The Hoover Institution
STANFORD, Calif. -- Time to reform Head Start
By Diane Ravitch
When I was a young parent, I read to my children every day. When walking in the neighborhood, we read shop signs. They quickly learned letters and new words and were good readers by the time they started school. The children of parents who read with them regularly begin school with larger vocabularies than those children whose parents do not have the time or education to introduce them to literacy.
The Head Start program was created in 1964 to give poor children the same kinds of educational opportunities that their more-advantaged peers get informally at home. Unfortunately, over the years, the program has abandoned its focus on education in favor of an array of social services, nutrition, and counseling. After nearly 40 years and many billions of dollars, Head Start children still begin kindergarten far behind children from middle-class homes on measures of school readiness.
Most Head Start teachers do not have a college degree and are poorly paid. A large proportion of them are parents of Head Start students. As if to echo the program's isolation from educational goals, it is located in the Department of Health and Human Services, not in the Department of Education.
The last evaluation of the program, conducted in 1998, found that the typical entering student could not identify a single letter of the alphabet. At the end of a year, the same child could identify only one or two letters and had learned only 11 new words. Head Start children were not learning these skills because their teachers were not teaching them.
Head Start has no standard curriculum for school readiness, and the centers receive no guidance about which skills and knowledge to teach. Instead, Head Start prides itself on its extreme decentralization, regardless of its lack of success in preparing children for school experiences.
The Bush administration is trying to change this situation by proposing that Head Start teachers be trained in literacy techniques. Remarkably, leaders of many Head Start centers are opposed to the new emphasis on literacy. Some are even refusing to participate in literacy training.
Head Start will never fulfill its original promise until the program recognizes its responsibility to give disadvantaged children what advantaged children receive every day: immersion in reading, an enlarged vocabulary, and the joy of learning. Head Start cannot close the cognitive gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged children until it has better-educated teachers, better-paid teachers, and a determination to prepare its nearly 1 million students for school.
Successful preschools have long demonstrated that learning need not be drudgery. Young children can be taught letters, words, stories, and games in a happy and creative manner. They can sing, dance, paint, and play while gaining new vocabulary and learning to express their ideas.
If our society is serious about reducing the educational gaps that divide children of different races and classes, we must meet the challenge of redesigning an effective Head Start program.
(Diane Ravitch is a research professor, New York University; distinguished visiting fellow, Hoover Institution; and member, Hoover's Koret Task Force on K-12 Education.)
The Nixon Center/The National Interest
The Nixon Center is a public policy institution that is a substantively and programmatically independent division of The Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace Foundation in Yorba Linda, Calif. The National Interest magazine is published quarterly by The National Interest Inc., a non-profit partnership of Hollinger International Inc. and The Nixon Center.)
WASHINGTON -- Pyongyang and American priorities
By Paul J. Saunders and Nikolas K. Gvosdev
North Korea's Jan. 10 announcement that it plans to withdraw from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty is another sign that the Cold War-era edifice of arms control treaties --crafted for a largely bipolar world -- rests on shaky ground.
The NPT was not simply an idealistic venture; it was a pragmatic arrangement useful to nuclear as well as non-nuclear states in limiting the dissemination of the technology necessary to fabricate nuclear weapons and their delivery systems (as covered under the related Missile Technology Control Regime). Leading nuclear powers were not keen to see the unchecked spread of nuclear weapons, especially in volatile regions of the world where the temptation to use such devices might lead to limited nuclear exchanges.
On the other hand, non-nuclear states sought security in the knowledge that they and their neighbors would not need to engage in arms races that would divert limited funds from more pressing development projects.
Like Japan's withdrawal from the League of Nations following its occupation of Manchuria, North Korea's actions present a direct challenge to an existing international regime. Pyongyang's act is a defiant statement that the NPT no longer meets North Korea's national interests. It is also a challenge to the rest of the world to either enforce the provisions of the NPT, or acknowledge that it has proven ineffectual to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.
This must be of particular concern to the United States, which has a strong interest both in preventing Pyongyang from developing nuclear weapons and in preserving the NPT, which is an important pillar of an international system that overwhelmingly favors the United States. Accordingly, if North Korea does not face the severest of consequences for its withdrawal from the treaty and its secret development of nuclear weapons, its example will serve only to encourage other governments with nuclear ambitions.
