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Fareed Zakaria “But, first, here’s my take. With big budget cuts looming, it might seem crazy to talk about new spending, but let me try anyway. Here is a plea for a tiny, but vital increase in federal spending.

In his State of the Union Address, President Obama proposed to expand early childhood education for children from poor families. This is an important idea that could begin to help redress a huge problem in America, the lack of economic mobility.

America has long been seen as the place where anyone can make it. And yet over studies from the past two decades all point to a different reality. Economic mobility in the U.S. is low compared with what it was in times past and with current levels in many European countries and Canada.

You hear all about rags-to-riches stories, but they are the exceptions. A comprehensive study by the Pew Economic Mobility Project documents that in the U.S. today, few poor people become even upper middle class.

Now some of the criticism of President Obama’s program has come from people who worry about the government’s track record in the area of 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, which concludes that its positive effects begin to fade within a few years. This has led many to call the program a failure and urge the government not to throw good money after bad.

But people 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 at Davis, painstakingly explained why it is premature to reject Head Start. They note that many factors may have intervened to erode the early gains in test 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.

The more we learn about neuroscience, the clearer it becomes that the human brain develops much sooner than we had believed so early stimulation and education can be highly effective.

Look at the data from the rest of the world. A 2012 report from the OECD studying data from 34 rich countries concludes that early- childhood education “improves children’s cognitive abilities, helps to create a foundation for lifelong learning, makes learning outcomes more equitable, reduces poverty and improves social mobility from generation to generation.”

In many rich countries, 90 percent of 3-year-olds get early childhood education. The average for 4-year-olds is 81 percent. In the U.S., it is only 69%, and those children tend to be from middle- and upper- middle-class families.

American government set the pace for education in the past 150 years. We’ve been the first country to offer mass education anywhere. That lead is now gone.

Obama’s proposals will help the U.S. start to catch up in the great struggle for high-quality human capital that is going to define the new century.”

http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/1302/24/fzgps.01.html

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