"We will restore science to its rightful place ... " So intoned a "dismissive and derisive" President Barack Obama in his first inaugural. It's been oft quoted in the five years since (frequently by me, I'll confess) for its arrogance and condescension, which has continuing relevance, but before turning to the left's latest departure from scientific rigor, I cannot resist a fuller quotation. The second part of this sentence from Obama's first inaugural reads " ... and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost." Hmm.
In his second inaugural (compared to Abraham Lincoln's second by Chris Matthews), Obama proposed a vast new program ($150 billion in combined federal and state funds) for universal preschool serving 4-year-olds. "Every dollar we invest in high-quality early childhood education can save more than $7 later on -- by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime ... We know this works."
Universal preschool is universally popular with Democrats. Nancy Pelosi has hailed Head Start as "one of our most effective investments," while the newly minted progressive heartthrob New York mayor, Bill de Blasio, proclaims, "We will ask the very wealthy to pay a little more in taxes so that we can offer full-day universal pre-K and after-school programs for every middle school student."
Before getting to science, let's talk politics. The federal government already runs a preschool program called Head Start. Democrats love it because they can claim to be doing something beneficial for poor children. Republicans decline to oppose it because they fear ads saying "Rep. X wants to deny education to poor children ... "
Now, let's talk science. Head Start, a product of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society, has been carefully evaluated by the Administration for Children and Families within the Department of Health and Human Services. The study examined 4,667 3- and 4-year-olds across 23 states. It compared children who had applied for but not been accepted into Head Start to those who had participated in it. The children were evaluated by their teachers, parents and outside examiners both before and after. As David Armor and Sonia Sousa relate in the winter issue of National Affairs, the Head Start Impact Study found almost no positive effects of the program.