USA Today asks, “Why not fix the family instead?”

posted at 8:41 am on February 22, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

Barack Obama promised to expand government spending on pre-kindergarten education to make it “universal,” a proposal certain to warm the hearts of middle Americans.  After all, who doesn’t want to help our children get ahead?  However, that prompts two questions — will it actually help, and could we take more effective and less costly action elsewhere?  USA Today addressed the first question yesterday, and argued that the real danger to toddlers isn’t a lack of pre-K education; it’s broken families:

Children are most likely to succeed in school when pushed by parents who provide stability, help with schooling, and instill an education and work ethic. But for decades now, the American family has been breaking down.

Two-fifths of children born in the USA are born to unmarried mothers, an eightfold increase since 1960. Many succeed thanks to the heroic efforts of strong, motivated single parents and other relatives. But research shows that children of single parents suffer disproportionately high poverty rates, impaired development and low performance in school.

Ron Haskins, an expert on children and families at the Brookings Institution, calls single parenthood a “little motor pushing up the poverty rate.” In 2011, the rate for children of single mothers was more than four times greater than that for children of married couples.

Researchers at Princeton and Columbia, following 5,000 children born to married and unmarried parents, have found that the effects of single parenthood seep into every aspect of kids’ lives.

A typical pattern in these “fragile families” looks like this: When a child is born, most fathers and mothers are in a committed relationship. By the time the child reaches 5, though, many fathers have disappeared. As the mothers move on to new relationships, the children face more instability, often with new siblings born to different fathers. Boys without strong male role models are more likely to turn to gangs and crime.

Single mothers read less to their children, are more likely to use harsh discipline and are less likely to maintain stable routines, such as a regular bedtime. All these behaviors are important predictors of children’s health and development.

If more pre-K education provided an antidote to these ills, then it might still be worth it.  However, USA Today alludes to studies showing that it actually does little or no good, and Charles Murray at Bloomberg provides a deeper analysis:

“Study after study shows that the earlier a child begins learning, the better he or she does down the road,” said U.S. President Barack Obama in Feb. 14 speech in Decatur, Georgia. “Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than seven dollars later on — boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, reducing violent crime.”

Obama wants to help our nation’s children flourish. So do I. So does everyone who is aware of the large number of children who are not flourishing. There are just two problems with his solution: The evidence used to support the positive long-term effects of early childhood education is tenuous, even for the most intensive interventions. And for the kind of intervention that can be implemented on a national scale, the evidence is zero. …

IHDP provided a level of early intervention that couldn’t possibly be replicated nationwide, but it gave us by far the most thorough test of intensive early intervention to date.

The follow-ups at ages 2 and 3 were positive, with large gains in cognitive functioning for the treatment group. But by age 5, those gains had attenuated. Where are things now? In the most recent report, the children in the study had reached 18. For the two-thirds of the sample who weighed no more than 2,000 grams (4.4 pounds) at birth, almost all of the outcome measures weren’t even in the right direction: The control group did slightly better. For those who weighed 2,001 to 2,500 grams at birth, the best news the analysts could find were positive differences on a math test and on a self-report of risky behaviors that reached statistical significance but were substantively small. Combine the results for both groups, and the IHDP showed no significant effects on any of the reported measures — not cognitive tests, measures of behavior problems and academic achievement, or arrest, incarceration and school- dropout rates.

Should we conclude that the IHDP results were depressed because of infants with serious neurologic complications, and that it would have worked on neurologically normal infants? The researchers ran the analysis on children who were free of significant neurological problems and found no difference.

Another possibility is that the aggregate results were damped down because some of the IHDP children were not socioeconomically disadvantaged. Were the results any better when the disadvantaged members of the sample were analyzed separately? The 18-year follow-up report is silent on that question. I can’t help but assume that if the results for the disadvantaged children had been better, we would have heard about them. Based on the published record, the IHDP results give no reason for optimism about even the most intensive early education approaches.

In fact, the federal government studied the impact of their largest, long-term intervention in this area, Head Start.  The results?  No lasting benefit could be found, and in some areas, it actually hurt.  As Murray stated later in his piece, the program may have given a small percentage of children who lived in at-risk environments a few hours in a safer place, and that does have some value.

