Parents as Teachers: A Middle-Class Entitlement
This article in the Kansas City Star celebrates the Parents as Teachers Program, and the fact that it makes no effort to focus on people who really need help:
Saturday marked the 25th anniversary of legislation in 1984 that forced all Missouri school districts to offer the experimental Parents as Teachers program to families living in their boundaries.
Not just to targeted families. Not just for low-income families. But any family in every district.
Maybe you’re thinking, “So what if it’s not targeted by law? Probably disadvantaged families are more likely than others to sign up.” Think again. Better yet, read the statistics from last year’s Parents as Teachers Program in the Columbia Public Schools. About 36 percent of participating parents were from low-income households. (I’m assuming they counted one parent per family. If they counted more than one parent per family, the percentage was smaller.) Only 12 percent mainly spoke a language other than English, and a tiny 5 percent were teen parents.
Parents as Teachers sends out teachers to read and play with kids, most of whom don’t need any intervention at all. We see a similar pattern across a variety of social programs: Middle-class parents are good at finding educational opportunities for their kids, and they crowd out families that need the help. Legislators write eligibility rules and income limits into laws to prevent this, but no such language found its way into the formulation of Parents as Teachers. So the program continues to grow, using tax dollars to entertain middle-class kids and do things their pediatricians could do just as well (like screening for vision and hearing problems).
However, some experts disagree with my analysis and argue that everyone needs Parents as Teachers:
“I’m supposed to be a world authority (on child development), but when we brought my son home from the hospital, I didn’t know what to do. We all need this service.”
Perhaps all parents could benefit, but not all parents need to receive the service for free. World authorities who are paid commensurately with their vast knowledge need to hire their own pediatricians and early childhood educators.
And then there’s the argument that open eligibility removes any stigma from the program, allowing the neediest parents to participate without feeling uncomfortable. There may be some truth to that — but keeping the program open to all imposes a tremendous cost on taxpayers, who have to spend more than $1,000 for each family visited by Parents as Teachers. Removing a stigma isn’t worth that expense.