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Funding for Early Childhood Education

From last year:

Dear Massachusetts Lawmakers,

As you consider the FY16 budget, we, the undersigned economists, would ask you to increase available funding for early childhood education.

High quality early childhood education elevates the quality of the workforce; children who have had this education experience an improvement in their cognitive, social and behavioral skills, which allow them to make greater contributions when they enter the workforce.

The 85 economist signatories included from Williams: Roger Bolton, Ralph Bradburd, Sarah Jacobson, David Love, Peter J. Montiel, Greg Phelan, Michael Samson, John Sheahan, Anand Swamy and David Zimmerman. Alas, there is almost zero evidence for this claim. Consider a recent summary from those right-wing (!) loons at Brookings:

State investments in center-based school readiness programs for preschoolers (pre-K), whether targeted for poor children or universally implemented, have expanded more rapidly than evaluations of their effects. Given the current interest and continuing expansion of state funded pre-K, it is especially important to be clear about the nature of the available evidence for the effectiveness of such programs. Despite widespread claims about proven benefits from pre-K, there is actually strikingly little credible research about the effectiveness of public pre-K programs scaled for statewide implementation.

More background from the Washington Post here. Comments:

1) The underlying organization, Massachusetts Fair Share, seems fairly hard left, or at least Bernie Sanders socialist left. Is that a reasonable characterization?

2) The Economics Department has a (correct?) reputation as being the least politically liberal department at Williams. That is a standard situation at liberal arts colleges since economists are more likely than other PhD’s of being skeptical progressive ideas like single-payer health care and much more aware of concepts like opportunity cost.

3) Anyone else surprised to see old bulls like Bolton and Bradburd on this list? Maybe they really are fans of the Mass government spending more money on pre-K and, therefore, less on other worthy item X. Or maybe their signatures are more a polite nod to faculty colleague who was lobbying them for the cause. If so, which Williams faculty member is most heavily involved in Massachusetts Fair Share? My first (uncharitable?) guess would be Michael Samson.

4) Interesting to see Dukes Love involved with this. Hope he is more evidence-based when it comes to his new job as Provost!

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#1 Comment By simplicio On April 26, 2016 @ 9:17 am

The link from point 3 is remarkable: the comments (from ten years ago) were contentious, erudite, and amazingly civil over post detailing a case from the 90s where Williams professors brought speakers from a bizarre far left cult to campus. And not just for an optional talk, but to their classes to browbeat students into signing up to be on the cults mailing. A cult that actually harmed three Williams students. And apparently Robert Novak, the Prince of Darkness, was also allowed to come to campus? This bit of history about harmful speech on campus seems too good to be true.

#2 Comment By student On April 26, 2016 @ 10:02 am

If the preschool programs studied in Tennessee didn’t produce exceptional results, then we need to support better programs, not abandon the idea completely. If we really believe in the free market and the American meritocratic system then we need to give everyone a chance to achieve success. We shouldn’t allow one’s zip-code to determine their educational outcomes nor should we allow them to come into kindergarten behind. Education is one of the prototypical public goods that government actually should be focusing on, this is why we have government in the first place!