However, that brings us back to the point of USA Today’s editorial.  Children from broken homes are more likely to live in relatively unsafe environments due to poverty, attention issues, and so on.  Instead of extending the government penumbra and taking kids out of the home for just a few hours of the day for programs that provide no other benefit, why aren’t we focusing on finding ways to incentivize marriage and disincentivize divorce and parental irresponsibility? If we want to improve the learning capabilities of the next generation, we would find much more potential in that approach.

Update: An astute observation from Hot Air reader Neil:

While I agree with all your comments regarding “fixing the family” I believe you’re missing the real rationale behind the creation of a federally funded universal Pre-K program; namely to generate a 100,000 new members of the SEIU; the consequences of which are clear, regardless of programmatic success.

Yes, the rationale behind government expansion is usually government expansion, with all of the usual cui bono suspects.


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Yes, the rationale behind government expansion is usually government expansion, with all of the usual cui bono suspects.

Why not throw in an extra year of progressive indoctrination for our children? Can never start that Obama / Biden / Clinton worshipping too early ya know.

Santa Claus and Jesus are baaad mmmkay? Gay marriage and abortions will save the planet.

Oxymoron on February 22, 2013 at 11:28 AM

Northern – he isn’t trolling though he can be obtuse when he wants to be – but you are missing the point as well. Yes, failures is a loaded term – but do the programs out there subsidize specific acts of failure and provide for the necessary feedback to not make that same failed decision again?

Shaming isn’t the point – accepting responsiblity for one’s actions is – and the current govt structure makes it real tough to feel the full effect of the impact of one’s decision.

Family formation is key to reigning in the welfare state and avoiding the complete collapse of the financial ruination of the country and almost all of the welfare design in this country is wrong. You want the money – you accept some moralizing – you want to not have to “listen to a lecture” (rules that have restrictions on your behavior) then you don’t get the money. You screw up while getting the money – you don’t get anymore and maybe you lose what you have.

Zomcon JEM on February 22, 2013 at 11:36 AM

It’s easy to fix.

Decisions must have consequences. If you need public assistance to support your family, you get neutered.

wukong on February 22, 2013 at 11:39 AM

Why not throw in an extra year of progressive indoctrination for our children? Can never start that Obama / Biden / Clinton worshipping too early ya know.

If an extra year is good, two is even better. Start off pre-school indoctrination for 3 year olds. The launching of ObamaBabyNetwork(TM) for cable TV and assorted Obama toddler media will be made available to parents in providing babies with the preparation needed for the best success in their preschool indoctrination experience.

hawkeye54 on February 22, 2013 at 11:42 AM

We need to move away from the idea that it is ok for single mothers to have kids.

thuja on February 22, 2013 at 9:06 AM

Yes, we do… and I still believe society could get back to a fairly common belief that single motherhood is not a wise decision.
Social norms are our shared definition of what is and is not legitimate or feasible and we learn/re-learn them together over extended periods of time. (Sadly, to a large extent, we have allowed the idea of teen/single motherhood to be seen as just another form of a “family”.) It’s an osmosis of some sort that ever so slowly permeates into each and every one one of us to some degree. Can this particular “norm” be redefined again? Why not? Look at how fundamental MADD was in bringing the “designated driver” concept into the common culture. IMO, we need to inject another “values” type of message into this issue as well.
What would I do? Hire a crackerjack PR firm and some major Hollywood talent to repackage the whole notion of teen/single motherhood. A major national campaign that re-labels the idea that having a baby out of wedlock just isn’t COOL. The whole “cool” and “uncool” label always seems to work fairly well, especially among teens, and it is inherent in each of us to want to avoid being thought of as “objectionable” to those around us. If as a society, we can spread an effective message on a national scale that taps into basic human nature, then I believe we could do much to reverse the way single motherhood is perceived today.

Just some thoughts.

lynncgb on February 22, 2013 at 11:45 AM

Decisions must have consequences. If you need public assistance to support your family, you get neutered.

