Lesson learned from a former Head Start Teacher: Government is Not the Answer!
Recently I read an article last week titled, “Federalizing 4-Year-Olds” in CNS News. It was a great commentary on the negative aspect of the Obama administration’s plan to spend billions of dollars on universal government early education. Obama outlined his plan to boost spending toward early education in his most recent State of the Union address:
“In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children…studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, form more stable families of their own. We know this works. So let’s do what works and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind.”
This sounds wonderful except studies have proven that government-funded early education does not work. In fact, these studies were done by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Two Head Start Impact Studies tracked outcomes of first-graders and third-graders who attended the early education program. Both studies proved that there was little to no positive effects on the children who participated in the program in cognitive, social-emotional, health, and parenting outcomes. I believe this study has accurate results. How do I know? I was a government paid Head Start teacher and I witnessed first-hand why government intervention to help our youngest children is not effective.
Let’s start with the overall objective of government-funded early education. In the case of the Head Start program, it was started under Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Great Society” and was intended to boost the education of disadvantaged children before they started elementary school. I believe in the objective of providing early learning environments to children who may not have the opportunity to be exposed to age-appropriate early education development. In fact, as a young newly certified teacher I was eager to play the important role of teaching the 4-year-olds under my care all the necessary curriculum to give them a “head start” for their educational future. However, I quickly learned the Head Start program does not live up to its name but is merely another government funded handout instead of a hands-up towards our youngest citizens.
I admit, I was hired as a very new teacher eager to somehow “give back” all the opportunities I was afforded in my upbringing. The college I attended prepared me thoroughly in how to teach and implement lesson plans and like many new college graduates, I thought my diploma and certification somehow entitled me to know more than the parents of the children I taught. I quickly learned how very naïve I was to think just because a child or family was disadvantaged by economic circumstances that somehow that made me an educational expert. A philosophy our own government seems to hold in that they are the experts in raising and educating our children. That lesson I learned fairly quickly and I believe it set me on the road to my conservative principles today.
The lessons I learned as a Head Start teacher helped me understand why government intervention is not the answer for our disadvantaged children. The bottom line for any government program is funding and to meet that funding need the rules and guidelines of a program outweigh the needs of the people that it intends to help or service. This is the nature of government programs in general and the bottom line is always money.
As a teacher, I was bogged down with forms and meticulous notes that were required for government documentation instead of working on creative lesson plans to boost the learning development of my students. I was given petty guidelines for my classroom, such as how high my posters were to be placed on the walls instead of real feedback on my teaching progress with my students and families. My instructional days were filled with social skills that I was required to teach to my students that should have been encouraged for parents to teach at home. My objective of teaching cognitive skills like math, early phonetics, and providing a rich literature-based environment to boost the abilities of my students, was not what I was hired for. In fact, multiple times I was discouraged by leadership in trying to step up the program in curriculum needs. There was an underlining sense that the students and families in the program had to be taught down instead of being taught up to. It was a philosophy that I strongly disagreed with and it proved effective only in keeping the doors of the program open and not in helping the families overcome obstacles to a better life.
Both my personal experience and outcome studies prove that government should not be in the business of teaching preschoolers. But instead of reforming an already ineffective program like Head Start, the Obama administration plans to increase spending by billions of dollars for early education to include newborns to five year-olds. “I think there still needs to be a great understanding of what the president has put on the table is really birth-five proposal, recognizing that you can’t start at 4-year-olds”, stated HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius at the National Press Club last April. How interesting that this aligns with the Common Core Standards that are being forced upon public schools by educational mandates.
Our government wants to not only be in the business of educating our children but in parenting them as well. Our tax dollars are being used to take away the rights of parents to raise their own children because so-called government experts feel they know better how to raise them for us. If there is to be any solution it should come from funding that is directed to the state and to communities that know first-hand the needs of their children and families. The goal of any early childhood program is to promote the family unit and give tools to families to raise and help educate their own children. As a former federally paid teacher, I strongly believe that government is not the answer but parents, no matter what their circumstances, are the experts in raising and educating their children.