This weekend, the Detroit News ran a letter to the editor taking issue with a piece I wrote about the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsbility Act (SAFRA). Strangley, though the main part of SAFRA deals with higher education loans; the bill contains new spending all over the education map; and I made no specific mention of early‐childhood education in my piece (though there is an early‐ed component in the bill); the letter is all about pre‐K education.
That the pre‐K pushers even saw my op‐ed as something to write about illustrates how very agressive they are. Unfortunately, the letter also demonstrates how dubious is the message that they are so loudly and energetically proclaiming. Here’s a telling bit:
Economists, business leaders and scientists all know from cold, hard data that high‐quality early education provides a significant return on investment in terms of education, social and health outcomes.
Whether pre‐K education is worth even a dime all depends on how you define “high quality.” As Adam Schaeffer lays out in his new early‐education policy analysis — and Andrew Coulson reiterates in an exchange with economist James Heckman — the “cold, hard data” say only that a few programs seem to work, and most don’t. Pronouncements about the huge returns on pre‐K investment are almost always based on very small, hyper‐intensive programs that would be all but impossible to replicate on a large scale. And the programs that do function on a large scale? As Adam lays out, they provide little to no return on investment.
The early‐education crowd is very good at getting out its message. Too bad the message itself is so darn suspect.