James V. Shuls, Ph.D.
What do Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon and Commissioner of Education Chris Nicastro have in common?

Regarding early childhood education, both are absolutely wrong. The governor has made early childhood education part of his platform. Nicastro has stated she is “very encouraged” about this because “the research is very clear” that early childhood education improves educational outcomes.

There is just one problem with that, the research is not very clear. In fact, as the Wall Street Journal just pointed out, “since its creation as part of the War on Poverty in 1965, nearly 30 million children have participated in Head Start at a taxpayer cost of more than $180 billion. The problem is that by the government’s own reckoning the program has never achieved what it promises.”

In the most recent, rigorous federally funded evaluation of Head Start, they found that any positive gains had disappeared by third grade.

If the governor and commissioner really want to follow the research and improve educational outcomes for students, I suggest they look at another federally funded evaluation. The Evaluation of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program, a voucher program, found that students who used a voucher were significantly more likely to graduate from high school.

Other studies have found similar results. An evaluation of a New York City voucher program declared that “using a voucher to attend a private school increased the overall college enrollment rate among African Americans by 24%.”

Add these to a growing list of rigorous voucher evaluations that have shown positive results. Moreover, not a single study of vouchers has found significant negative effects.

Gov. Nixon called investing in early childhood education a “smart investment.” The real smart investment would be to provide families with more educational options, including private schools.

About the Author

James Shuls
James Shuls

James V. Shuls is an assistant professor of educational leadership and policy studies at the University of Missouri–St. Louis and Distinguished Fellow in Education Policy at the Show-Me Institute.