State of the Union Address Previews Further Federal Reach into Education



imageThere is much to say and to react to within President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address last night some of which has already been discussed here.  I wanted to focus on one of the more troubling aspects to President State of the Union address this year, and those were his comments on education.  Education no more than any other issue will have a direct and long-lasting effect on our nation.   Here are his remarks on pre-K through 12th Grade education in full:

…But none of it will matter unless we also equip our citizens with the skills and training to fill those jobs.

And that has to start at the earliest possible age. You know, study after study shows that the sooner a child begins learning, the better he or she does down the road.

But today, fewer than three in ten 4-year-olds are enrolled in a high-quality preschool program. Most middle-class parents can’t afford a few hundred bucks a week for private preschool. And for poor kids who need help the most, this lack of access to preschool education can shadow them for the rest of their lives. So, tonight, I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every single child in America.

That’s something we should be able to do.

Every dollar we invest in high-quality early childhood education can save more than seven dollars later on, by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime. In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children — like Georgia or Oklahoma — studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, form more stable families of their own.

We know this works. So let’s do what works and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind. Let’s give our kids that chance.

Let’s also make sure that a high school diploma puts our kids on a path to a good job. Right now, countries like Germany focus on graduating their high school students with the equivalent of a technical degree from one of our community colleges, so those German kids, they’re ready for a job when they graduate high school.

They’ve been trained for the jobs that are there. Now at schools like P-TECH in Brooklyn, a collaboration between New York public schools and City University of New York and IBM, students will graduate with a high school diploma and an associate’s degree in computers or engineering. We need to give every American student opportunities like this. And four years ago…

Four years ago, we started Race to the Top, a competition that convinced almost every state to develop smarter curricula and higher standards, all for about 1 percent of what we spend on education each year.

Tonight, I’m announcing a new challenge, to redesign America’s high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy. And we’ll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering and math, the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill the jobs that are there right now and will be there in the future.

Some thoughts.

So we’re going to ramp up Federal spending on early childhood education because Head Start has been such a wonderful example of success… oh wait.

The simple fact is this… there is no credible evidence that preschool will lead to further academic achievement.  As I mentioned before Head Start the first Federal initiative into preschool has been an abject failure.  The Heritage Foundation pointing out a study done by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services three years ago said:

Unfortunately, a new (long overdue) report published by the Department of Health and Human found that the $150 billion that taxpayers have “invested” in Head Start since 1965 is yielding zero lasting benefits for participating children. According to the Head Start Impact Study: “the benefits of access to Head Start at age four are largely absent by 1st grade for the program population as a whole.” The Heritage Foundation reviews the findings of the new evaluation in a forthcoming Backgrounder report concluding: “Head Start has little to no effect on cognitive, socio-emotional, health, and parenting outcomes of children participating in the program.”

This rigorous evaluation was published months after the U.S. House of Representatives approved legislation favored by the Obama administration that would create a new $8 billion preschool program. According to the GAO, there are currently 69 federal early education and child care programs. Taxpayers are currently spending at least $25 billion annually on these programs.

Given the devastating results of the national Head Start evaluation, taxpayers should demand that Congress and the Obama administration work to terminate, consolidate, or reform existing preschool programs before another dollar is “invested” in preschool.

Was this done?  Of course not.  What’s more is that this morning Liv Finne of the Washington Policy Center emailed this study they did on early childhood education programs. She said, “Our research shows that the states with universal preschool have not improved student academic outcomes. Providing preschool for economically disadvantaged children can be justified to help parents find and hold down jobs, but not on academic grounds. The findings of three studies (Perry Preschool, Abecedarian and Chicago Child-Parent) have been exaggerated to support the universal preschool agenda.”

Even more troubling to me was his use of early childhood education as a segue after discussing 21st century jobs.  President Obama said, “But none of it will matter unless we also equip our citizens with the skills and training to fill those jobs.” Then to say it has to “start at the earliest possible age.”

Is anybody else troubled by that statement? Education is about more than churning out workers. Also this new focus on early childhood education is troubling because while it is important that learning starts early it does matter who does the teaching and what the content is.

I submit it the role of parents, but the Obama administration wants those kids out of the home at 3 and 4-years-of-age.  I’m also concerned about a potential lowering of the compulsory attendance age as this continues to be a trend.  Kids this young are better off at home, not in  a government-run preschool.

Also what will this do to the private preschools that have provided this service for parents who wanted it?  In Iowa when they transitioned public schools to offer voluntary preschool we saw private preschools close.  It’s hard to compete with tuition-free.  It’s also something that Iowa didn’t need to be spending money on.  We’ve not really seen it garner success and the types of families that this program targeted were not the ones who probably would have benefited the most.

I don’t see President Obama’s initiative any differently.

“That’s something we should be able to do.”

No it isn’t since again this would represent a further reach by the Federal government into education and that is simply unconstitutional.

He also brags about ObamaCore, but hey this is just state-led initiative right?  He said he launched a “competition that coerced convinced almost every state to develop smarter curricula and higher standards.”  Wait a minute!  I thought these standards were not curricula?  Now it seems like he wants to shift this to STEM initiatives to produce more kids who are ready for jobs.  Again, this isn’t what education is solely about.  Also I’m concerned that an overemphasis on STEM will impact other areas of the curricula like literature, the arts, civics, etc.  Those are also equally important for a well-rounded education.

But hey who needs a well-rounded education as long as you can produce worker bees.

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