NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Obama's Misguided Education Policy

March 5, 2013

Virtually everyone agrees that education is vitally important to the future of America. President Obama has promised to use an evidence-based approach to education that implements only the policies that are proven to work. Despite his word, however, President Obama is pushing policies that are proven not to work, says Shikha Dalmia, a senior analyst, and Lisa Snell, director of education policy, at Reason Magazine.

  • In his recent State of the Union address, President Obama promised more high-quality preschool based on "study after study," which shows the success of early childhood learning.
  • Unfortunately, study after study shows the exact opposite -- publicly funded programs, like Head Start, make little difference in the long run.

Head Start is almost 50 years old and received an annual budget of more than $7 billion in 2011 to enroll about one million kids in preschool education. A majority of studies have found that the initial cognitive gains these children exhibit disappear by the time they enter regular school. Critics of this opinion argue that these studies fail to pass methodological muster by using non-random assignment and neglecting to track the kids long enough.

  • An ambitious new Health and Human Services study addresses these methodological concerns.
  • The study samples randomly for its control and test groups, and tracks all students until the third grade to assess any impacts of the federal program.
  • The study found very little evidence of any beneficial impact on cognitive, socioemotional, health and parenting practices among students who attended Head Start.

The record on preschool is equally as dismal at the state level.

  • Fourteen years after Oklahoma implemented universal preschool, its fourth grade reading score is down 10 points on the National Assessment Education Progress report card.
  • Twenty-one years after implementing universal preschool, Georgia ranks 48th in terms of graduation rates.
  • In each state, minority children fell to the national average once universal preschool was implemented.

If Obama were truly interested in evidence-based policies, he would extend funding to vouchers programs, which most studies suggest lead to higher graduation rates and improved reading and math outcomes. Instead, he has tried to cut the District of Columbia's very successful voucher program on the basis that its drains resources from public schools. In reality, the vouchers have been found to foster competition and improve education outcomes in public schools.

Source: Shikha Dalmia and Lisa Snell, "Obama's Lopsided Education Policy," Reason Magazine, February 28, 2013.


Browse more articles on Education Issues