When Uncle Sam Replaces Parents

February 16, 2013

uncle sam


Uh oh, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory has done it again….  He has raised the ire of the educational system.  First, he challenged higher education, and their curriculum’s efficacy in preparing students for successful employment.  Now he has turned his sights on the preschoolers.  His appointment of Dianna Lightfoot to head North Carolina’s early education division hit a bit of a setback when she admitted that she opposed government instituted prekindergarten programs.



Fannie Flono, Charlotte Observer Associate Editor was incensed.  “The fact that she was considered, knowing her background, let alone hired, shows disdain for public preschool,” said Ms. Flono in the Feb. 15 opinion editorial.


Yes, I suspect that is the case.  I have disdain for public preschool as well, with some caveats which I will mention later.  I think little children long more than anything to hang out with Mom and Dad.  I have a background in the neurological development of children.  Neurologically, babies and young kids need lots of holding, hugging, talking to, and interacting with a constant and loving parent, preferably two.  That is the ideal.  We as a society need to take a long hard look at how Uncle Sam is becoming Daddy and Mommy, a role government was never meant to assume.  Not only do I believe it is not in childrens’ best interests, but it is a role America simply cannot fund.  At what point do we have the wherewithal to say we cannot afford to replace family with government programs?


President Obama suggested many new ways we can increase the insupportable debt in his State of his Union Address, including “universal preschool.”  He claimed it is proven that preschool works, and we must do this “for the children.”  Whenever I hear him say, “for the children”, my radar goes up.  This is usually code for “take away your freedom and make you pay dearly for it.”


As evidence of the necessity for universal preschool, President Obama cited studies conducted by our very own Chapel Hill Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute (FPG.)  Indeed, FPG did conduct a longitudinal study of disadvantaged students from infancy through age thirty called the Abecedarian Project.  The study group received “high quality child care” with an educational curriculum, 9-5 daily from infancy through age five.  The control group received biweekly help to the families, but not the educational curriculum.  The results were impressive.  In summary, the researchers found that the study group had higher college graduation rates, were more likely to hold a skilled job, and smoked less than their non-intervention counterparts.  Unfortunately, they engaged in criminal behavior at the same rate as the control group (25%), but at least that 25 % who still committed felonies and misdemeanors appeared to be smarter criminals as a result of early intervention.


The researchers noted, “The study’s results suggest that the developmental trajectory of at-risk children can indeed be changed in a way that positively influences their adult lives.  For poor families who need out-of-home care for their infants, high-quality early child care may provide a vital opportunity to enhance development” (Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute.  (2012, April.)  The Abecedarian Project: High-quality early child care has long-lasting effects (Snapshot No. 66). Chapel Hill: The University of North Caro- lina, Author.)


This study does seem to present a compelling case for the effectiveness of “high quality” intervention, defined as 9-5 year round educational program, parental support, healthcare, and basic needs care, for disadvantaged, poor children of parents who cannot be with their child in the formative years.  It certainly makes sense that if parents are absent, or abusive, using drugs, impoverished, or otherwise unable to provide a nurturing environment for their children, then those children would be better off in a safe and caring environment outside of the home.  But for President Obama to then say all children need this intervention is, at best, a stretch.

 Children in kindergarten

Anyone who is honest in research knows that to extrapolate research results to include a population not researched is unsupportable.  Yet, it was largely based on the Abecedarian Project results that President Obama said universal preschool was not only necessary, but proven.  Universal?  Proven?  The study was very specifically focused on low income, 98% African-American, high risk, disadvantaged, poor children.  To make the leap that every preschooler now needed to be funded to attend school before age five is further than a flea can jump….and fleas can jump over 200 times their body length.  Image source


President Obama did mention another study to support his proposal.  Georgia has a universal preschool program, and the FPG Child Development institute had just completed a study of the effects of this program.  Benefits were found  through the preschool year.  The study did not extend beyond that time.  However, many studies of Head Start and other preschool programs have shown positive effects through third grade, but after that time, the effects “fade out”, and non-preschool students catch up.  To base an enormous increased government program of universal preschool on a study that only follows effects on preschoolers seems premature, at best, particularly with the wealth of studies that indicate effects on a normal population do not continue to keep those students advancing beyond the control group.  In fact, some studies of the Oklahoma universal preschool have indicated a long term decline in scores since universal preschool was implemented!


Despite the fact that the studies with promising results have specifically targeted disadvantaged children with high risk criteria, President Obama made broad claims about the efficacy of universal preschool across all populations.


“Every dollar we invest in high-quality early childhood education can save more than seven dollars later on by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime,” said the President.  “Studies show students grew up more likely to read or do math at grade level, graduate high school, form stable families of their own,” he said in his State of the Union Speech.  This is not true.  This is only true of a sample of students who came from a specific disadvantaged group.  There is no evidence this is true of any group other than the targeted study group.


Perhaps McCrory blundered in his choice of the head of the NC early education department.  She was apparently imprudent in some social media remarks made earlier in her career.  She declined the position in the ensuing brouhaha.  However, to be skeptical of the claims and benefits of universal preschool strikes me as an excellent qualification, especially in the face of an administration trying to convince parents that the arms of government are a better place than their own for their children.


By: Vicky Kaseorg

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Tags: Chapel Hill, Charlotte Observer, Fannie Flono, FPG, Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, Governor Pat McCrory, NC early education department, Pat McCrory, President Obama, Uncle Sam

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