Writing in today's Wall Street Journal, Eric A. Hanushek and Paul E. Peterson, senior fellows at Stanford's Hoover Institution, say that, despite the federal government's having spent $500 billion (in 2017 dollars) on compensatory education and an additional $250 on Head Start, education gaps between socioeconomic classes have not narrowed.
Hanushek and Peterson have tracked achievement gaps between the haves and have nots in a new study and they conclude that the gaps are about the same as before the War on Poverty. The study reports:
Contrary to recent perceptions, we find the opportunity gap—that is, the relationship between socioeconomic status and achievement—has not grown over the past 50 years. But neither has it closed. Instead, the gap between the haves and have-nots has persisted.
The stubborn endurance of achievement inequalities suggests the need to reconsider policies and practices aimed at shrinking the gap. Although policymakers have repeatedly tried to break the link between students’ learning and their socioeconomic background, these interventions thus far have been unable to dent the relationship between socioeconomic status and achievement. Perhaps it is time to consider alternatives.
Hanushek and Peterson say that it is beyond the scope of their study to suggest ways to change policy to more effectively narrow the gap. They are merely reporting on the gap, an indication that our current policies aren't working.
Changing the system won't be easy.
As IWF's Carrie Lukas reported as far back as 2012, data indicates that Head Start, which is the largest pre-school program in the U.S., doesn't boost children's cognitive skills in 41 measures and that some first grade teachers found Head Start youngsters less prepared than non-Head Start kids with the same socio-economic status.
Yet Head Start remains sacrosanct, as do most of the War on Poverty programs.