Part 1—Obama, Oklahoma and Georgia: In last week’s State of the Union Address, President Obama proposed “working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America.”

When the president made this proposal, he named two states which have been leading the way in this area. Within days, liberal “journalists” were helping us liberals find ways to deny what Obama had said:
OBAMA (2/12/13): Tonight, I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America. Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than seven dollars later on—by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime. In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children, like Georgia or Oklahoma, studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, and form more stable families of their own. So let's do what works, and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind. Let's give our kids that chance.
Say what? Oklahoma and Georgia have been making it a priority to educate our youngest children? Obama was urging the Congress to follow the lead of those states?

In yesterday’s Washington Post, Glenn Kessler noted that Obama may have overstated a tad concerning all those alleged studies. But Obama was saying nothing new in citing the work of those red states. Way back when, in 2004, Berkley professor David Kirp had written about “the universal preschool movement” in The American Prospect, one of our own liberal journals.

Kirp had pronounced the heresy then. We’ll offer these brief excerpts:
KIRP (10/17/04): But across the country, the universal preschool movement is thriving. Unlikely champions—among them a conservative Democratic governor, an ex-newspaper publisher, and a billionaire oilman—have become activists. The appeal is partly altruistic (for children, it's the right thing to do) and partly hard-nosed economics (for society, it's a surefire investment in the future).

What's most surprising is that bedrock Democratic states aren't in the vanguard. Instead, the national leaders are two socially conservative southern states, Georgia and Oklahoma.


The biggest success story is Oklahoma. The Sooner State is better known for its oil billionaires, football dynasties, and religious fundamentalists than for its social conscience. Yet largely because of the behind-the-scenes efforts of passionate bureaucrats, savvy state politicians, and public-spirited business leaders, Oklahoma ranks first in the nation in the proportion of 4-year-olds enrolled in pre-kindergarten classes. What's more, those classes meet stringent national standards for quality.
If we liberals gave a flying fig about low-income children, we might have known these noxious facts. But manifestly, we haven’t given that flying fig for several decades now.

And so it fell to Motoko Rich to repeat the bad news in last Thursday’s New York Times. In a lengthy report about early education in the various states, Rich discussed the leadership of Oklahoma and Georgia, just as Kirp did a decade ago. And she broke another bit of bad news, while acting like everything is OK:

Good God! According to Rich, Alabama is showing leadership in this area too:
RICH (2/14/13): According to W. Steven Barnett, director of the institute, which is based at Rutgers University, only five states, including Oklahoma and Georgia, have a stated objective of offering preschool slots to all 4-year-olds. While about 1.1 million students across the country are enrolled in federally financed Head Start programs and others attend private preschools, that still leaves millions of children on the sidelines.

The president's plan comes at a time when a handful of states are more aggressively pushing taxpayer-financed preschool.

In Alabama, for example, Gov. Robert Bentley, a Republican, has called for a $12.5 million increase—or more than 60 percent—in the state's preschool budget, with the eventual goal of increasing financing over 10 years to the point where every 4-year-old in the state could have a preschool slot.
Later, the news got worse. “Alabama is one of only five states whose preschool program received top marks based on an assessment of its quality standards by the National Institute for Early Education Research,” Rich reported. She noted that only 6 percent of Alabama’s 4-year-olds are currently enrolled in a state-financed preschool. But she ended her deeply unpleasant report in this noxious manner:
RICH: In Alabama, business leaders see the benefits of both educating future workers early and saving future potential spending on remedial schooling or prison cells.

“The evidence is, if we don’t make this investment and we don’t make it wisely,” said Bob Powers, president of a real estate and insurance company in Eufaula and chairman of the Education Workforce Development Committee of the Business Council of Alabama, “we’re going to pay for it later.”
The Business Council of Alabama! Meanwhile, for a beautiful photo, just click this. The photo shows Damien Fowler, 4 years of age, “playing a memory game with his teacher.” Warning: The young scholar is receiving his state-financed early education in Mobile, Alabama!

In the hard-copy Times, Rich’s report was accompanied by a graphic listing the eight states with more than fifty percent enrollment in state-financed “preschools.” (Why isn't preschool “school?”) Included were five which worship the devil on the state level: Florida, Oklahoma, Georgia, West Virginia and Texas. Among blue states, only piss-ant Vermont could compete with the Big Red Machines in Florida, Oklahoma and Georgia at the highest levels of participation. Jeb Bush's Florida leads the nation at 78 percent.

(On-line, the Times substitutes this more complex graphic about participation by state.)

As Kirp noted nine years ago, it may be surprising to find red states leading the way in this area. That said, Obama seemed happy to name Oklahoma and Georgia as states which are highly OK.

Elsewhere, major liberals didn’t seem happy with these unpleasant facts. This produced some comical reactions to the president’s proposal.

We liberals could have praised those red states for leading the way in the area. We even could have told some unpleasant truths about “the national movement for universal preschool.”

We could have acknowledged the vast indifference we liberals have shown toward this national movement, toward the needs of low-income children in general. We could have acknowledged that our own tribe’s decades of indifference have failed to pave the way for passage of this proposal.

We could have praised the “public-spirited business leaders” who have played leading roles in those red states (Kirp’s term). We could have pledged better outreach to the nation’s many doubters—to voters who presume that early education will be an expensive boondoggle.

We could have apologized for our decades of silence about early education, about low-income education in general.

About low-income children in general.

