Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Head Start: Leftists impervious to decades of evidence showing its failure

Mona Charen

My friend E.J. Dionne Jr., a liberal columnist for the Washington Post, is a fine man with, I feel safe in asserting, a warm heart. But he betrays in a recent column a persistent failing of the left -- imperviousness to evidence.

Describing Speaker Boehner's tactics in the budget fights with Democrats, Dionne wrote:

"Begin with the outrageous $1.1 billion, 15 percent cut from Head Start, a program that offers preschool education to roughly 965,000 poor children. According to the Center for Law and Public Policy, this would knock 218,000 kids out of Head Start and force 16,000 classrooms to close. That is an excellent way to lose the future, as Obama ought to be saying. What could be a better use of public money than helping our poorest children early in life so they might achieve more in school, and later?"

Like most liberals, Dionne is enchanted with the idea of Head Start -- the romance of a government program that would provide care, nutrition, education, and skills to impoverished preschoolers in order to erase, to the degree possible, the handicaps poverty imposes. That was the idea in 1965, when Head Start was founded. Lyndon Johnson declared, upon signing the enabling bill that "Today, we reach out to five and half million children held behind their more fortunate schoolmates by the dragging anchor of poverty." Head Start, he promised, would be their "passport" out.

It would have been worth the $166 billion taxpayers have spent on the program since 1965 if a significant portion of Head Start alumni did improve their educational outcomes and escape poverty. But that did not happen.

As any number of studies have demonstrated over the years, the effects of Head Start are modest to nugatory. Stephan and Abigail Thernstrom chronicled the failure in "No Excuses." One study found that Head Start students were slightly more likely to be immunized than others -- a good thing of course, but a) not primarily what the program was sold as, and b) achievable far more cheaply through other programs like Medicaid. A 1969 study found that any gains participants displayed faded away in the early grades. By third grade, Head Start graduates were indistinguishable from their non-participating classmates. Rather than scrap the program, President Nixon (a sheep in wolf's clothing where domestic policy was concerned) concluded that, "Head Start ... must begin earlier in life, and last longer, to achieve lasting benefits."

Later surveys showed similarly dismal results. By 1987, even the program's founder, Yale psychologist Edward F. Zigler, declined to claim educational benefits for the program. But as the Thernstroms concluded, "Everyone could agree that poverty was hard on blameless children, so any federal effort purporting to help them was difficult to attack without seeming mean-spirited."

That remains true, as witness Mr. Dionne.

A just-released study by the Department of Health and Human Services delivers incredibly harsh news about Head Start. A large, nationwide survey of 4,600 preschoolers who were randomly assigned to either the Head Start (experimental group) or no program (control group) were studied on 114 different measures ranging from academic skills to social-emotional development, to health status. The study found no statistically relevant effects from the Head Start program by the end of first grade.

If a study falls in the forest and the major news organizations fail to report it, does it make a sound? Hardly a whimper. A few conservative websites like Heritage, CATO, and the Independent Women's Forum noted the results, but elsewhere, all was silence.

Or, not silence actually, complete denial. President Obama had boosted funding for Head Start from $6.8 billion in 2008 to $9.2 billion in 2009. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and Education Secretary Arne Duncan support even greater "investments" in the failed program in the future. Study? What study?

According to Douglas Besharov of the University of Maryland, it costs $22,600 annually to keep a child in a year-round Head Start program. Typical preschools run about $9,500. But the price simply doesn't matter. The lack of results doesn't matter. The only thing that seems to matter is that liberals are able to preen about their compassion -- oh, yes, and condemn anyone not impervious to evidence as heartless.


Ga.: Kids not allowed to sound off about teachers

Even while at home

Two Douglas County students were suspended and one student was expelled after a negative Facebook posting about a teacher.

Twelve-year-old Alejandra Sosa said she regretted posting a Facebook status calling one of her teachers at Chapel Hill Middle School a pedophile. The comment got the honor roll student suspended for 10 days and she is now facing expulsion. "I was just expressing myself on Facebook, because like I said I was mad that day because of what he [did]. So, I mean I had no intentions of ruining his reputation," said Sosa.

"I shouldn't have done it," said student William Lambert, III. "Because I could have still been at school, like right now, if I never had commented on the post." Lambert, a seventh grader, was also suspended for calling the same teacher a rapist.

The honor student's father said he didn't condone the comment but believes that what's done in the privacy of one's home should not be the subject of disciplinary action at school. "Because it is a privacy issue. When you're at home on your computer, a lot of people say a lot of things on Facebook, about a lot of people, including our president, including senators, governors. [I think] the school should write the rules of Facebook into their policy before they try to take rules out of context," said Lambert's father, William Lambert, Jr.

A third child was expelled for posting that the same teacher is bipolar. The student's mother asked not to be identified but said she believed the school's punishment did not fit the crime. "She made a disrespectful comment, however she is 12-years-old and she didn’t even get a chance to apologize for it before its done and over, you're out of school," said the parent.

At least two of the families said they plan to hire attorneys and fight the disciplinary charges in a school tribunal.

A social networking expert said the case should serve as a lesson for students and parents alike. "When you go home, yes it is your private environment but the school can actually say we would expect you to have nice behavior, be kind to others, not be a cyber bully, not be a bully in general. But it doesn't mean they can enforce it because we're coming into free speech territory here," said social networking expert Ben Halpert.

Douglas County School officials said the three students violated the disciplinary code and they could not comment on the case due to an impending tribunal.