That should be the case, but to the Left, the consequences of poor decisions made must be paid for by other people, with the Left acting as the visible kind and caring redistributor of the wealth of those “other people”.

hawkeye54 on February 22, 2013 at 11:46 AM

I’m going to respond to you again, even though it’s clear now that you’re trolling. The reason I know you’re trolling is that you make disingenuous conclusions about what I believe, such as your erroneous suggestion that I don’t think that my cousin is at fault for making a poor decision, as well as your erroneous suggestion that I favor children having one responsible parent rather than two. Furthermore, you accuse us being “failures” despite the fact that you don’t have enough knowledge about us to make this conclusion.

I suspect that you post these things in order to give conservatives a bad name, but only God knows your heart.

NorthernCross on February 22, 2013 at 11:23 AM

I call you a failure because you obviously are. You fail at simple logic. Even when you write all the aspects of that logic right into your post, it miraculously evades any hint of be captured by your mental faculties.

You brought your family instance up, why? Because as a good troll that you are, you wanted to attack those of us who actually think that society is degrading and that shame is one aspect of returning a vibrant society to this nation.

I’ll paraphrase you…
Well, my cousin, because she was scammed by some guy got married, had a child, and when his scamming became apparent they were divorced, and now she is a single parent, but she is a GOOD SINGLE PARENT who does not deserve any scorn. So all your guy’s argument about shaming is flawed, so take your argument to hell.

So, who is the troll here? Your entire argument boils down to, I have a single point of information and it totally destroys your argument which is based on thousands and thousands of years of human observation.

I do not find your point to be all that compelling to begin with. First, her family failed to teach your cousin properly so that she would KNOW she was making a mistake. She failed by making the mistake and allowing it to continue forward lowering the end outcome of the child’s future. I do not find good grades to be a leading indicator with the quality of today’s education system. If for instance he was three grades ahead being home schooled, I might take that as evidence his life is going to be as prosperous as it could be. Of course, being a single mom with a crappy family that was not willing to teach her, it is unlikely the kid is going to be home schooled. Likely barely any life lessons outside of school will be imparted.

So pound sand.

astonerii on February 22, 2013 at 11:56 AM

Ast – not helping.

Zomcon JEM on February 22, 2013 at 12:04 PM

But Northern – here is the problem – there are instances where some bad things are going to happen – you gonna design a system to protect the few who had no choice, but enables the rest?

That puts us right back here. Your cousin – if the family stays strong with her, has a chance. That is what will save her – not the myriad of govt programs that facilitate bad decisions after bad decisions.

Zomcon JEM on February 22, 2013 at 12:07 PM

Ast – not helping.

Zomcon JEM on February 22, 2013 at 12:04 PM

Do not really care.
We are on the
Let It Burn
part of the plan anyways.

he trolled and got caught out for it. He deserves every bit of derision I gave him and should get more from others.

I do not CARE ABOUT HIS FEELINGS. Why should I? The whole reason we are screwed as a society is because of FEELINGS being more important than outcome and reality.

astonerii on February 22, 2013 at 12:07 PM

Ast – not helping.

Zomcon JEM on February 22, 2013 at 12:04 PM

Lets break it down for you.

Northern’s argument is. My cousin is a special instance, so we should be supportive of her instead of derogatory.

Back in the 1930s through 1950s we had people who had the same arguments. Politicians with Power, Rich with money and the Hollywood elite. They could not be expected to settle down with one person for their entire lives could they? Besides, their situation was SPECIAL, they had power, money and fame, and their kids were going to turn out just fine and dandy because of power, money and fame. There are a few instances where that ended up being true, but more and more it is obvious that power, money nor fame really insulates children from the broken family issues that arise. But born of their SPECIAL cases came easy divorce, which led to no fault divorce, which led to same day processing of divorce, which led to abortion on demand.

It is the same old argument, I am special, I do not need to live a quality life to have a quality outcome. Just leave me alone, what I do will have no consequences for you. But, they do have consequences, they always do. People who spout this nonsense, that they are special and the laws of nature do not apply to them.

