Warning: All-Day Kindergarten Investment Scam



September 22, 2009

By Helen Ward, President, Kids First Parent Association of Canada 

BC proposes spending over $150 million on all-day kindergarten and hopes to include 3 year olds, while cutting funds for school repairs and sports. Deficit? No worries! The more you spend the more you save! The Human Early Learning Partnership (HELP) claims we can save over $400 billion with such steps towards “eliminating early vulnerability.”      

But John Stossel on ABC’s 20/20 exposed such promises as a “scam”. Nobel prize-winning economist James Heckman would agree. He says, “Advocates and supporters of universal preschool often use existing research for purely political purposes.”  (Like deficit distraction?) “The solid evidence for the effectiveness of early interventions is limited to those conducted on disadvantaged populations,” and “None of this evidence supports universal preschool programs.”

However, in recent Vancouver Sun items HELP abuses Heckman’s prestige, implying that he supports their agenda.

In an apparent conflict of interest, government pays for HELP’s propaganda. Taxes fund HELP to spread policy demands province-wide, often including free dinner, even breakfast at the Pan Pacific. HELP envisions little children filling “underutilized classroom space” in “wrap around” daycare-kindergarten.   

World Bank consultant and self-described “technocrat”, Clyde Hertzman, heads HELP and drives the agenda. Unknown to parents, he is a government-grant guru to others.  

Does early learning require this social mega-project? No. Has mass daycare, preschool, all-day kindergarten — whatever it’s labelled – ever saved any nation a penny, let alone delivered spin-doctorates’ utopia? No.  The hard evidence – as opposed to speculations of ideologues – shows harm rather than lasting benefits. Hertzman himself writes for Statistics Canada, “Pro-social behaviour scores were lowest for children in licensed daycare and highest for children in unregulated home care and relative care.” Elsewhere he concludes: “[P]articipating in early childhood care and education programs and services … had little direct association with children’s home and school outcomes in kindergarten.”

The claims of fantastical “investment” returns derive from small-scale “interventions” dating back to 1962 assisting underprivileged inner-city children and their mothers. By adulthood, some participants had fewer arrests and higher wages, fueling the hypothesis $17.07 was saved for every $1 spent. 

But these miscalculations ignore huge capital, bureaucracy and training costs of universal systems.  Proponents don’t mention that only programs which intensely involved mothers produced lasting benefits. These mums had welfare support, not workfare McJobs. “Welfare reform”  – which Hertzman writes about supportively – destroyed that.

Let us not fall into the trap of allowing these small-scale experiments to distract attention from the little-publicized results of real large-scale systems:

In Quebec, increased illness and behaviour problems since mass daycare was spawned there were documented by economists in a prize-winning study published in the prestigious Journal of Political Economy. On reading this, Hertzman (who will speak at the Vancouver Peace Summit) turned bully, calling the authors “zombies” conducting “statistical malpractice,” causing “much confusion and mischief.” His World Bank colleague, Fraser Mustard, called the report “chicken shit” and the authors “screwed up” in Senate hearings. Yet even proponents admit the care is not “high quality”. Christa Japel of the Université de Montréal found 73% of daycare children in “minimal” or worse care.

What about Sweden’s system? Academic scores have plummeted. Canadians easily outperform Swedish teens on OECD exams. The government reports “unintended consequences” for daycare: too few staff, learning problems, “inadequate” facilities. And that’s at $27,000 per child! Instead of promised equality, women experience increased domestic violence and are concentrated in low-pay jobs. Rather than reduced crime, the government states, “psychological problems are increasing among young people and women…. Violence is also an increasing problem.” Youth suicide has “risen dramatically.”

What HELP is foisting upon us is the World Bank’s  “business imperative” for children and the related “integration” agenda of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

“Integration”? It sounds innocuous, but the real translation is: get parents away from kids. The OECD spells it out: we are in “transition” from the “ideology of the family” to a “new order.” This “paradigm shift” includes “deep changes in societies in general and in the family’s structure in particular … a review of the family-state relationship regarding the responsibility for the care and education of children.” “Professionalize care”, subsidize it to make it cheap so it acts as a “low wage subsidy”, raise taxes to pay for it, flood the cheap labour supply with parents.  A popular ECE textbook sees programs in Bolshevik terms as “the vanguard in promoting” new values about family.

Unsurprisingly, this “new order” of old-style state-intervention is not marketable in a democracy. So, with HELP, this agenda is sold by re-branding institutional child care as “learning,” by spinning McJobs for cash-and-time-stressed parents as “gender equity,” and labeling the package “work/life balance”. 

Want bang for the invested early learning bucks? Scrap HELP and all-day kindergarten. Empower parents: fund families.

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