Federal Legislation
February 9, 2009

S. 206—Early Education of 2009

Action Requested:
No action is requested at this time. HSLDA is monitoring this legislation and will send out updates as the bill moves through Congress.

Summary:
This bill proposes a federal program for early education, beginning the year before kindergarten. HSLDA is strongly concerned about the expanded level of governmental oversight this bill will introduce into a child’s early development.

Introduced: 1/12/2009: Referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions

Sponsor: Sen. Barbara Boxer (LA)

Bill Summary and Status S. 206:

HSLDA’s Position:
Oppose.

Background:
S. 206 is based on findings that are taken grossly out of context. The conclusion would be to expand the federal government into the lives of children from an earlier age than ever. Creating a voluntary federal program “for all children”1 in the year before kindergarten, this bill threatens the place where early childhood must truly be nurtured: the home.

Early education’s effects are insignificant, and fade away beyond elementary school. In its findings, S. 206 claims that (according to evaluations) children who participate in early education programs “perform better on reading and mathematics achievement tests,” and “are more likely to…make normal academic progress throughout elementary school.”2 But when Head Start (the primary initiative of early education already in existence) was evaluated by a study from the Department of Health and Human Services, the evaluators concluded that the affects were insignificant and temporary. “Head Start children performed slightly (but non-significantly) better on achievement tests than their non-Head Start peers up to third grade,” the study said, “but there was no difference on achievement test scores from third to sixth grade.”3 Various other studies have delivered similar results.

Encouraging parents to abdicate responsibility. As the federal government expands its influence over child-development from an increasingly young age, early education encourages parents to abdicate their own responsibility for their small children. Moreover, this bill normalizes an intrusion that could easily become an expectation later on.

Early childhood development is important, but happens best in the home. S. 206 further says, “Research suggests that a child’s early years are critical to the development of the brain.”5 However, the most critical aspect of a child’s early brain development is social and emotional—helping her find her place in family and society—not academic. In a young child, the best context for this development is in the home. According to Dr. David Elkind, a psychologist at Tufts University, the risk of early institutionalization to

the child’s motivation, intellectual growth, and self-esteem could well do serious damage to the child's emerging personality. It is reasonable to conclude that the early instruction of young children derives more from the need and priorities of adults than from what we know of good pedagogy for young children.6

How much is too much? S. 206 imposes a minimum amount of time for early education (“not less than a half day each week day”), but never stipulates how many hours are too much for a young child. Surely for children in their year before kindergarten, commonsense limitations need to govern the serious expansion into child development at its earliest stages.

Conclusion:
S. 206 extends far beyond the traditional role government has played in children’s education, and turns toward government influence over child-development from its early stages. HSLDA strongly opposes any government attempt to institutionalize early education.

Notes

1. S. 206 (111th Congress), sec. 2

2. S. 206, 2(4)

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. S. 206, 2(2)

6. Elkind, David. “Making Healthy Educational Choices,” Miseducation: Pre-schoolers at Risk, 1987.

 Other Resources

The Heritage Foundation: “Does Universal Preschool Improve Learning? Lessons from Georgia and Oklahoma”

Cato Institute: “The Poverty of Preschool Promises Saving Children and Money with the Early Education Tax Credit” ( requires Adobe Acrobat Reader)