Posted by | March 6, 2011 09:18 | Filed under: Top Stories

by Stuart Shapiro

The chart at right comes from a recent paper by noted economist James Heckman.  The point is, once a child reaches his or her third birthday, there is little improvement in his or her test scores.  Kids with moms with more education do better than kids with less.  So many of the debates on education policy may be misguided.  As Kevin Drum summarizes:

Heckman argues that these achievement gaps—between black and white, between rich and poor—are today less the result of overt discrimination than they are of skill gaps that open up very early in life and persist in the face of a wide variety of both good and bad schools. What’s more, these gaps aren’t purely, or even mainly, the result of differences in cognitive ability. At least equally important are soft skills: “motivation, sociability (the ability to work with and cooperate with others), attention, self regulation, self esteem, the ability to defer gratification and the like.” . . .

Intensive, early interventions, by contrast, genuinely seem to work. They aren’t cheap, and they aren’t easy. And they don’t necessarily boost IQ scores or get kids into Harvard. But they produce children who learn better, develop critical life skills, have fewer problems in childhood and adolescence, commit fewer crimes, earn more money, and just generally live happier, stabler, more productive lives. If we spent $50 billion less on K-12 education—in both public and private money—and instead spent $50 billion more on early intervention programs, we’d almost certainly get a way bigger bang for the buck.

As the father of two children who have passed their third birthdays, the idea of washing my hands of worrying about them is attractive (kidding!!!).  However, while I agree with the point that we vastly underfund efforts at care and education of smaller children, the conclusion that educational programs dedicated to older children are akin to pushing a boulder uphill doesn’t quite feel right.

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By: Alan

Alan Colmes is the publisher of Liberaland.