Junk social science: White House tweets bogus ‘fact’ about early education spending

Liberals like to pretend that they are stewards of sound science. But when it comes to their pet welfare programs, they are more than happy to trumpet the junkiest of junk science.

Case in point: Head Start. The evidence is clear that the program, one of the Left’s favorites,  doesn’t work:

According to the Head Start Impact Study, which was quite comprehensive, the positive effects of the program were minimal and vanished by the end of first grade. Head Start graduates performed about the same as students of similar income and social status who were not part of the program. These results were so shocking that the HHS team sat on them for several years, according to Russ Whitehurst of the Brookings Institution, who said, “I guess they were trying to rerun the data to see if they could come up with anything positive. They couldn’t.”

Yet the feds continue to pour billions of dollars into Head Start every year.

Now, President Obama wants us to believe that “early intervention services” (which sound very similar to Head Start) are incredibly beneficial to society. Not only are these services supposed to improve kids’ educational outcomes, but if the White House is to be believed, they also yield extraordinary economic returns.

Andrew Coulson, director of The Center for Education freedom at the Cato Institute, isn’t buying it:

[T]he empirical case for universal government pre-K collapses under mild scrutiny. The central claim, as voiced by President Obama in his SOTU speech, is that “every dollar we invest in high-quality early childhood education can save more than seven dollars later on.” This sweeping statement does 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—far more than the President currently contemplates spending.

The president’s case for universal government pre-K singles out the unusually large positive effects of one tiny study—sometimes two or three—from scores of others that show little benefit, no benefit, or even significant harm to participating students. That sea of inferior results, moreover, is drawn in large part from  … the federally-funded pre-K efforts of the past 47 years. Indeed the largest, best designed, most recent studies of federal pre-K efforts were published by the Obama administration itself: the Head Start Impact Studies. These studies find little or no net lasting benefit to federal pre-K. The Obama administration was apparently so worried about these findings that the most recent study was released on the Friday before Christmas—despite a publication date on its title page of October 2012.

Exit question: Are the people at the White House dumb enough to believe what they are tweeting or are they knowingly lying to us?

blog comments powered by Disqus