| April 25, 2011

Early-childhood education: The risk of the story

Oklahomans who favor increased government spending on early-childhood programs like to tout the “return on investment” these government programs could provide. But intelligent investors, before committing resources to a project, will consider not only the potential rewards but also the risks.

“Because Oklahoma’s advocates of early-childhood education programs are professionals conversant with the research literature,” Bryce Christensen has written, “it is hard to believe they do not know about the risks of relying on such programs as a replacement for at-home parents.” And yet, they rarely mention the research demonstrating the risks involved in replacing mothers with paid surrogates.

Why is this? “Why this strange reluctance to address issues truly central to early childhood education?” asks Christensen, author of Divided We Fall: Family Discord and the Fracturing of America. “It is hard not to suspect the distorting influence of self-interest. After all, mothers who stay at home with their children do not create new opportunities for educators or bureaucrats or lobbyists. Those opportunities open up only by persuading parents to turn their children over to surrogates while opening up their tax checkbooks to pay other people’s salaries.”

Fortunately, the Heritage Foundation maintains a social-science research database with more than 3,000 findings from scholarly journals and papers. Policymakers interested in early-childhood education may click here and here, for example. This is important because we’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars. A decade ago OCPA pointed out that even then Oklahoma was spending nearly half a billion federal and state dollars annually for early childhood education.

When Oklahoma policymakers consider all the research—including survey research—perhaps then they will start to level the playing field for Oklahoma’s most important early childhood educators.

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