As Paul J. Saunders wrote in an earlier issue of In the National Interest, "Doing less will only encourage more of the same from North Korea in the future. Worse, it could also contribute to other hostile regimes' nuclear temptations."
The problem, of course, is how to balance this imperative against both its own potential costs and other pressing matters. Needless to say, the United States is currently engaged in a massive military deployment to the Persian Gulf and seems likely to be at war with Iraq in the near future. Suggestions that North Korea should be a greater priority for America have generally been dismissed with the superficial statement that the United States has passed the point of no return in dealing with Baghdad and must maintain its primary focus of attention on Iraq.
Apart from budgetary and logistical considerations, this position has also been buttressed by the self-serving but plausible argument that a decisive victory in Iraq could increase American leverage over Pyongyang. At the same time, significant attention has centered on the question of whether or not the North Korean situation should be considered a "crisis." The important U.S. interests at stake deserve more serious discussion.
The starting point of any such dialogue must be the recognition that Washington has considerably more options than most people seem prepared to recognize. We may eventually reach the conclusion that many of them cannot be exercised at an acceptable cost -- but this should be a reasoned conclusion based upon careful analysis rather than an a priori judgment.
The Bush administration's increasingly seems to be attempting to appear sufficiently flexible in dealing with Pyongyang to buy time to resolve U.S. concerns about Iraq.
As suggested above, the two principal advantages of this approach are that we are well into both the diplomatic and military processes necessary to deal with the problem and that a (presumed) decisive defeat of Iraq could discourage Kim Jong Il from testing American resolve. The greatest cost of this approach is that it could create the impression that possessing even one or two nuclear weapons is an effective deterrent in dealing with the United States.
Also, it is not clear how quickly Washington could shift gears to deal harshly with North Korea even in the wake of the rapid and impressive victory widely expected against Iraq. The challenges of "the day after" may well be greater than those of the conquest itself and could produce their own unexpected constraints.
One of many alternatives to the "Iraq-first" approach would be to give United Nations weapons inspectors more time to work in Iraq -- a move that would be welcomed by America's allies, including Britain -- and to focus more squarely on North Korea in the interim. Saddam Hussein does not currently have nuclear weapons, and he can make little progress in obtaining while inspectors are roaming around his country. Moreover, he is too much a survivor to take provocative action with U.S. troops poised to invade.
Finally, it seems probable that the longer that the inspectors work, the stronger the case against Iraq becomes. And as unappealing as it may be to many in East Asia, and particularly to South Korea, the United States could do substantial damage to North Korea's fledgling nuclear arsenal and its supporting infrastructure with a very modest military force. A brutally honest explanation of this fact (including public statements that all options are on the table), combined with a plan to dismantle North Korea's nuclear program and discuss economic or other assistance, might be successful. The Bush administration could even be prepared to accept a "non-aggression pact" if it were firmly linked to a credible verification scheme.
Notwithstanding its commitments in the Middle East, the United States could deploy limited military forces -- particularly any additional warplanes that might be necessary for an attack on the DPRK's (North Korea's) nuclear program -- to demonstrate American determination. If this is not enough to sway Pyongyang, Washington should honestly consider a unilateral attack on Kim's nuclear facilities.
Of course, such a strategy is not without its own attendant risks. The greatest potential danger is of a North Korean attack on South Korea while considerable U.S. forces are deployed in the Middle East. The American relationship with Seoul could also be severely weakened -- though the degree and duration of the damage would clearly depend heavily on the outcome. Escalating its conflict with the United States by attacking the South would be suicidal for North Korea and Kim Jong Il's regime, and all indicators seem to suggest that the Beloved Leader is interested in perpetuating his rule rather than presiding over its obliteration.
We present this outline, however, with the intent to be illustrative rather than definitive. The United States cannot allow itself to be locked into a narrow course of action vis-à-vis North Korea simply because it has begun a deployment in the Gulf. It should not continue to focus on Saddam Hussein if the end result will be to allow Kim Jong Il to benefit from the delay and continue to operate with impunity.
Furthermore, while there is a profound difference between no nuclear weapons and the one or two warheads North Korea is believed to possess, there is also a very real difference between that arsenal and the 10 to 20 warheads that could exist by the end of the year. The administration does have other options -- and it is time to discuss them deliberately and openly.
(Paul J. Saunders is the director of The Nixon Center. Nikolas K. Gvosdev is the editor of In the National Interest.)
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