The story of the Covid era is largely about a political class imposing one burden after another on the young for the theoretical benefit of the old, with little effort to conduct serious calculations of risks and costs. Kids who were never in great danger from the virus have been forced into isolation and quarantine, forced to suffer lost educational and cultural opportunities, and forced to accept an expanded federal debt burden that will haunt them through their taxpaying lives. Many children remain masked all day thanks to edicts from politicos with hardly a care for the long-term consequences to mental health or development.
Now we have Sen. Bernie Sanders (socialist, Vt.), who has been an elected official for nearly 40 years, preparing to add to the federal debt burden once again but claiming that his massive new program is for the children. Mr. Sanders is on the brink of achieving his dream of a federal universal pre-kindergarten program. No doubt it will be costly for taxpayers, but parents should not assume it will benefit their kids.
Like everything else in the pending reconciliation bill, the highly consequential details remain hidden from the public. Reporting on the back-room negotiations for the Democrats’ multitrillion-dollar plan, the Journal’s Andrew Duehren, Kristina Peterson and Natalie Andrews write that the next draft “is still set to include several party priorities, such as universal prekindergarten.” They add that according to a source, House Speaker
(D., Calif.) told House Democrats on Tuesday that Congress was on “the verge of something major.”
Let’s hope that sometime before enactment, Americans are able to learn what exactly that something is, given the enormity of the interventions Democrats are attempting into American life.
As for the pre-K plan, a New York Times report accurately described it as part of “a progressive dream for the nation’s education system.” Expanding government is the point. When critics point out disappointing results from various pre-K programs, advocates simply clarify that what they are building is “high-quality pre-K,” as if universal government programs are synonymous with high quality.
In 2017 the Brookings Institution assembled a task force of interdisciplinary scientists from various leading research universities to assess state-funded pre-K programs. The Brookings task force reported:
Convincing evidence on the longer-term impacts of scaled-up pre-k programs on academic outcomes and school progress is sparse, precluding broad conclusions. The evidence that does exist often shows that pre-k-induced improvements in learning are detectable during elementary school, but studies also reveal null or negative longer-term impacts for some programs.
In 2018 Early Childhood Research Quarterly published a paper by Vanderbilt researchers: “This study of the Tennessee Voluntary Pre-K Program (VPK) is the first randomized control trial of a state pre-k program.” The Vanderbilt team reported that while pre-K students in the program initially surpassed kids who didn’t go to pre-K across a battery of achievement tests, this advantage didn’t hold:
During the kindergarten year and thereafter, the control children caught up with the pre-k participants on those tests and generally surpassed them. Similar results appeared on the 3rd grade state achievement tests for the full randomized sample – pre-k participants did not perform as well as the control children.
In February of this year Max Eden wrote for the Manhattan Institute that for some children pre-K programs are not even useless—they may cause genuine harm given how young the kids are when they are moved out of the household and into a new setting:
These findings are consistent with—and likely partly explained by—recent advances in our understanding of neuroscience and child development. Studies suggest that many children exhibit higher levels of stress hormones—colloquially termed “toxic stress”—in child-care environments than they do at home, which could leave a lasting physical impact on their brain architecture.
Such concerns may not necessarily deter Mr. Sanders given his ideological commitment to central planning. Pre-K is just one part of a larger plan for the federal government to be involved in child care from the earliest ages. But voters may want to urge their elected representatives to pause before initiating this Sanders revolution.
Mr. Eden writes:
The most representative and rigorous research on early childhood interventions does not suggest that additional investment would yield great benefits. Indeed, it provides good reason to believe that the opposite is true: additional investment may come at a substantial cost to the next generation.
The Quebec Family Policy provides the closest analogue to what we might expect if America were to make a similar commitment to universal child care. For children in two-parent households, the results were rather grim: deterioration in parenting practices, deterioration in children’s behavior, and long-term harm to their health and life satisfaction.
A Father’s Advice
On a much more positive note, here comes the story of how the rock band Journey created an enduring hit. The Journal’s Marc Myers quotes Journey’s Jonathan Cain:
Everything was caving in on me in 1977. I had my own band in Los Angeles, but our record deal fell through. I also couldn’t get to first base as a singer-songwriter, my dog got hit by a car and needed surgery, and my girlfriend, who lived with me and split the rent, left. I called my dad for a loan.
On the phone, I told him nothing was working out and that maybe I should just give up on music. He wouldn’t hear of it. He said, “Your blessing is right around the corner. Sit tight. Don’t be discouraged. And don’t come home to Chicago. Don’t stop believing.”
James Freeman is the co-author of “The Cost: Trump, China and American Revival.”
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