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David Brooks is Wrong About Early Childhood Education

David Brooks has an op-ed today on President Obama’s SOTU proposal to increase funds for early childhood education. Some excerpts:

Today millions of American children grow up in homes where they don’t learn the skills they need to succeed in life. Their vocabularies are tiny. They can’t regulate their emotions. When they get to kindergarten they’ve never been read a book, so they don’t know the difference between the front cover and the back cover.

But, starting a few decades ago, we learned that preschool intervention programs could help. The efforts were small and expensive, but early childhood programs like the Perry and Abecedarian projects made big differences in kids’ lives. The success of these programs set off a lot of rhapsodic writing, including by me, about the importance of early childhood education. If government could step in and provide quality preschool, then we could reduce poverty and increase social mobility.

Let’s drop the political correctness here. What Brooks is saying is that we have millions of American children who have failing parents. We have kids from single-parent homes. Kids whose parents have never bought them a book. Kids who are being raised with little to no respect for education.

But somehow, the government, can fix this? Can replace parents?

Brooks, after admitting that the data on Head Start shows it isn’t working, writes:

Enter President Obama. This week he announced the most ambitious early childhood education expansion in decades. Early Thursday morning, early education advocates were sending each other ecstatic e-mails. They were stunned by the scope of what Obama is proposing.

But, on this subject, it’s best to be hardheaded. So I spent Wednesday and Thursday talking with experts and administration officials, trying to be skeptical. Does the president’s plan merely expand the failing federal effort or does it focus on quality and reform? Is the president trying to organize a bloated centralized program or is he trying to be a catalyst for local experimentation?

So far the news is very good. Obama is trying to significantly increase the number of kids with access to early education. The White House will come up with a dedicated revenue stream that will fund early education projects without adding to the deficit. These federal dollars will be used to match state spending, giving states, many of whom want to move aggressively, further incentive to expand and create programs.

As probably one of the few conservatives in the history of the world to have sent their son to a Harlem public school, let me offer my opinion: this won’t work.

The school I sent my school to was a charter of sorts, but was created before there were charter schools. It was called Central Park East and made famous in the Meryl Streep movie Music of the Heart about teaching the violin to kids from Harlem, a core part of the curriculum for select students at school. Since the school was a NYC school controlled by the DOE, but allowed to uses its own curriculum, the entrance requirements for the kids focused more on making sure the parents bought into the school’s teaching philosophy than if the students were good kids or not. Basically, the school wanted parents who a) understood that CPE teaches differently than the rest of the DOE schools and b) were going to be involved.

No teacher, no program, no amount of money can replace an involved parent. Involved parents make sure their kids do their homework. Involved parents make sure their kids are on time and not missing too much school. And most important, involved parents value the education and help the teachers make the school better.

Don’t get me wrong. I think our education system, especially for children with failing parents, needs a major overhaul. But the first step to making the system better is to realize and accept that all parents are not created equal. This is evidenced in the superb documentary, Waiting for Superman, about Harlem parents and the lottery process to get their kids into a charter school, and a better education. They want options. They are demanding options. But school teacher unions and Democrats won’t give them to parents. Brooks thinks the news on the Obama reforms “so far. . .is very good.” 

I guess Brooks missed the whole Obama-Democratic-Union axis-of-mediocrity and their continued attempts to end the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program

I’ll end with one last Brooks excerpt:

These programs do not perform miracles, but incremental improvements add up year by year and produce significantly better lives.

Incremental change. That’s it. That’s what Brooks wants for billions in taxpayer money? A recent Pew study on second-generation immigrants in America shows the folly of Brook’s incremental change argument. Some of the study’s major findings:

Educational and Economic Attainment: Adults in the second generation are doing better than those in the first generation in median household income ($58,000 versus $46,000); college degrees (36% versus 29%); and homeownership (64% versus 51%). They are less likely to be in poverty (11% versus 18%) and less likely to have not finished high school (10% versus 28%). Most of these favorable comparisons hold up not just in the aggregate but also within each racial/ethnic subgroup (e.g., second-generation Hispanics do better than first-generation Hispanics; second-generation whites do better than first-generation whites, and so on).

And. . .

Belief in Hard Work. About three-quarters of second-generation Hispanics (78%) and Asian Americans (72%) say that most people can get ahead if they’re willing to work hard. Similar shares of the immigrant generations of these groups agree. By contrast, 58% of the full U.S. population of adults feel the same way, while 40% say that hard work is no guarantee of success.

Immigrants to America — both legal and illegal — aren’t waiting around for incremental change. In one generation, the children of immigrants are better off than the parents and view hard work will lead to success.





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