Tag: academic outcomes

Head Start’s Impact Evanescent — HHS Study

HHS has finally released the second installment of its series of studies on the persistence of Head Start effects. Its finding (see page xiv): virtually all academic effects disappear by the end of 1st grade. There is only one positive statistically significant finding out of eleven academic outcomes measured, the size of that effect is minuscule by recognized standards (it’s half way between zero and what most social scientists consider “small”), and the confidence in the finding is low by recognized standards. (Many authors would categorize it as “insignificant” rather than “significant” – it’s only significant at a 90% confidence interval, not the more common 95% confidence interval).

We have spent more than $100 billion on the program to date (ballpark estimate from Table 375 here) and HHS’s own research shows that its results diminish to essentially nothing by the end of the first grade.

There are other government education programs whose effects actually grow substantially over time, and that are comparatively economical. Consider the federal DC voucher program. Just a year or two after switching from public to private schools, the effect of the private schooling was not big enough to rise to the level of statistical significance. But by their third year in private schools, the evidence was clear that voucher-receiving students were reading more than two grade levels above a randomized control group that stayed in public schools.  This program, as I’ve previously documented, costs 1/4 as much per pupil as DC spends on public education: about $6,600 vs. $28,000.

But Congress, and particularly Democrats, have defunded the DC voucher program while raising spending on Head Start. President Obama is at the forefront of this travesty. If you weren’t already jaded and disgusted by education politics and its domination by employee unions opposed to educational choice, start now.

GAO: Dept. of Ed. Suffers Oversight Deficiencies

A report released today by the federal government’s non-partisan General Accounting Office finds deficits in the Department of Education’s financial and program oversight. According to the GAO, “These shortcomings can lead to weaknesses in program implementation that ultimately result in failure to effectively serve the students, parents, teachers, and administrators those programs were designed to help.”

The GAO’s findings are consistent with the longstanding pattern: for forty years, Americans have steadily increased spending on public schools without any resulting improvement in student performance by the end of high school (see the figures here and here).

The Obama administration has touted its $100 billion in education stimulus spending as a key to long term economic growth. What the data show, however, is that higher spending on public schools over the past two generations has not improved academic outcomes. And economists such as Stanford’s Eric Hanushek have shown that it is improved academic achievement, not higher public school spending, that accelerates economic growth.

So if the administration is serious in wanting education to boost the American economy, it must support reforms that are proven to significantly raise achievement, such as those that bring to bear real market freedoms and incentives – programs like the DC private school choice program that the administration has decided to kill despite its proven effectiveness.

Evidence, Please?

A couple of days ago the Common Core State Standards Initiative released a new draft of its national, “college- and career-readiness” math and English curricular standards. The content of the standards isn’t of huge interest to me – the biggest dangers are in the implementation of standards, not the drafting – but what is of great interest is determining whether having national standards makes sense in the first place. Unfortunately, it appears that many standards fans couldn’t care less about that little concern.

To satisfy my interest, I’ve been delving into empirical work that might back claims that national standards are necessary for educational success, or just that they improve academic outcomes. And what have I found? As I laid out in a recent National Review Online op-ed, and argue today on the New York Times“Room for Debate” blog, there’s hardly any such evidence. There is scant good research on national standards, and what there is largely ignores serious questions about the confounding impact of such factors as culture and changing educational attitudes.

This dearth of research explains why national standardizers are almost totally silent about evidence and instead defend their proposals with soundbites about high expectations for all kids, or the ”craziness” of having 50 state standards.  It also explains why they seem to be in a big hurry to get standards drafted, and why the Obama administration is already dangling billions of dollars in front of states to get them to “voluntarily” adopt whatever the CCSSI produces. Quite simply, were the public to find out that national standards are essentially an untested drug being slipped down their throats, they might object. And nothing, it seems, is more important to the national standards crowd than ensuring that that doesn’t happen.