Howard Husock, for Forbes magazine, reminds readers about the hot topic lately: early learning. He summarizes President Obama’s proposal in his State of the Union address to provide universal pre-kindergarten and the costs and repercussions of the program. He also directs readers to research, by University of Chicago’s James Heckman and others, which reveals that disadvantaged students who are “not prepared for kindergarten may be permanently left behind.” What Husock adds to the discussion is that government solutions to formulating and funding new programs for the disadvantaged, an idea that has become basic to our politics, have not had great results. One recent example is the hard look we’ve taken at Head Start, the existing federal program for disadvantaged young children, which has been shown to have limited benefits, according to rigorous studies.
In light of this, Husock offers up the idea that a “combination of private philanthropy and strong local organizations might be a different and better approach. He provides us with examples from history, including Jane Adams’ foundation of Hull House and the Montessori movement, which were private movements that were locally-based and tied through national associations. They were supported by local fundraising and volunteers. Civic leaders spearheaded such movements to provide assistance to low-income children and families.
Husock writes a powerful statement about the Hull House movement, aimed at helping immigrants advance economically, which could also apply to helping early education efforts. He tells us “the movement’s combination of a welcoming hand to the newcomers and belief in the essential goodness of the country’s common culture, is, it’s worth noting, one we could still use today, as I’ve written for The Public Interest.” To be sure, thinking of new parents, young parents and parents who have not had the best role models themselves as “newcomers” into the world of raising children who are ready for school and life would not be a stretch. Furthermore, helping these families give their children the best start in life is essential for the United States’ common culture.
According to Husock, the government has not shown great success in combining “scale” with positive results, such as with Head Start, community mental health programs, foster care, job training and so many other social programs. So, he asks us to “imagine a coalition of major community foundations coming forward, along with the major foundations with an established interest in disadvantaged children and education (Gates, Broad and Annie E. Casey) to support a national pre-K movement.” When he puts it the way he does, it certainly is worth considering the problem of getting all children ready for school in more than just a government spotlight.