Dancing With Shakira in the White House


If it is all right with Michele, it is all right with me that President Obama picked Waka-Waka sensation Shakira last week to serve on his Presidential Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics—a podium from which she will also be able to do excellent outreach with the Hispanic community to boost his sagging re-election prospects. And Shakira is no less qualified for her job than foot-in-the-mouth Joe Biden is for his—although neither one is as perfect as Clay Aiken, who served a term with the Presidential Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities, was for his.

She is Hispanic. And she has a compelling story, having grown up in the extremely stratified Colombian city of Barranquilla where nearly 50 percent of people live under the poverty line. More than 43% of children do not have access to early education, and less than 20% have access to the Internet.

She founded the Barefoot Foundation 15 years ago which, reports the Wall Street Journal:

[P]rovides high-quality education, nutrition and psychological support to poor and displaced children and their families in three different Colombian cities. These centers, known as mega-schools, serve more than 6,000 children and their families…

In February 2009, the Barefoot Foundation inaugurated a $6 million K-12 mega-school. El colegio de Shakira, as it is known locally, gets only praise. A friend described it to me as an American institution, by which she meant state-of-the-art. The complex includes an auditorium, chemistry labs and even air conditioning. "Parents receive English classes and computer skills," Shakira says, "and the entire neighborhood can play soccer there." Families look for every possible way to move close to the school…

In the past six months, she has addressed the Oxford Union, appeared in the opinion pages of the Economist, and was asked by the Brookings Institution to be the celebrity behind its proposal to create A Global Fund for Education, modeled after the Global Fund to Fight Malaria, Tuberculosis and AIDS…

Saving kids from death and disease is great. But what is the issue that Shakira wants to push on the commission? Early childhood education. "I am convinced that early childhood development strategies, promoting those strategies and initiatives, is the way to ensure that our kids, our Latino kids especially, will stick to their secondary education," the 34-year-old superstar said.

No offense, Shakira, but you don't know what the hell you are talking about. So before you give up your day job for your new cause, you might want to familiarize yourself with the mountain of evidence that Reason Foundation's Director of Education Lisa Snell has painstakingly compiled showing that except in the case of severely disadvantaged, high-risk kids, preschool does almost no good to anyone.  If anything, separating kids from their parents and putting them in an institutional setting at a young an age might do some real psychological damage. As Snell and I wrote back in 2008:

A 2006 analysis by Education Week found that Oklahoma and Georgia were among the 10 states that had made the least progress on NAEP. Oklahoma, in fact, lost ground after it embraced universal preschool: In 1992 its fourth and eighth graders tested one point above the national average in math. Now they are several points below. Ditto for reading. Georgia's universal preschool program has made virtually no difference to its fourth-grade reading scores. And a study of Tennessee's preschool program released just this week by the nonpartisan Strategic Research Group found no statistical difference in the performance of preschool versus nonpreschool kids on any subject after the first grade.

What about Head Start, the 40-year-old, federal preschool program for low-income kids? Studies by the Department of Health and Human Services have repeatedly found that although Head Start kids post initial gains on IQ and other cognitive measures, in later years they become indistinguishable from non-Head Start kids…

If anything, preschool may do lasting damage to many children. A 2005 analysis by researchers at Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley, found that kindergartners with 15 or more hours of preschool every week were less motivated and more aggressive in class. Likewise, Canada's C.D. Howe Institute found a higher incidence of anxiety, hyperactivity and poor social skills among kids in Quebec after universal preschool.

So, Shakira, if you want a worthy cause, stick to Waka Waka and don't fucka fucka the nation's kids.