Obama keeps talking about corporate jets because it tests well in polls.
And that’s the reason, I think, he keeps talking about universal preschool, not just for disadvantaged children.
Polls show that large majorities of Americans would be willing to have more government money spent for preschool for disadvantaged children. The impulse to help adorable but needy little kids is very strong.
Unfortunately, the evidence that preschool programs do any permanent good for such children is exceedingly weak.
Preschool advocates point to a 1960s program in Ypsilanti, Mich., and a 1970s North Carolina program called Abecedarian. Research showed those programs produced lasting gains in learning.
But no one has been able to replicate the success of these very small programs staffed by unusually dedicated people. Mass programs like Head Start staffed by more ordinary people don’t work as well.
Kids in such programs seem to make no perceptible lasting gains. That’s too bad, because disadvantaged kids need help.
So why is Obama emphasizing universal preschool, which would cost a lot more than preschool for the disadvantaged? The reason, I suspect, is that you would have to hire lots more credentialed teachers, which means you would get lots more teacher union members.
Teacher union leaders would love to see more dues money coming in, and to channel more to the Democratic Party.
To my suspicious eye, the preschool proposal doesn’t make much sense as policy, but it makes a lot of sense as politics.
I’m not in agreement with Michael Barone, particularly in regard to the value of early childhood education. But that is not the point of this post. I want to talk about one of my utopian ideas of which I was rather proud.
Any parent can tell you that one of the biggest obstacles to working and raising kids is reliable, quality, affordable daycare. If you have three or more kids you can find yourself paying more in daycare than you make from working.
At the same time we have problems with illiteracy and declining test scores compared to the rest of the industrialized world. But we have lots of trained teachers and an educational infrastructure and bureaucracy. Why not go big instead of go home?
Imagine if our children could start universal public preschool as soon as they were potty-trained. Combine that with expanded before and after school programs so that kids could be dropped off at 7:30 in the morning and picked up as late as 5:30 in the evening. Make that effective twelve months a year, Monday thru Friday and excluding major holidays. Part of the program would be optional and part of it mandatory, with an exception for private and home-schooled kids.
Think how much more our kids could learn if they entered the educational system around age three and the length of both the school day and school year were significantly increased. We could add back a lot of programs like art, sports and music that have gotten the axe in recent decades.
I acknowledge that there would be lots of bugs to work out, both practical and political. The paranoid right would freak out for sure. But we have the infrastructure and bureaucracy already in place, so we would need only to expand it, not create a new one.
Like I said, it’s a utopian idea. At the very least it would do no harm to the kids and would certainly benefit working parents. Existing daycare providers would take a hit, but many of them could more over into the expanded job openings at their local schools.
Once upon a time I was rather proud of the idea. Not so much these days.
The real problem isn’t the idea, it’s the execution. A massive expansion of our educational system would cost a buttload of money. And not just to get it started – it would cost us a buttload of money every year. And they would be unionized government employees, which are the most expensive kind of employees out there.
How much money can we afford to spend on education? In a utopia money would be no problem, but we live in the real world. This is an era of limits and we can’t afford perfection. We need to forget about all the cool things we could do and worry about what we need to do. So how much education can we afford to pay for? We need to figure that out and plan accordingly.