Welfare

Head Start and Other Federal Failures

No quantity of stirring words or noble intentions can justify expensive measures that leave little trace behind.

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When the government shutdown began on Oct. 1, it forced the closing of Head Start facilities in several states, stopping educational services for thousands of low-income kids. So heart-rending was this spectacle that a pair of Texas philanthropists gave $10 million to keep the programs going.

Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas appeared at a rally of parents protesting the Head Start closures, holding up a child's chair and declaring, "Here is the empty chair of the next astronaut. Here is the empty chair of a captain in the United States military."

House Republicans were not about to be accused of depriving poor children. They approved a measure to provide funding for Head Start, with one member attesting, "As we work our way out of this government shutdown mess, we shouldn't let some of our most vulnerable citizens, low-income children with no recourse, suffer."

That was not good enough for President Barack Obama, who prevailed in his insistence that the House agree to fund the government across the board through Jan. 15. Amid the bitter quarrel, no one bothered to ask whether Head Start is actually serving the purposes that justify its budget.

Maybe that's because they know the answer is no but aren't willing to face being denounced for cruelty to disadvantaged tots. For decades, Head Start has consistently disappointed anyone who expected it to make a real difference in the fortunes of the poor.

A 2010 study by the Department of Health and Human Services concluded that though there were modest benefits to participating kids, they soon evaporated. "The benefits of access to Head Start at age four are largely absent by first grade for the program population as a whole," it admitted. "For 3-year-olds, there are few sustained benefits."

A federal social program that burns though billions of dollars, year in and year out, despite showing scant value to those it's supposed to help? That may sound like a regrettable anomaly. In fact, as David Muhlhausen documents in his new book, Do Federal Social Programs Work? (Praeger), it's pretty much the norm.

The author, a longtime scholar at the conservative Heritage Foundation, appears to have reviewed every study of these undertakings, as evidenced in 47 pages of footnotes. The overwhelming majority, he finds, don't accomplish anything resembling their stated mission, and some even "produce harmful outcomes."

The dismal results might be excused as the price of showing concern for people in genuine need, if not for the fact that these efforts cost so much—$443 billion in 2011, exceeding 3 percent of gross domestic product.

This book, whose importance is inverse to its likely readership, excludes Social Security, unemployment insurance and veterans' benefits because they must be earned through work. Muhlhausen concentrates on the Great Society programs enacted in the 1960s under President Lyndon B. Johnson, which were meant to "eradicate the fundamental causes of poverty by providing opportunity to the poor" and "ultimately make redistribution unnecessary." So far, you may have noticed, they have accomplished neither objective.

There was a sound idea behind LBJ's approach, namely that the way to help the disadvantaged was to give them the tools to become prosperous. Head Start would confer a boost in learning that would have a permanent payoff. The Job Corps would equip them with the skills to earn good wages. Upward Bound would prepare them for college. But the federal government didn't really know how to do these things.

Anything coming out of Heritage will be dismissed by critics as right-wing propaganda, but Muhlhausen backs up his findings with masses of data. He also finds comparable results for Republican social programs aimed at reducing teen sexual activity and strengthening families. His overall conclusions, in any case, are not particularly novel or radical.

Isabel Sawhill, co-director of the liberal Brookings Institution's Center on Children and Families, wrote in 2010 that in the 10 most rigorous assessments of individual federal social programs, "nine of these evaluations found weak or no positive effects." When I contacted Ron Haskins, a welfare expert also at Brookings, he cited a few successful ventures but said, "I generally agree that social programs do not work."

No quantity of stirring words or noble intentions can justify expensive measures that leave little trace behind. Our elected officials generally agree that withholding money from social programs shortchanges the poor. They fail to notice that for the most part, providing money has the same effect.

NEXT: Brickbat: Highly Immoral

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  1. I thought it was delf evident that the core competency of the Federal government was spending money poorly, and that there was little else it could be counted on to do.

    1. Yep, this should be left to the states. Just think, in Michigan the program could teach recycling through daytrips for copper stripping. California could install hamster wheels to generate power and stave off the brownouts. In Washington DC the wee ones could learn to participate in democracy by replacing congressional staffers. And improve democracy by doing a better job of it.

    2. pretty good at blowing things up too

  2. Head start accomplishes its mission just fine. Its mission just isnt what most people think it is.

    1. Free day care.

      1. And an introduction in being told what to do.

        I went back in the day. I don’t really remember it being more than a bunch of stations set up with different activities (early 1990s).

        Since this is all it was, I remember happily playing with blocks and being well behaved when they told me I needed to take a turn in the house section (basically playing house). I never chose to do that section because that is where all the girls played and I didn’t want to fucking play house. Too bad, I was forced to stop playing blocks and go into the house area where I refused to do anything but sit in the corner. This was better than me doing things I was interested in doing apparently.

