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Charles Murray on universal prekindergarten

Charles Murray on the feasibility and potential benefits of President Obama’s call for universal prekindergarten (via Bloomberg):

The take-away from the story of early childhood education is that the very best programs probably do a modest amount of good in the long run, while the early education program that can feasibly be deployed on a national scale, Head Start, has never proved long-term results in half a century of existence. In the most rigorous evaluation ever conducted, Head Start doesn’t show results that persist even until the third grade.

Let me rephrase this more starkly: As of 2013, no one knows how to use government programs to provide large numbers of small children who are not flourishing with what they need. It’s not a matter of money. We just don’t know how.

Is there anything that money can buy for these children? I am sure that Head Start buys some of them a few hours a day in a safer, warmer and more nurturing environment than the one they have at home. Whenever that’s true, I don’t care about long-term outcomes. Accomplishing just that much is a good in itself. But how often is it true? To what extent does Head Start systematically fail to serve the children who need those few hours of refuge the most?

Asking those questions forces us to confront a reality that politicians and other opinion leaders have ducked for decades: America has far too many children born to men and women who do not provide safe, warm and nurturing environments for their offspring — not because there’s no money to be found for food, clothing and shelter, but because they are not committed to fulfilling the obligations that child-bearing brings with it.

This head-in-the-sand attitude has to change. If we don’t know how to substitute for absent, uncaring or incompetent parenting with outside interventions, then we have to think about how we increase the odds that children are born to present, caring and competent parents.

So a targeted, not universal, pre-K plan for poor kids might do some good, that’s my takeaway. No guarantees, as Murray explains. Certainly the data has yet to catch up to the expansive $100 billion plan from the Center for American Progress. But as Murray suggests at the end of this piece, there’s more to this story than money ….

6 thoughts on “Charles Murray on universal prekindergarten

  1. such programs seem to be highly successful in Europe, Japan, Australia, etc…

    seems like we end up arguing against trying to make improvements because we don’t think they “work” but we just totally ignore the fact that programs like these seem to work pretty good in other countries so why is that?

    • “such programs seem to be highly successful in Europe, Japan, Australia”

      If true, why is no one on the left citing actual studies showing that, in response to the right’s citing of the studies on Head Start?

    • Larry:

      In the article Dr. Murray cites the relevant studies, which suggest strongly that it does not work here in the US. He also suggests the best solution (again, researched heavily with an inescapable conclusion): grow up in a family with two parents, preferably the biological ones.

      Stating (without citing) that it works elsewhere is not terribly convincing. There are many possible cultural differences between the societies you mentioned (maybe not so much between us and the Aussies)…, but if you want to know why it works for them, look into it (they do go on about it at length if you care to look).

      But I suggest that the high rate of single parent families in America, and the cultural (among some) acceptance of that state, along with the dependency it engenders (and which seems to be an approved lifestyle by the current administration, aka The Life of Julia), could explain a lot as to why it does not work here.

      • I do think the issue might well be single parents but would be even more convinced if it were pinpointed that way in the data.

        I also am not sure if out of all the countries that do better than us that some of them also don’t have single parent demographics.

        part of the problem is that kids of single parents do not learn the same way and I believe that pre-K helps them but when they get into regular school – those methods are different and are not necessarily targeted to “at risk” kids.

        It’s been a big issue in K-3 and the programs that test the kids thoroughly and identify their specific deficits – and get them the specific help – do work. the problem is the programs are spotty, not standard and not universal.

        we really have no choice than to find out and do it better and more right because these kids do grow up to be adults and if they fail to get sufficient education they don’t grow up to be taxapyers but instead entitlement recipients.

        we can blame.. public schools, unions, bad teachers, bad Pre-K programs but at the end of the day – we have to find out what is right and works or we fail an even bigger test.

  2. Note that single motherhood is government subsidized, since a single mother is a reliable Democrat voter.

    Many fathers are forcibly removed from their child’s lives, against the wishes of both father and child, so that the mother can collect free money (masked as ‘child support’ even though she is not required to account for whether it was spent on the child).

    To avoid scrutiny, call fathers ‘deadbeat Dads’ even though the mother is the wrongdoer.

    This is a national shame. And both Repubs and Dems have supported this, since feminism is an ideology that both parties subscribe to.

  3. It really is foolish to compare family life in America with Europe, Japan etc. where pre kindergarten intervention and other early childhood programs by the government are working. I’ll wager that the divorce rate in the comparable countries is not anywhere near the United States. I spoke with a 20 year math teacher in the Barberton, Ohio public schools who told me that 88% of the children in the middle school come from single parent households…try teaching to that demographic!

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