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Video: The Daily Show Takes on Head Start Critics

Published:  March 7, 2013
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Last night on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, the political comedian and Comedy Central “fake news host” took on opponents to the Head Start preschool program. Amidst the ribbing, though, Stewart gets to the heart of the Head Start debate.

Stewart takes on his foes at Fox News, who have highlighted a federal Head Start Impact Study released late last year. He asks: Whereas the Fox News hosts pointed to the fact that gains from Head Start were shown to have disappeared by third grade, why not read the study as an argument for pushing the Head Start model up into the early elementary grades?

In those few words, Stewart gives voice to an idea that has been kicking around in the early childhood world for years: What if we could enable elementary schools to continue the efforts undertaken in preschool to engage parents, consider children’s health, and pay attention to their social-emotional learning as well as their academic learning?  (What he doesn’t note, however, is that Head Start centers can vary widely in quality, and that the need for improvement in Head Start is one of the reasons behind the Obama Administration’s new controversial “re-competition process”  for Head Start providers.)

Stewart then moves on to another of the cable news hosts’ objections: costs. Steve Doocy, a Fox News host, suggests that the costs would be prohibitive – $10,000 per child. (In fiscal year 2012, Congress spent about $7,600 per child in the Head Start program.) “Money? On children’s education?,” Stewart quips. 

All kidding aside, it’s another point worth noting: The return on investment is high, but only for high-quality preschool programs. In his State of the Union Address, Obama said they can yield a $7 return on every dollar spent – a number that derives from the Chicago Longitudinal Study, according to Steve Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research,  in a recent explainer.

Stewart also gets into complicated issues of prioritizing funding (military spending versus spending on early childhood education), slipping U.S. standing in global education rankings and military support for early childhood development and quality education. It’s worth a viewing:

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