by Dr. Terry Stoops
Director of the Center for Effective Education, John Locke Foundation
Answering the above question depends on whether the $8 billion program actually produces lasting benefits for low-income children.
In an interview with PBS Newshour, Russ Whitehurst, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, raises doubts about the efficacy of Head Start,
The evidence is that it did some good when it was first introduced in the very poor counties in the South. It’s a different day. … They were not better readers. They were not doing math better. They didn’t have better social development. They didn’t have better health outcomes.
Whitehurst is being charitable. The research is pretty damning.
Coincidentally, two UCLA researchers just published a National Bureau of Economic Research study that examines populations who oppose to the expansion of pre-kindergarten programs.
In “The Political Economy of State and Local Investment in Pre-K Programs,” Matthew Kahn and Kyle Barron find that Republicans and suburbanites generally oppose government-run preschool programs. The authors speculate that these groups do so because they are geographically, politically, and socioeconomically separated from the beneficiaries. Although Kahn and Barron’s have little data to support that conclusion, I suspect that there is some truth to the claim.
One cannot discount, however, the perception that state and federal preschool programs fail to live up to the promise of improving outcomes for low-income children. Perhaps experience and evidence, rather than race and class, better explain Republicans’ and suburbanites’ opposition to programs such as Head Start.