President Obama recently unveiled his plan for expanding early education, which includes expanding federal funding for public preschool and boosting Head Start funding. According to the President, government-funded preschool is the way for students to achieve academic success.
Sadly, Obama’s claims are founded on weak evidence. Government-funded preschool programs show little to no academic gains for students. On top of that, expanding such programs could ultimately result in fewer choices for families.
Time and again, research confirms that family plays a more significant role in helping a child succeed academically.
For example, children raised in intact families are not only more likely to graduate from high school, but they are also more likely to attend and complete college compared to their peers raised in single-parent or blended families. Children from intact homes also score higher in reading, math, and science, as well as display fewer behavioral problems in school. Beyond academics, a stable family also prevents a variety of other risk factors that would hinder a child’s success.
Sadly, a large portion of children—over 40 percent—are born outside marriage every year. The statistics are even more troubling among minorities: 72 percent among African Americans and 53 percent among Hispanics. Researchers continue to report that children raised outside stable, married-parent homes are at greater risk for dropping out of school, being involved in delinquent behavior, and having a child outside marriage themselves. These outcomes persist even after controlling for income.
Beyond family structure, parental involvement plays a big role in helping children do well in school.
When parents are highly involved in their child’s education during elementary school, for example, it boosts children’s likelihood of graduating from high school. And parents also help boost children’s cognitive development by providing cognitive stimulation. Likewise, children generally have higher IQs and do better in school when parents provide cognitive stimulation.
A strong academic background begins at home. Policymakers should not underestimate the role of family in helping children succeed. Policies that promote and strengthen healthy marriages and families increase the likelihood that children will have the brightest academic futures possible.