      2. That is really all HeadStart is.

  3. Good article.

  4. “A federal social program that burns though billions of dollars, year in and year out, despite showing scant value to those it’s supposed to help? That may sound like a regrettable anomaly. In fact, as David Muhlhausen documents in his new book, Do Federal Social Programs Work? (Praeger), it’s pretty much the norm.”

    All of you who think that the war on drugs is a “failure”, please note. As this book demonstrates, the success of a government program is not measured by whether it achieves its stated objectives. Success is measured by whether the government program can develop the constituency to perpetuate itself. Buy this measure, the war on drugs and Headstart are roaring successes.

  5. Head Start: Universal Daycare for people who don’t work.

    1. Isn’t Head Start simply breakfast for all of the little jewels?

      Public indoctrination centers are daycare for people who don’t work.

      1. No, Head Start runs daycare facilities as well, open from 8-5 and heavily staffed. I used to have to deliver books to one back when I was a Bookmobile driver. You can’t imagine the smell… canned mixed vegetables, formula, vomit, piss and shit. I was in there about an hour or so distributing to all the rooms once a week and I’d run home to take a shower and change my clothes before continuing my route.

        1. And that’s what inspired you to write the script to Toy Story 3.

        2. I loathe the smell of Head Start in the morning… smells like illiteracy

          1. mixed with stupidity and sloth

  6. A federal social program that burns though billions of dollars, year in and year out, despite showing scant value to those it’s supposed to help? That may sound like a regrettable anomaly.

    In a normal world, that is considered a bug. In govt, it’s a feature and this sort of spending is the rule, not the exception. In other news, the sun will rise in the east this morning, water is wet, and the ACA is still a cluster.

  7. No quantity of stirring words or noble intentions can justify expensive measures that leave little trace behind.

    Says you! There seems to be a sizable portion of the population that strongly disagree

  8. A couple of weeks ago I had lunch with my public school teacher sister. She actually mentioned Head Start and how “people don’t think that it does anything productive but we (meaning the schools) know how important it is.”

    Like most Leftist bullshit, it truly is not about results, for which there are not any, but about intentions and feelings.

    1. I don’t think that is a well reasoned statement. Your sister said that there is a perception that Head Start is not beneficial, but those who are closer to the program participants see evidence that it does produce meaningful and documented results. The problem is that the state of post-Head Start education erode those gains.

      You should probably listen to your sister more carefully and then check up on what she says to see how accurate it is. That is what I tried to do with this article.

      1. ReasonableS|11.18.13 @ 9:52AM|#
        …”but those who are closer to the program participants see evidence that it does produce meaningful and documented results”

        So the people paid to run the program think it’s just great?
        Your bullshit is among the most transparent of the lefties who show up here.

  9. Intentions trump results.

    1. and spades trumps diamonds

  10. But … but … progressives keep telling me what a glorious success Head Start is! We shall never reach Peak Lie.

  11. “The benefits of access to Head Start at age four are largely absent by first grade for the program population as a whole,” it admitted.

    Obviously the solution is to mandate Head Start attendance all the way until high school graduation.

    1. or just get rid of all the stupid 4 year olds?

  12. http://blogs.reuters.com/great…..tart-work/
    “That Head Start prepares children for kindergarten is clear from the findings of the HHS study. There also is overwhelming evidence, from hundreds of studies over four decades, that Head Start children benefit from the program throughout their lives.”

    “Given the evidence of early advantage and lifelong success, it is profoundly troubling to hear, as the HHS study finds, that the benefits of kindergarten readiness seem to flatten out from kindergarten through third grade.”

    The Reuters article suggest the problem isn’t that Head Start isn’t worth the investment, but rather that it is being squandered due to poor elementary and secondary education.

    1. What?! You mean the federal government’s massive infusion of trillions of dollars into K-12 public education over the last several decades has done nothing to produce effective public schools?!

    2. Your reference was written by: “Yasmina Vinci is executive director of the National Head Start Association” so not exactly an unbiased account.

      Got anything worth reading?

      1. The actual study both articles reference might be worth reading.

        http://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/d….._final.pdf

        1. I did read it:
          “However, the advantages children gained during their Head Start and age 4 years yielded only a few statistically significant differences in outcomes at the end of 1st grade for the sample as a whole.”
          Right there in the executive summary.