My daughter watches Madagascar III…
“Can we buy an Air Bus A380?”
“Solid gold baby!”
“But a solid gold plane won’t fly”
“We’ll be rich, the law of physics will not apply to us!”

astonerii on February 22, 2013 at 12:36 PM

Degenerates always want to be excluded from derision and shamming, they all see themselves as a singular special case that is exempt from consequence. Family members never want to face the shame of what their members do and love to paint things in the best possible light.

astonerii on February 22, 2013 at 12:49 PM

Well, if you’ve lost USA Today…

HiJack on February 22, 2013 at 11:07 AM

Obama hasn’t lost anybody. He’s stronger than ever. This is just the media trying to prove their “objectivity” and keep up the ruse. The moral equivalence routine is another way they do it.

rrpjr on February 22, 2013 at 1:09 PM

You want to spend money on a program that has proven verifiable results and leads to better education?

Check the results from the D.C. voucher program. Cheaper per student than Head Start, and had verifiable results of better education.

So of course we ended that… it hurt Unions. We need to help unions, and if that doesn’t help education and wastes money… meh, who cares.

gekkobear on February 22, 2013 at 1:21 PM

Ast – I don’t think we are in disagreement. I said as much if you look again – but, flamethrowing it moves it to pictures of old biddies in small towns getting their noses into everyone else’s business – not to help but to satisfy their own control freak tendencies and voyuerism. Kind of like modern day democrats.

Zomcon JEM on February 22, 2013 at 1:59 PM

Ast – I don’t think we are in disagreement. I said as much if you look again – but, flamethrowing it moves it to pictures of old biddies in small towns getting their noses into everyone else’s business – not to help but to satisfy their own control freak tendencies and voyuerism. Kind of like modern day democrats.

Zomcon JEM on February 22, 2013 at 1:59 PM

That is what is missing from society today though. We have in fact ostracized the people who kept the order in favor of people who want to live their degenerate lives unmolested. Without that societal pressure the old bitty down the street imposed, we get a society such as we have today.

I think simply getting rid of the safety net would go a long ways in fixing this problem. But it is not the only thing that is needed.

Here is why the little old biddies got involved… Because years of watching the neighborhood showed that when one person is allowed to live life the degenerate way they want to, they inevitably come to the community for help to fix their self made plight. They also encourage more of the same degenerate behavior. Before long you have a large enough number of people looking for help and fewer and fewer people willing to help because it becomes overwhelming that those who do help want help helping and those seeking help want to get id anonymously and thus vote for government intervention which separates the degenerate from the biddies watchful eye and takes away any consequences for the degenerates.

With freedom comes responsibility. If large sections of society do not want to uphold their responsibilities, then there goes freedom.

Creating and nurturing loving families is a responsibility. Thus why promoting gay marriage, or gay relationships at all is always going to end with loss of freedom. Because too many people will choose the non responsible direction, particularly when underwritten by other people’s children’s taxes.

astonerii on February 22, 2013 at 2:08 PM

Again – I don’t disagree with you.

But the reasons this go tpushed back against was because of those little old ladies.

I have no problem with discrimination – in the classic textbook meaning. We make decisions all the time – re. discriminating taste!!

If what you mean is I don’t have to celebrate everything gay – I get it. It isn’t my schtick and it actually makes me kind of blech. But I can tolerate the person who wishes to engage in that behavior as long as they don’t make me celebrate it or identify that it is somehow helpful. It isn’t anymore helpful than teenage boys playing D&D in their basement. It is just something people do. We of course both realize that the gay lobby has been unwilling to let it stay there – I was told be tolerant – I am now being ordered to worship it. So to the extent you are arguing slippery slope I get it. But sometimes you just have to chance it.

But that was my note on the old biddies acting like democrats – they are all control freaks, they just want you to do different things.

Zomcon JEM on February 22, 2013 at 3:37 PM

Study after study have proven you only need to do three things to not be poor in our country:

1) Finish high school
2) Get married before you have a family
3) Stay married

Is it any coincidence that government actions have targeted all three of those things?

