Turns Out Head Start's as Bad as It Always Was
While dining out with my wife some time ago, I found myself waxing poetic about the latest government offense: the folly of dumping additional billions of dollars into the ancient Head Start program, naturally as part of the President Obama's voluminous economic stimulus plan.
Studies have revealed, I explained, that children who participated in this 46-year-old multi-multi-multi-billion-dollar "educational" program exhibit no better academic achievement than do children from the same socioeconomic background who did not make use of Head Start.
A lady from a nearby table approached, telling me she had overheard my comment and, as a teacher, could testify to the program's many merits, although they might not be measurable.
I admitted that it had been a while since I had read about the performance of Head Start, promised to look again, and offered to stand corrected if I were wrong in my opinion. It was a very civilized exchange. (Truth be told, I kept my cool because she was still holding her little white plastic fork and was in easy reach of some hermetically sealed chopsticks -- and I'm a bleeder.)
I was reminded of the encounter last week when I came upon the writings of über-liberal Time columnist Joe Klein, who, almost half a century late, finally came to the obvious conclusion that Head Start simply does not work. He even admitted that a costly study proving that point had been suppressed for several years by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). "I guess they were trying to rerun the data to see if they could come up with anything positive," a Brookings Institution official suggested. "They couldn't."
So, what value have we taxpayers received in return for the more than $100 billion we've poured into this program? If you read Head Start literature, you will learn much about "developmental and sensory concerns...emerging literacy and numeracy support...social and emotional development...primary nurturers...transparency...automatic indicators...determination criteria...nationally stratified random samples." You'll get a heaping helping of this mind-numbing education-establishment mush, but you will be hard-pressed to find out what happened to the kids.
Head Start can boast that children show some progress after a year or two in the program, but the kids nonetheless remain well below the national norm. However, those fragile achievements seem to evaporate soon enough once the children enter our disastrous urban public schools, leaving federal government evaluators to concede that "in the long run, cognitive and socio-emotional test scores of Head Start students do not remain superior to those of disadvantaged children who did not attend Head Start."
A more important question, perhaps is, "What's the point?" Head Start is like most other federal social programs. A high-minded mission statement is designed to secure funding, not to set a defined goal for measurable outcomes. The growth of the bureaucracy itself is the mission. On that basis, Head Start is a rousing success.
The program began in 1965 by the Johnson administration with a budget of $96 million, or about $172 per child. With the additional $2.1 billion in the Obama administration's stimulus package added to the fiscal year 2012 Head Start budget of $8.1 billion, more than $10,000 is spent per child enrolled in the program -- far more than the $7,600 tuition and fees for the average four-year public university. All this for no measurable benefit.
Those who are awarded five-year grants to manage local Head Start operations have job security that rivals that of Supreme Court justices. They automatically are given renewed non-competitive five-year grants unless their performances are so egregiously bad that they have "far more" deficiencies than the average grantee. Were those thus proven incapable of providing the most basic service banned from further participation? Well, you know the answer. In those cases, they were punished by having to reapply and compete for new five-year grants, which they too often received.
In other words, it is a perfect federal program -- large and getting larger, entrenched, costly, and ineffective. It encroaches ever more into and absorbs the role of the nuclear family and further allows parents to relinquish their responsibilities of raising their own children.
May we take some solace in finally hoping that even hard-line leftists like Mr. Klein have belatedly seen the glaring light? Now he admits that community action programs such as Head Start are "little more than patronage troughs for local Democrat Party honchos ... far more adept at dispensing make-work jobs than mastering the subtle nuances of early education."
His remedy? Simply transfer the Head Start carcass from HHS to the Department of Education, which has distinguished itself by driving urban public education into the sewer, and Head Start will be miraculously resuscitated.
Head Start is a poster child for all that is broken with our government's social engineering. But don't look for the slightest change to be made in this aged remnant of the Great Society that rewards all the wrong people for all the wrong reasons.