February 24th, 2013
09:09 AM ET

The myth of America's social mobility

By Fareed Zakaria

Some of the criticism of Obama's program has come from people who worry about the government’s track record in early childhood education. They point to Head Start, the long-standing program that provides this education to disadvantaged children. The Department of Health and Human Services released a study of Head Start in 2010, which was updated in 2012, that concludes that the program’s positive effects begin to fade within a few years. This has led many to call it a failure and urge the government not to throw good money after bad.

But critics are jumping to conclusions about a very complicated subject without really understanding the study – or the limitations of social science research. Three scholars from the University of Chicago and University of California, Davis, have painstakingly explained why it is premature to reject Head Start. They note that many factors may have intervened to erode the early gains in scores. For example, there have been sharp rises in single parent families, rises in non-English-speaking households, and rises in severe health problems like childhood obesity and diabetes. Most important, some studies show that though test scores level out, children who have been through early education do better in their professional lives.

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  1. Blue

    There are many ways the program could be revamped. For instance, if a child is already in daycare, they should be receiving the same instruction. It's a big waste of money and time to send them to another location to learn the same thing that is already being taught where they are and that is already being paid for. If they are not in daycare, then they need to be, so the parent can work and get off all assistance. The only ones that would truly qualify is the kids of disabled people.

    February 26, 2013 at 11:07 am | Reply
  2. NorCalMojo

    Hard to believe this guy still has a column.

    Has he ever been right?

    February 26, 2013 at 12:32 pm | Reply
  3. MK54

    For some people, it's always about money, and they are always against spending that doesn't result in short term personal, tangible financial gain. This group tends to avoid long term investment, education and doing something just because it is the right thing to do. They often believe they are the hardest working members of society, but do they ever step back to ponder just what sort of world they are working so hard to create?

    February 26, 2013 at 2:20 pm | Reply
  4. Tea Party Patriot

    A growing number of us are convinced that Sarah Palin is the only one who can heal and re-unify our country. But first she must return to her motorhome and resume her cross country tour. She will have to visit cities both large and small, being careful to speak only to real Americans, dispensing her sage advice and folksy, homespun common sense solutions. We can be a great nation again if we all follow the "Palin Path".

    February 26, 2013 at 2:32 pm | Reply
  5. Ron

    Ah here I find people again complaining about spending their tax dollars to aid in educating, providing nutrition and helping with health problems of others. Well, I guess you would rather theh bad nutrition and health problems have more on the streets foraging for survival from trash cans. Or those without educations unable to work. Better yet round them up and put rthem all in prison so instead of only havibng somewhat over 25% of the wortld's incarcerated we vcan have over half.

    The system certainly is not perfect. But as for myself, I rather correct problems early on than take the consequences.

    Oh, and as for myself. I decided never have children early in life and never have. Employment wise, I have done well. But I was raised in a state orphanage, wghere by rights I had always been told I would have a future as a criminal, drug using alcoholic with a string of children I could not support. @Well, though no children of my own. I voluntarily support about 250 children in 4 countries And am in process of relocating to one of those other countries where people are not as greedy, self serving and condemning of others as are Americans. I also add that I am ashamed of my military service and especially that in Vietnam to serve the likes of what Americans are. As Mohatma Ghandi once said when told of Christians: "What a wonderful religion. I would like to meet one." Yeah, Christians are hypocrites. All talk and no action. I became an Atheist when I was 6 It is this life that counts, not some fantasy after. So I will do all
    I can do to better it and in the location most beneficial. Again, the reason I am permanently leaving the US.

    February 26, 2013 at 3:06 pm | Reply
  6. Stephen

    Mr. Zakaria refers to many socio-economic ills that are bedeviling American society. These are serious problems that he believes should be considered before Head Start is targeted. But, these problems have been around for a very long time and Head Start was created while these socio-economic difficulties were already on-going. Since Head Start is not successfully educationally compensating for these on-going difficulties, and since these socio-economic problems are not going to disappear any time soon, then Head Start might continue to remain ultimately unproductive in its current form.

    Some form of educational compensation or counter-acting force may be necessary due to these problems that could actually worsen as time progresses, but Head Start might not be the answer, anymore; perhaps, it never was the solution. But, it was a good faith effort. It may now need to be replaced by something else.

    Keep in mind that if these chronic socio-economic problems could be fixed, something like Head Start probably wouldn't be needed as much. The real problem doesn't lie with Head Start, anyway; it lies with the existence of these chronic societal problems which caused programs like Head Start to be designed and implemented.

    Steve

    February 26, 2013 at 4:56 pm | Reply
  7. Jerry Okamura

    What is more important, being among the first leaving the starting line, or crossing the finish line, even if you were the last to leave the starting line?

    February 26, 2013 at 5:03 pm | Reply
  8. AC

    The logical falacy here is that the failure of head start is attributed to other things, such as family structure and limited English proficiency households, then shouldn't those be fixed first? If we keep spending on head start without fixing the reason for the failure of the program then the program will fail no matter how much time we give it.

