Issues Library—Federal Education Policy
What is Early Education?
Early education is a movement that is generally thought to have begun with the Department of Health and Human Services’ introduction of the Head Start Program in 1965. This program, and others that have followed it, were premised on the idea that children kindergarten age and younger who receive a formal education perform better academically throughout their lives. While Head Start did not mandate that all children from birth to kindergarten attend school, it began a series of initiatives (one of them being funding for universal kindergarten) designed to bring children out of the home and into an institutionalized classroom environment at an earlier age.
What are Current Early Education Programs?
Following up on his 2008 campaign promise to help states implement federally funded and regulated universal early education programs,1 President Obama’s 2009 Plan for Education Overhaul as well as the 2009 Department of Education budget contained recommendations for universal preschool. Various bills before the House and Senate, such as S. 206, the Early Education Act of 2009 (introduced by Senator Barbara Boxer) proposed a federal program for early education that begins before kindergarten. Some of the more radical proposals include recommendations that federal officials “educate” parents as to the right way to raise their children from birth to age 5. Others urge children to be put in institutionalized classroom environments from birth. Some states, such as California, Georgia, and Oklahoma, have implemented universal early education pilot programs. Continuing the trend, the administration has submitted a draft FY 2011 budget that adds $9.3 billion for a new federal preschool program.2
What are the Problems with Early Institutionalized Education?
These programs are problematic both philosophically and practically. At root, they assume that a government-run school district can better raise children than can their own parents.
1. This violates the fundamental right parents have to direct their own children’s education. This right is guaranteed by the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and was upheld by the Supreme Court in Pierce v. Society of Sisters (268 U.S. 510 1925); Wisconsin v. Yoder (406 U.S. 205 at 233); and Troxel v. Granville (530 U.S. 57 2000).
2. The notion that parents are not adequate teachers and mentors for their children is empirically untrue. As found in a large study in the United Kingdom, children who are raised (especially at early ages) in their own homes by their own mothers and fathers fare significantly better developmentally than those placed in institutional environments at an early age.3
3. Non-experimental studies of Head Start and experimental studies of statewide early education programs show little to no gain at best to early education programs. A massive six-year study of 35,000 children by Durham University shows that children enrolled in early education programs have no developmental advantage over their peers who did not enroll in any schooling before they enter primary school.4 A 2007 National Institute of Child Health and Human Development study found that children enrolled in institutionalized education were more likely to exhibit problematic behaviors, such as bullying and aggression, for several years afterwards.5 An Education Next study on the universalized kindergarten found that the long-term effects of this 60s and 70s program are negligible at best, with slightly lower dropout rates for upper-middle class children, and no positive impact on other children.6 Finally, when reviewing the early education pilot programs in Oklahoma and Georgia, the Heritage Foundation determined that despite high state spending, “neither state has experience significant sustained improvement in students’ academic achievement as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress.”7
Where Does HSLDA Stand?
HSLDA believes that parents should have the freedom to direct the education of their children at all ages, and continues to fight for this freedom in both the legal and legislative arenas. HSLDA is concerned with attempts by state legislators to lower compulsory school attendance age. HSLDA fundamentally opposes legislation implementing universal preschool because even voluntary universal early education programs can easily be pressured on families, or even become mandatory.
7. Lindsey Burke, “Does Universal Preschool Improve Learning? Lessons from Georgia and Oklahoma,” Heritage Foundation, May 14, 2009, http://www.heritage.org/Research/Reports/2009/05/Does-Universal-Preschool-Improve-Learning-Lessons-from-Georgia-and-Oklahoma.