“Head Start” has been the poster child of federal aid to education ever since the Lyndon Johnson administration introduced it as part of the Great Society. And for decades liberals have pointed to it as one of the great advances that the federal government has brought to education, and as evidence that creative social engineering by smart professional interventionists can change the world.
But a long-suppressed government report finally released by the Obama administration report is shaking the foundations of Head Start, and the news isn’t coming from right wing conservatives but from Joe Klein at Time magazine. As Klein reports,
We spend more than $7 billion providing Head Start to nearly 1 million children each year. And finally there is indisputable evidence about the program’s effectiveness, provided by the Department of Health and Human Services: Head Start simply does not work.
These days, defenders of Head Start say less about what it does for kids (essentially nothing) but about the jobs it creates in poor neighborhoods. This is blue liberal thinking at its most self-parodic: we can’t develop social programs that will accomplish something worthwhile, but we can at least use the illusion that such programs work to create jobs for people who will then vote for the politicians who give them make work jobs.
True enough, as far as it goes, but it would just be cheaper to send them all checks. While it might be utopian to hope that a huge government boondoggle would shut down just because it’s been proven useless, even federal bureaucrats seem disturbed by the thought that limited antipoverty resources are being spent on a known flop. The L.A. Times has the story:
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the Head Start program, enacted reforms in December to address concerns about quality and accountability, among other things. They include a provision that, for the first time, requires low-performing agencies to compete for funding. Previously, funding for grantees was automatic.
It’s a start. The bigger story, though, is that the fundamental assumptions behind decades of government policy in education are coming unglued. The tools we’ve been using to address some of our most serious social problems don’t work. The money we’ve spent has been wasted.
It isn’t the just the Tea Party and Ayn Rand acolytes saying these things. It’s President Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services. It’s Time magazine.
A paradigm is falling apart.