry picking rather than an example of scientifically grounded policymaking.” In other words, it “just ain’t so.”