$180 Billion Wasted On Head Start; Progressives Seek To Ban Private Schools And Homeschooling

The Head Start program has now wasted $180 billion, but it has no lasting effect on student achievement. In the long run, children who participate in the taxpayer-funded program do no better than similarly situated children who don’t. But even in the short-run, the benefits of participation are virtually non-existent, as a study earlier found:

“Head Start,” the flagship pre-kindergarten program introduced in 1965, has been a $166 billion failure. That’s the upshot of a sophisticated multi-year study just released by the Department of Health and Human Services.

An earlier iteration of the study, published in 2005, had found a few modest improvements in the language skills of participating students while they were enrolled in the program. But by the end of the first grade, even those few effects have disappeared, according to the follow-up released this month. Out of 44 separate cognitive tests given to former Head Start students at the end of the first grade, only two showed even marginally significant effects. The other 42 showed no statistically significant effect at all.

But even that overstates the case for Head Start. That’s because, on each of the 44 separate tests, there is a 1 in 10 chance of a false positive: a test result that appears to show a positive impact but is really just a random fluke. With so many test results, we’d expect to see at least a few false positives. Statisticians have ways to control for this problem, and when the authors themselves applied such a control, they found that the two apparently “significant” effects vanished. . . After controlling for the likelihood of false positives, the study’s authors found no “socio-emotional” benefits and no “parenting practice” benefits either. No benefits to Head Start of any kind at the end of first grade. None.

Alas, the Obama administration is not paying any attention, and wants to waste even more money on Head Start:

the Obama administration is wasting even more, even faster. The president already increased annual spending on Head Start by more than a third last year, from $6.8 billion to $9.2 billion. He has made clear he does not intend to stop there.

When a third party (like taxpayers) is paying for something, wasteful spending is almost inevitable. Much federal education spending is wasted, like the $130,000 in stimulus money spent on a book that demonized white people and promoted racial stereotypes. Chicago has rotten schools despite high school spending, and poor-quality teachers. Yet, “Chicago teachers” had “the highest average salary of any city at $76,000 a year before benefits [worth another $30,000 a year on top of their salaries]. The average family in the city only earns $47,000 a year. Yet the teachers rejected a 16-percent salary increase over four years at a time when most families are not getting any raises or are looking for work,” and went out on strike to extract even more money from city taxpayers.

Increasing numbers of secular, educated parents are choosing to homeschool their children, due to the “notoriously inadequate education system” in places like New York City, where municipal governments spend colossal amounts of money on education, with very poor results for students. “For decades now, America has been putting ever-growing amounts of money into its K-12 education system, while getting steadily poorer results. Now parents are losing faith in public schools.” “Over the last few decades,” education spending “per student has nearly tripled” in inflation-adjusted terms “while test scores at the end of high school are flat.” “K-12 facilities spending” is “up 150 percent in two decades,” including monumentally wasteful spending such as the $578 million spent on L.A.’s RFK high school.

Growing public disenchantment with dysfunctional public schools and desire for change has triggered a backlash among progressive legal scholars and academics who do not want children to be able to escape failing public schools. For example, a prominent progressive law dean and law professor, Erwin Chemerinsky, is urging the courts and lawmakers to ban private schools and homeschooling in order to force everyone to attend the public schools. In his view, this is the only way to “desegregate” the schools and achieve racial and social equality. (He admits that doing this would severely burden constitutional rights, but argues that doing so would nonetheless be justified to advance a “compelling government interest.”) UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh criticizes this proposal as dangerous and ill-founded, and argues that it is an ill omen for other constitutional freedoms, like freedom of speech and freedom of the press, that could likewise be restricted in the name of promoting equality.

The public cannot count on the Supreme Court to block restrictions on civil liberties in the name of “equality.” An increasingly left-leaning Supreme Court could threaten civil liberties in a number of ways, as I discussed earlier, especially freedom of speech and association and freedom of religion. We earlier discussed some of Obama’s radical nominees to the federal bench here. With a progressive in the White House whose views mirror their own, progressive legal scholars are growing impatient with constitutional limits on presidential power. A prominent left-leaning law professor, who co-authored a frequently-used constitutional law textbook, recently argued in The New York Times that Obama and the Senate should just ignore the Constitution and limits on their powers. He derided “our insistence on obedience to the Constitution, with all its archaic, idiosyncratic and downright evil provisions,” in an op-ed entitled, “Let’s Give Up on the Constitution.”