        2. How about a later study on the effects by the 3rd grade?:

          THIRD GRADE FOLLOW-UP TO THE HEAD START
          IMPACT STUDY
          “In contrast, there was little evidence of systematic differences in children’s elementary school experiences through 3rd grade, between children provided access to Head Start and their counterparts in the control group.”
          And
          “These effects, albeit modest in magnitude, were found for both age cohorts during their first year of admission to the Head Start program. However, these early effects rapidly dissipated in elementary school, with only a single impact remaining at the end of 3rd grade for children in each age cohort.”
          There’s more, but by the 3rd grade, any meaningful effects are gone.
          http://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/d…..report.pdf

    3. I smellz an opportunity, I doez…

    4. “Given the evidence of early advantage and lifelong success”

      I wonder if that evidence is from studies funded by HS? Because:
      “However, the advantages children gained during their Head Start and age 4 years yielded only a few statistically significant differences in outcomes at the end of 1st grade for the sample as a whole.”
      Prepared for:
      Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation
      Administration for Children and Families
      U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
      Washington, D.C.
      http://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/d….._final.pdf
      But that’s OK. We’re used to your propaganda

    5. That Head Start prepares children for kindergarten…

      Clearly, this is the primary challenge of our school system: preparing children for kindergarten.

      I know I spent a great deal of time and effort preparing my child for the playground. When is the state going to come in and do the same for those less fortunate than me?

    6. So we are to believe that the state is fantastic at “educating” 4 year olds, but horrendous at educating 5 and 6 year olds? More likely they suck at educating all together. Any gains from head start are likely purely behavioral, which only gets you so far in life.

  13. The road to hell is paved with the unintended consequences of good intentions. We’re building a superhighway.

  14. “The benefits of access to Head Start at age four are largely absent by first grade for the program population as a whole,” it admitted.

    Yeah, I’m pretty sure a lot goes absent the first year you send your little ones to public grade school.

    It’s so funny to hear progressives talk about the need to generate more engineers. They talk about guaranteed college for all, student loan modifications, etc. Sorry, but, when you put practically every child through a mind-numbing 12 years of public education, where just achieving literacy is a cause for celebration, then you shouldn’t be surprised that only a few of them have even the desire to go on to engineering, much less the aptitude.

    They crush independent, rational thought right out of them, and then wonder how they can subsidize it back into them. Ridiculous.

    1. I think your second to last sentence spoke volumes. It’s an excellent summary on the current state of public education. Children spend twelve years being dumbed down, then the govt thinks subsidized college tuition will cure it all. The same bureaucrats that rail against testing, competition, and school choice don’t understand how they squash the passion for excellence that produces doctors and engineers.

  15. “Great Society programs enacted in the 1960s under President Lyndon B. Johnson, which were meant to “eradicate the fundamental causes of poverty by providing opportunity to the poor” and “ultimately make redistribution unnecessary.”

    So, enacting massive redistribution programs are supposed to eliminate the need for massive redistibution, eh?

    It would seem to have been a lot simpler (and cheaper) to abide by the Constitution and acknowledge that the federal government has no authority to engange in redistribution and therefore there is no such thing as a “need” for it.

  16. Every “head start” facility should have a large, flashing sign:

    “Welcome to Baines’ Leftist Factory!”

  17. It’s so sad that we will probably never see a politician honest and brave enough to push for getting rid of all these programs that don’t work.
    Furthermore, some people will simply never believe that these programs don’t work, no matter how many facts are presented to them.

  18. I went to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Annual Legislative Conference this past summer. In the “Hip Hop and Politics” Session, the only white panelist, an editor or some other executive at a magazine that escapes me said something along the lines of…

    “It’s my responsibility to use my white priviledge to make sure that people know what I know…I know that no black child that doesn’t attend pre-school or Head Start will ever be able to catch up to me in school ever…and that we must make sure that every black child has an opportunity to get early education.”

    To thunderous applause. Despite the fact that I sat in the audience, a valedictorian and Ivy-league educated woman, as an example to the contrary…it just solidified this feeling that we won’t win against such blind, self-righteous, progressive beliefs.

    1. Was it Michael Slonik of Global Grind?

      http://www.theroot.com/article…..ether.html

      The quote they have for him is piece mill and confusing.

      “I challenge white people with this: If we can walk down the street and no white lady will clutch her purse … If we can do that as white people and take that for granted, our rights are not worth it,” he said, urging supporters to work uniformly for social change regardless of race. “I come as an ally, I recognize my white privilege. The people on this panel raised me and we wouldn’t be political if it wasn’t for them.”

  19. But then WHY do low income and Black children score lower than Whites. There theory may be horseshit, but at least they have one.

  20. “A federal social program that burns though billions of dollars, year in and year out, despite showing scant value to those it’s supposed to help? That may sound like a regrettable anomaly.”

    That statement just guaranteed it will be permanent.

  21. The only proven early childhood education program that works is a two parent household with loving and nuturing hetero-sexual parents. Publicly funded early education programs only provide entry level jobs for the next wave of left wing establishment educators.

    1. “with loving and nuturing hetero-sexual parents”
      Bigot fail.

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