Liberal Ideology Will Not Make Your Campus Safer

Mike Adams

On Thursday, March 3, 2011, President James D. Spaniolo sent a letter to the “Students, Faculty, and Staff” of the University of Texas – Arlington (UTA). Some are criticizing the letter as an inappropriate use of state property to influence pending legislation. But it is far worse than that. It is an ideologically-driven missive that could get some “Students, Faculty, and Staff” at UTA seriously injured or killed.

The letter begins innocently enough with Spaniolo simply noting that “The Texas Legislature is currently considering several bills that (he knows) many of you are following with great interest and an increasing level of concern and alarm—legislation that could allow concealed handguns on college campuses across Texas.”

By the beginning of the second paragraph, Spaniolo, who does not have a PhD (or, apparently, any record of scholarly research whatsoever) states his opinion on the legislation: “I have followed very closely the disparate views that have been expressed on this issue, and I am keenly aware of and sensitive to the arguments in favor of this legislation. But I have concluded that allowing concealed handguns on campus would not make UT Arlington—or any college campus—a safer place.”

It is unsurprising that Spaniolo comes down on the wrong side of this issue with an opinion that is not informed by scholarship. The president of the university has only five publications (this century) listed on his resume. They are all non-scholarly city newspaper opinion pieces with titles like “U.S., Cuba Must Start Anew.”

Yet without any visible expertise in this important and well-researched area he says the following: “As president of UT Arlington, my top priority must always be to do everything possible to ensure the safety and security of our students, faculty, staff, and visitors. I firmly believe—as does virtually everyone in leadership positions at colleges and universities and in law enforcement—that allowing concealed handguns on campus would significantly increase the potential for members of our community to be injured or killed.”

This last paragraph suffers from two severe deficiencies:

First, it claims (without supporting evidence) that virtually everyone in law enforcement believes “that allowing concealed handguns on campus would significantly increase the potential for members of our community to be injured or killed.” Spaniolo provides no references – not one, but zero - for this bold assertion. I hereby publicly challenge him to do so. Note that I do not issue a challenge with regard to his assertion concerning “virtually everyone in leadership positions at colleges and universities” and their opposition to the pending legislation. I do not care what people in “leadership positions at colleges and universities” believe about guns. They are not an ideologically neutral population. Nor are they, as a group, specially qualified to make a judgment on the issue of concealed weapons. Police officers are different.

Second, it is his frank admission that his position is based on what he “firmly believe(s).” Of course, “firm belief” simply means “strong feeling” in this context. But public policy should not be made on the basis of “strong feelings.” It should be made on the basis of empirical evidence. And, to date, the empirical evidence supports those who assert that concealed weapon permits (CCWs) reduce violent crime, rather than increasing violent crime.

To date, there are sixteen refereed publication, which demonstrate that CCWs decrease violent crime. There are ten refereed publication that say they make no difference in violent crime rates. There are zero refereed publications demonstrating that CCWs increase violent crime.

But President Spaniolo hasn’t looked at the empirical research. He’s looked to the following sources (quoting from his letter):

1) “UT Arlington’s Student Congress adopted a resolution—by a vote of 36 to 6—against the proposed concealed-carry bills that have been introduced in the Legislature. Student Congress also sponsored a well-attended campus forum on the issue last week.”

2) “UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa sent a letter to Governor Rick Perry last week strongly expressing the concerns of the many constituents of the UT System institutions.”

3) “The Texas Council of Student Services Vice Presidents, which comprises 46 public institutions across the state, has expressed in a letter to legislators the serious concerns its members have on this issue. Frank Lamas, vice president for student affairs at UT Arlington, serves as chair-elect of this group.”

Students – even members of the UTA Student Congress - cannot be looked to as expert sources on this topic. Neither does the UT System Chancellor nor the Texas Council of Student Services Vice Presidents have the needed expertise. The problem should be addressed by citing peer-reviewed research by the criminologists and economists who have studied the costs and benefits of CCW legislation.

As one with a Master’s degree in public policy, President Spaniolo should know where to look for information that credibly informs public policy. But he does not. Instead, he intentionally seeks information from both biased and uninformed sources, which do nothing but reinforce his strong feelings on an admittedly emotional topic.

President Spaniolo ends his letter to the UTA community with this chillingly misleading paragraph: “We are fortunate to be a part of a vibrant campus community where debate and dialogue are part of the fabric of intellectual exchange. We must ensure that our campus is a safe place for pursuing and advancing an education. Allowing concealed handguns on our campus would be antithetical to our mission.”

His suggestion is that the presence of guns would close down rational debate in an otherwise free and open marketplace of ideas. But that isn’t so. Concealed guns will never shut down debate at UTA. Instead, administrators who conceal research will prevent debate, dialogue, and informed intellectual exchange. And no one should have a license to do that.



Lee said...

Gotta disagree with the Georgia case. Facebook is NOT private, and the mere statement of calling someone a pedophile from a child's lips is more than enough to get an adult thrown in jail. Good on the school district for booting the kids. The parents should also be sued, as they're responsible for their child's slander.

One does NOT use the word pedophile lightly given how our legal system and people in general acts when they hear the word.

Sean said...

I still dont understand how the school has the power to do anything relate to a posting on Facebook though. Unless the posting on Facebook was done on school property or WITH school property such as using the schools internet or a school provided lap top or something it has nothing to do with them. I understand getting the police involved and them having the pay the price for making false statements, but what does that have to do with the school? Just because the students know the teachers from school doesnt seem enough to justify that. If a student gets in a fight at the mall on a Saturday with another student does the school step in and suspend the students afterward just because the students know each other from school?