    February 27, 2013 at 1:26 am | Reply
  9. Adalberto Cervantes Rodriguez

    Economically Mexico is better than China and India with all their IT technology, why?
    According with Thomas L. Friedman, Mexico will be a super dominant economic power during the 21st century. The true it is that there are more economists in Mexico than in China and India together, and they are working and protecting their own socialist and communist Mexican monopolies over the Mexican citizen’s incomes, they do not care to have more Mexicans living in poverty but they are protecting the Forbes richest men in the world. Our backyard is owned by the Forbes richest men in the world and they know how to make business with USA, legally and illegally, atypical or no atypical business. Their businesses are well protected with money received of Mexican citizen taxes (PEMEX among others), this is happening for years in Mexico.
    China and India are discovering that some years ago, and using Mexico as a bridge to the American businesses, it is easier; it is not a surprise that the Mexican politicians are receiving a lot of bribes to do the job well done, break easily US laws, and get in the American market. It is easier that move directly to the American market in which laws are stricter. They can move people, money, items, everything. They are also using Mexico as a bridge to get into LATAM countries.
    Mexico has all the free trade agreements that you can image, and USA is its neighbor, all the countries looking to get into the American market or LATAM markets, Mexican politicians waiting for bribes to make it easier, they do not care if they destroy their own Mexican industry if there is business involved. The true is than no country will compete with Mexico easily in this particular communist and socialist Mexican way of doing businesses.

    February 27, 2013 at 8:51 am | Reply
  10. Steve

    According to the book, Outliers, the problem with American schools is that there isn't enough of it. The large achievement gap between lower socio-economic group children and middle and upper-class children occurs during the summer breaks. During the school year, the poorer kids learn as much or more than the richer kids, but fall behind in the summer. In the summer, the poorer kids watch TV or play all day while the richer kids are forced by parents to read books, write stories, take extra classes and go to museums. Perhaps the achievement gap can be closed by longer school years or offering free summer school to children of low income families.

    February 27, 2013 at 9:36 am | Reply
  11. TM

    I am all for each state paying their own way! That means states like mine would stop having to pay for the needs of other states. But.. wait ... as it turns out, of the top ten states that receive Federal money, most are Red states! It looks the blue states are the ones footing the bill for the Red States! Well then – on that note, since I'm from a VERY Blue state, I think it is only best that we give the Red states exactly what they want – no Federal Taxes and no Federal Dollars!

    I wonder how long it will take for the Red states to start screaming about the rest of needing to help them out. All we have to do is wait to see how this latest Blizzard affects them. I wonder which one is going to scream for Federal Emergency funding first – Oklahoma? MO? Wyoming? What would they do if we answered them the same way they answered the Sandy Victims in NJ?

    February 27, 2013 at 9:38 am | Reply
  12. TM

    Of the 22 states that went to McCain in 2008, 86 percent received more federal spending than they paid in taxes in 2010. In contrast, 55 percent of the states that went to Obama received more federal spending than they paid in taxes. Republican states, on average, received $1.46 in federal spending for every tax dollar paid; Democratic states, on average, received $1.16.

    Let the Sequester Begin.

    February 27, 2013 at 9:41 am | Reply
  13. Chris

    As someone who was raised in real poverty, not todays definition of poverty which is anyone who doesn't have an iphone 5 and a 50 inch HD TV, and took personal responsbility to pay for my education (tuition) via military service, and then worked full time (to pay rent an otehr bills) while going to college full time, to eventially getting a six figure a year job I , the idea that upward mobility is somehow gone is simply fallacious.

    Yes, people do need a helping hand on occassion. But there is a difference between that and a permanent state of dependency, with no acceptance of personal responsibility for ones fate.

    Yes, we do live in a village and should be helping our family, friends, neighbors, congregation when it is needed. There is a big difference between that supporting societies leeches ,who want to live a lifetime off other people, through the force of taxation of those who work as opposed to vote.

    February 27, 2013 at 4:55 pm | Reply
  14. dclayt1

    Is Fareed's accent Indian or Pakistani? Why should anyone listen to a n00b from third world country?

    February 28, 2013 at 11:14 am | Reply
  15. Ted

    Wow! If the previous comments represent a true cross section of US society, it's no wonder we cant agree on a way forward.
    Going back to the original story by Fareed, maybe we should redirect Head Start money into programs that teach parenting skills. That seems to be where the real problem is.

    March 1, 2013 at 9:15 am | Reply
  16. KEVIN

    If Headstart is closed down, it will have profound negative consequences on our society. But however, in order for headstart to acuate anything, it needs to be profoundly re-structured and supervised

    March 3, 2013 at 1:14 pm | Reply
  17. KEVIN

    There are alway at least two sides to every issue. As with any country, the US choses a side. But there are other international sides to the US stance. The other sides of any issue that is contrary to US policy MUST be OBJECTIVELY explained. Explaing the positive aspects of a side that is contrary to US policy is NOT a threat to the US. (Fareed is the only journalist who will explain the positive rationalization of the other side that is contrary to US policy)

    March 3, 2013 at 1:57 pm | Reply
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