Education – shot all to hell
Illegitimacy – a life choice, not to be denigrated
Divorce – not only acceptable but ‘a part of life’

We can all talk about what we need to do to encourage and support the family, but until we rid the government of those forces, programs, and laws which actively promote the opposite of the 3 things above, we’re just peeing into the wind.

jclittlep on February 22, 2013 at 3:38 PM

Two-fifths of children born in the USA are born to unmarried mothers, an eightfold increase since 1960.

Didn’t Ann Coulter write a book about single mothers being a bad thing? And wasn’t she rewarded with vilification?

But single mothers are a vital Democrat constituency. They need people to be dependent on the government.

Yes, the rationale behind government expansion is usually government expansion, with all of the usual cui bono suspects.

Any time Obama starts talking about investing, he means, “We need more of your money to spend on a special interest group that will keep voting us into office.” See also: immigration reform, unions, NEA

“Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than seven dollars later on — boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, reducing violent crime.”

Speaking of translation, this is called a whopper of a lie.

tom on February 22, 2013 at 3:54 PM

Instead of extending the government penumbra and taking kids out of the home for just a few hours of the day for programs that provide no other benefit, why aren’t we focusing on finding ways to incentivize marriage and disincentivize divorce and parental irresponsibility?

I agree that more 2-parent homes are the key to fixing a lot of what ails our society(hey, that idiot Dan Quayle was right about family values after all!), but I don’t see what the government can do to incentivize this. Ironically they could do a lot more good by mothballing or slashing their welfare programs. The Great Society destroyed the black family in America.

Doughboy on February 22, 2013 at 8:44 AM

This is the irony of all the hyperventilating about social conservatives wanting bigger government. Most social conservatives don’t want the government to “do something.” They just want the government to quit subsidizing and encouraging these things. If the government wasn’t rushing in to offer money to women who get pregnant without getting married, a huge chunk of the problem would go away. Or government has gone from “helping the people who truly need it,” to “helping the people who should have known better and are not making any effort to provide for themselves.”

Single motherhood is hard, and it’s only natural to want to help. But when you remove all negatives from bad behavior, then you incentivize what is still a negative in every other way. We make marriage more and more optional even when a woman has children, and government handouts is a big reason for that.

tom on February 22, 2013 at 4:46 PM

“Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than seven dollars later on — boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, reducing violent crime.”

I’m all for investing in high-quality education — that’s why I paid to send my daughter to private school…

affenhauer on February 22, 2013 at 5:02 PM

How many times do I have to say this:

We need to differentiate between a single mother (made one bad decision, didn’t murder it before birth) and struggled to get her life on track and provide for her child and

The baby-momma who cranks out kids ’cause it is easier than supporting herself.

and yes, four kids with four partners…have ‘em spayed and neutered.

Laura in Maryland on February 23, 2013 at 7:49 AM

We don’t “help” the poor the same way we would help our loved ones. I find it hard to believe that Piglosi would tell her granddaughter, “go have a kids before your sixteen, and I’ll pay for an apartment, give you a nice allowance, pay for your food, give you vouchers for heat and electricity, take care of all of your medical bills, and you won’t have to work a bit. You can even have daycare vouchers, first dibs at preschool, free school supplies, and feel-good programs for you and the child.

Have more kids, and I’ll give you more money and a bigger home!

Yeah, right.

Laura in Maryland on February 23, 2013 at 7:53 AM

How many times do I have to say this:

We need to differentiate between a single mother (made one bad decision, didn’t murder it before birth) and struggled to get her life on track and provide for her child and

The baby-momma who cranks out kids ’cause it is easier than supporting herself.

and yes, four kids with four partners…have ‘em spayed and neutered.

Laura in Maryland on February 23, 2013 at 7:49 AM

No we do not have to differentiate between these as respect to how the government treats them. Neither needs the FEDERAL government to step in. In fact, neither needs the GOVERNMENT to step in. This is something that should be dealt with between the individual, the family, the neighbors, friends, community and CHARITY.

This way the, the family, the friends, the neighbors and the community have the opportunity while handing out charity to these people, have the opportunity to impose shame and direct the individual to do better and so forth.

