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Commentary on Baby Ed
By Dr. Karen Effrem

October 21, 2003

As a pediatrician, a mother of three, and a long-time researcher of children’s issues, I must respectfully, but vehemently disagree with Mr. Rolnick and your editorial about the value of early childhood programs (10/17/03).

Scholars debate the social gains of the programs Mr. Rolnick praises as "fall[ing] short of statistical significance," and even if they are significant, require so much in the way of funding and personnel, that they could not realistically be reproduced on a massive scale.

The Perry Preschool Project in particular has multiple problems that are rarely mentioned, if at all, by Mr. Rolnick. The program has never been replicated. It was for severely disadvantaged children in danger of "retarded intellectual functioning," so its results should not be generalized to all children. Perry children may have done better compared to controls, but compared to mainstream children, they still did quite poorly. Child development expert Charles Locuto stated in the journal Intelligence, "Preschool children were more likely to have been placed in remedial education. By age 19, they were unemployed at a rate equal to that of their control-group counterparts."

Edward Ziglar, co-founder of Head Start, said of Perry, "[The Perry sample] was not only nonrepresentative of children in general; there is some doubt that it was representative of even the bulk of economically disadvantaged children. . The Perry Project poses a number of methodological difficulties."

Ziglar also said, "This is not the first time universal preschool education has been proposed. . . . Then, as now, the arguments in favor of preschool education were that it would reduce school failure, lower dropout rates, increase test scores, and produce a generation of more competent high school graduates. . . . Preschool education will achieve none of these results..."

These programs are very expensive and do not work.

The state of Georgia found that despite universal preschool for 4 year olds, there were no differences in standardized test scores between children receiving preschool and those who did not and no changes in scores since before implementation. The taxpayers have spent close to $50 billion during 37 years on 20 million children and paid for or reviewed more than 600 studies on Head Start and there is no long-term improvement in academic achievement, IQ, school readiness, social behavior or self-esteem. Minnesota's own Legislative Auditor, in 2001, found no positive effect of any preschool program and evidence of fiscal mismanagement.

Besides the high cost, in this high taxed state, at a time of deficits, these programs have other expenses. The rates of infectious diseases are higher in children in group care situations, often resulting in community spread of infection. Parental authority is usurped and the parent-child bond is disrupted.

A 2002 study by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) followed a group of more than 1,300 children in 10 different states through their first seven years of life. They found that children who spend more hours per week in non-parental childcare have more behavior problems, including aggressive, defiant and disobedient behavior in kindergarten.

Poor children, many from single-parent families, do not need disruption of the bond with their remaining parent by programs that are ineffective, invasive, and expensive. Children are not just "human resources" from whom government and big business should receive "return on investment." Mr. Rolnick should instead find ways to encourage marriage of parents with mentoring by community elders and nurture of children by their own parents, not state institutions.

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