Basketball, Pre-K, and Texas

“To argue that Mayor Castro’s preschool plan won’t work because research found Head Start had small effects is like arguing that the San Antonio Spurs can’t win an NBA championship because you have seen the [NCAA-Division III] Trinity Tigers play. It’s the wrong comparison and completely misleading.” – Steve Barnett

That magnificent analogy up there from my boss made me pretty happy not just for its vivid imagery, but for making a point we struggle to make sometimes: Head Start and high-quality publicly-funded pre-K are not the same things. Opponents of publicly-funded early ed (or, sometimes, early ed in general, but I prefer not to give them much credence) often point to studies that show a Head Start “fade out” as evidence against early education. For one thing, those studies aren’t really saying Head Start is ineffective, and for another, the programs aren’t all that comparable. Head Start is hugely important in preparing disadvantaged kids for school and life, but it focuses on not just academic issues (just look at the fact that it’s operated by Health and Human Services, and not the Department of Education), but also physical well-being, health, and parent education classes. Academic success is only one measure, and you’re a little bit crazy if you think that’s the only thing on which the program should be judged.

This particular quote came from a great piece on the proposed pre-K program in San Antonio, Texas–voters in November will decide whether a 1/8th cent sales tax to fund the program is an investment they’re ready to make. You can also check out Steve Barnett’s op-ed this week on the economic case for this program. The vote on this pre-K program has been pretty big news on the field over the last few months, but it got a huge bump last week when San Antonio’s awesome/charismatic/vibrant mayor Julian Castro name-dropped it in his DNC keynote. Early care and education policy generally gets addressed at the state level, but San Antonio is one of a handful of large U.S. cities making strides on aligning services for kids and families, as you can read about in this recent National League of Cities report.

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