As it is, the government hands the stuff out with no judgement at all. There is no possible shame or other actions society can bring to bear onto these people to help end the ever increasing numbers of MISTAKES by little precious family SLUTS who just happened to make one mistake and while trying to get their life in order are incentivized to become baby-momma’s churning out ever more babies to get more help in getting their life in order!

astonerii on February 23, 2013 at 1:05 PM

I say she does. I say she does now, because there are always warning that guys aren’t what they seem. Dating is not fun. Dating is a frickin interview for marriage. If it isn’t good when you are dating; it is going to get worse during the marriage.

melle1228 on February 22, 2013 at 10:03 AM

I have a GF like this.Signs were there & then she went & married him (after they had a boy out of wedlock), then went on to have 2 more kids. And the troubles are still there, though they are still married.
Perhaps many of you will scorn me here for this, but I agree with pretty much everything astonerii has said here.
You see, I had very poor role models, ended up getting married to escape my abusive home life, had a kid at 19, then 7 years later divorced the father bcs I was tired of him cheating on me, a behavior he exhibited BEFORE we got married.
All bcs I was a MORON & ignored it. But the doubts were ALWAYS there.
Guys & chicks do not just suddenly turn out to be bums all of a sudden. The signs are there if you pay attention.
And so I did not pay attention the SECOND time I married. The signs were all there. I was STILL a MORON.
I did make sure I had no other children. But the damage to my own child was done.
I did not partake in welfare, but it doesn’t matter, I did these stupid things & they affected my own child who went out & had a child out of wedlock. Now this poor child is going through the same things I put her mother through.
You see, shame & derision are good things.
My situation, being a divorced mother, marrying a moron, all of those things, led to the situation my daughter & granddaughter are in now.
After I wised up, it was too late. My daughter was 10yo & even though I married (for the 3rd time) a good man who became a good father to her unlike her biological father, the damage was done.
I should have done things right the 1st time & I didn’t.
And much of it was society made it much easier on me to do those things.
I’m not saying women who do dumba$$ things should be constantly vilified, but there needs to be massive SHAME going on.
These things are not acceptable.
Having sex out of wedlock, babies, etc. is not something that should becelebrated.
And yet it is in the media everywhere.
We reap what we sow.
The sins of the father etc.
astonerii is TOTALLY spot on here.
Every day of my life I regret the pain & suffering I caused an innocent child bcs her mother was too much of a dumba$$ to think of something other than herself.
I pay for it every day I think of my granddaughter. And all I can do is be there the best I can for them both, without contributing to future stupidity on my daughter’s part.

Badger40 on February 23, 2013 at 4:13 PM

Badger40 on February 23, 2013 at 4:13 PM

Very touching. I hope that you can somehow reach your children and help them stop the pattern. It is having lessons from people like you that eventually makes people’s eyes open to the problem and eventually find the cure, which is not always being polite and friendly, but tough love.

God did many bad things to the Israelites in their day, and I do not think it was because he hated them and wanted the worst for them. It was because he knew they needed the lessons in order to prosper.

America it seems is due for a 40 years in the wilderness period. I think we are so far about a decade INTO it.

astonerii on February 23, 2013 at 8:37 PM

It is having lessons from people like you that eventually makes people’s eyes open to the problem and eventually find the cure, which is not always being polite and friendly, but tough love.

God did many bad things to the Israelites in their day, and I do not think it was because he hated them and wanted the worst for them. It was because he knew they needed the lessons in order to prosper.

America it seems is due for a 40 years in the wilderness period. I think we are so far about a decade INTO it.

astonerii on February 23, 2013 at 8:37 PM

I agree. America needs to feel the pain a lot worse. It seems humans have to learn the hard way.
And my daughter, while behaving very liberally as young people often do these days, is somewhat conservative minded for the most part & is not on welfare. In fact, she refuses to go on it.
She comes to visit home as often as possible & at least my granddaughter has some positive male role models in her 2 grandfathers. Baby daddy is a moron, but at least willingly financially provides.
Someday I know, my daughter will end up in the place of wisdom her mother has & see why I said the things I said.

Badger40 on February 24, 2013 at 9:20 AM

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