Needless to say, nothing like that has emerged from the liberal world’s “intellectual leaders.” Instead, these things have happened:

Our leaders have conned us with stupid reports denigrating Oklahoma’s program. They have let us pretend that our nation’s failure to provide early education is, at heart, a failure of the conservative world.

They have written silly reports in which we're encouraged to imagine that we liberals have fought the good fight in this area. And of course, they instantly fell in line behind Dear Leader’s stupendous proposal—after lifetimes in which they completely ignored the interests of low-income kids.

This week, we’ll show you how some of our liberal leaders behaved in the wake of Obama’s proposal. We’ll show you the way we liberals got schooled about preschool in the process.

As usual, we liberals have been treated like fools this past week. On cable TV, in newspaper columns, our leaders have misled us well.

Tomorrow: Brooks versus Collins (Gail Collins helps us pretend)


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  2. Since Mr. Somerby does not cite any actual evidence of liberals expressing surprise at the universal pre-K availability in these Red states, I am not clear about the source of his indignation here. Let's assume, though, that many liberals, especially those living in solidly Blue states, would indeed be surprised. Perhaps that would be because conservatives in Congress and conservative publications have long been hostile to Head Start and have loudly complained that all pre-K is an assault on the American family (see, for instance, the piece in the Sunday Times Week in Review on women's stalled progress). Liberals in Blue states hear those shrill conservative voices from national news sources constantly and are (understandably) less likely to hear news about Red state governors and legislatures quietly going about the business of creating universally available pre-K schools.

    The more interesting question is why more Blue states haven't undertaken the ambitious projects these Red states have. A few possible answers occur to me. The Blue states tend to be much wealthier than the Red, and the most influential, regularly voting liberals in the Blue states can afford to send their children to private pre-K schools, ignoring the needs of the less well-to-do in their midst. I suspect this is the real source of Mr. Somerby's outrage -- and he's right to feel outrage, to the extent better-off liberals actually do ignore the needs of those with far fewer resources. But it's not that simple.

    In Blue states like my own (MA), the state provides subsidies for children to attend private pre-K when their parents cannot afford the tuition. Some (many? I really don't know) public elementary schools also provide pre-K, financed by the town/city with help from the state. The problem here in MA at least is that, even if in theory every child, no matter how poor, could attend pre-K, there is a shortage of pre-K programs. The programs even in my small town usually have waiting lists. (The public school program has to limit enrollment to its pre-K program, which it does not do for other grades, of course.) This shortage of programs contributes to ignorance of their existence among the families who may need them most, e.g., poor immigrant families. Also, once you do know about these programs, navigating the bureaucracy in order to obtain a subsidy is, as always, a pain in the butt and may scare away the very people whose children could most benefit from pre-K schooling.

    Why hasn't MA just moved to have every public elementary school offer pre-K? Well, I think we are moving in that direction. It will cost money though (save money in the long run, but also cost money now), and, as you may have heard, states are feeling strapped for money these days. Meanwhile, since MA has long been subsidizing pre-K for those who can't afford it (possibly for many more years than these Red states have done much of anything on that front), people are inclined to just try to keep going with current approaches. Inertia rather than the smug liberal indifference Mr. S. is always ready to posit.

    Let's hope Obama can, on this one issue at least, unite liberals and conservatives. Tactically, he was wise to highlight what Red states have recently been doing. If Obama's attempts at creating unity fail, I doubt that liberals will have stood in his way. As you may have noticed, conservatives in Congress and conservative pundits tend to oppose anything that Obama proposes, even if he proposes what had originally been a conservative policy. (Think Obamacare.)

  3. "Liberals in Blue states hear those shrill conservative voices from national news sources constantly and are (understandably) less likely to hear news about Red state governors and legislatures quietly going about the business of creating universally available pre-K schools."

    No, it's because all liberals other than TDH are jerks. Don't you get that? TDH doesn't do nuance when it comes to liberals. I have been adamantly in favor of superior pre-school education particularly for children who can't afford it, and I have cared a flying fig about the needs of these kids for longer than TDH has been alive. I was not, however, aware of what has been going on in Oklahoma and Georgia, and I resent some of his more recent vitriolic narratives that are as simple-minded in their way as anything Gail Collins does. I am thrilled to see programs like this working in any state, red or not, and am always happy to see more complex ways of looking at people I normally see as political opponents -- e.g. the fact that the student president at Ol' Miss is an African-American woman.

    You hit the nail on the head, and TDH didn't. TDH has done a fantastic job on education generally, including the deep-diving into NAEP data and demonstrating mainstream and some liberal media false narratives. But these daily and over-the-top rants against liberals in general (and some liberals in particular) only undermine the impact of the valuable stuff.

    P.S. It seems to me these so-called persistence studies of pre-school programs are bullshit. Naturally, measurable effects are going to be diluted over time, especially if there are forces working against those effects -- like seeing a huge percentage of adults in the neighborhood unable to find a job. If a program makes kids with few in-home or neighborhood advantages better prepared for actual school, that's really all we need to know for deciding whether they are worth it or not.

  4. "Since Mr. Somerby does not cite any actual evidence..."

    " all liberals other than TDH are jerks. Don't you get that? TDH doesn't do nuance when it comes to liberals"

    Somerby: "This week, we’ll show you how some of our liberal leaders behaved in the wake of Obama’s proposal."

    Uh, oh.

    You can bet money that "mch" and "urban legend" are going to get taken to school this week...