Try as they might, when proponents of early federally funded pre-school education ala Head Start try to make the case for their cause, they can’t quite seal the deal. “There is one study that shows that the benefits of pre-K education will wash out after four years,” Governor Terry McAuliffe, D-VA, claimed at the Center for American Progress (CAP) on Friday, April 10, 2015.
He then said, “I’ve talked to kindergarten teachers who say it makes a difference.” But kindergarten would fall within that four-year window and he offered no examples of studies that show differing conclusions.
Maybe this is the one study he was thinking of. “Head Start, created in 1965, is intended to provide disadvantaged children a pre-school boost,” Lindsey Burke and David Muhlhausen of the Heritage Foundation wrote in an op-ed which appeared in 2010. “But before now, no one knew whether the program, after a total taxpayer investment exceeding $170 billion, was living up to its promise.”
“In the late 1990s, Congress finally mandated a national evaluation to measure its effectiveness. This year, the results were finally released: Former Head Start participants were no better off than their non-Head Start peers by the end of first grade.”
In the forum at CAP this month, Chattanooga, Tennessee Mayor Andy Berke acknowledged that Vanderbilt University did a study that came to the washout conclusion, although he averred that there were other studies that showed different results. Nevertheless, Mayor Berke said, “As far as I’m concerned, if we can help kids for four or five years, it’s money well spent.”
By the way, Victoria Sears of the Fordham Institute wrote of the Vanderbilt study that, “Though surely disappointing, these findings accord with many earlier studies of preschool effects [most conspicuously a raft of HeadStart evaluations], most of which indicate that cognitive gains made by disadvantaged preschool students are not sustained once in school.”