On my Saturday radio show on 103.9 FM (2:00 to 4:00 p.m.), I discussed with my guests the latest craze – universal Pre-Kindergarten.
The President, Governor and Mayor have been tripping over themselves to prove they are more pro-child than the other by pushing this new mandate. The President never said how he’d pay for it. The Mayor wants to raise taxes and the Governor wants to borrow $2 billion for related equipment.
But did anyone examine if Pre-K even works – let alone whether it’s worth $1.5 billion a year in New York? The evidence is inconclusive, with one study finding that if there are any gains they are washed out by the fourth grade. A review of Tennessee’s program concluded that children going through the program do not necessarily have a leg up on those who do not. So, after all the years of investing in order to lift youngsters out of poverty, there is little to show for it. The poverty rate today is the same percentage it was before these type of programs started..
I brought this up to my more Left-leaning guest, who insisted that it was a worthy investment and any leveling off by fourth grade should be countered with even more programs thereafter. One woman calling in agreed with me noting that the cost of all these unproven programs are taxing her out of her home. My guests then asked why the woman complained if she would be getting it for free? That comment exposed the naiveté of so many well-intentioned “government can cure all” folks. The point is: it’s not free; we pay for it through higher taxes.
We’ve fallen behind much of the world in education, and to catch up many are blindly calling for year-round school, 10-hour days and Pre-K. But somehow, it wasn’t long ago when we had the best educational system without any of these things. We had real standards, no social promotions and a sense of classroom discipline. Today, too many teachers unfortunately have to fear their students and/or the students’ parents.
Amy Chua, author of Tiger Mom, notes how some cultures disproportionately succeed in education because they are pressured at home to excel and control their impulses. Another wise pundit noted how in China, Bill Gates is seen by kids as an icon like Britney Spears, yet here in America he’s just another rich nerd.
Throwing good money after bad isn’t always the solution. Proponents of universal Pre-K should demand proof of success before agreeing to divert funds from other more productive areas. Changing attitudes at home and restoring discipline is much wiser than spending $1.5 billion on a program that apparently doesn’t work.
Steve Levy is President of Common Sense Strategies, a political and business consulting firm. He served as Suffolk County Executive 2004-2011, and as a NYS Assemblyman