Our Educational Misunderstandings

Little evidence supports the continued funding of Head Start, the federal government’s largest early education program. This is not merely a technical or financial concern, but a challenge to our ideas surrounding the nature of a good education.
A recent report (Report) conducted by the US government on its federal head start program (perfected since 1965) found it to be relatively ineffective. Targeting low income families, Head Start is a one year program intended to boost the social and educational outcomes of children that often lack the benefits associated with growing up in higher income families. Though this recent study finds that Head Start children begin school at an advantage above a control group, the control group quickly catches up. By the end of third grade the head start group showed no academic or social advantages over those who did not attend Head Start.

Though these results may be discouraging, the study did find some possible "sleeper benefits." There does seem to be evidence that in later life, Head Start children may have fewer crime related issues and higher graduation rates.

Currently there are about 900,000 children enrolled in Head Start programs with a budget of nearly $8 billion. This means that at a cost of over $8000 per child, we get a handful of delayed and uncertain benefits.

But cost-effectiveness is not my primary concern, I am more concerned about our human and educational presumptions as a nation. For the past century Americans have become convinced that education is a technical field for which special training and expertise is required. Average parents are not generally considered qualified to teach or to evaluate professional teachers. However, the above data shows that our educational presumptions are weak. More “experts” have not helped children academically. And the positive data above can likely be attributed to the fact that Head Start children had an adult interacting with them rather than just a TV. In other words, early educational nurture is primarily associated with human interaction - not technical expertise.

Studies of homeschool families also show that children educated by parents lacking professional teaching credentials are at least as effective as those with them. Perhaps education is more a human and life dynamic than the technical dynamic that our society has made it to be.
blog comments powered by Disqus