Head Start vs Amazon: Which Would You Choose?

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos will fund $2 billion in philanthropic efforts. Some people think the money will be wasted.

Please consider the Problem With Jeff Bezos’s $2 Billion Gift to Charity by Kelsey Piper.

> Jeff Bezos, the richest man in the world, caused a stir last week by announcing a major philanthropic initiative that will devote $2 billion to address homelessness and education. Called the Day One Fund, the project has two priorities: funding existing nonprofits that serve homeless families, and creating a network of new, nonprofit preschools in low-income communities.

> Two billion dollars is an enormous amount of money, enough to transform many lives. The good that Bezos will do is commendable. Unfortunately, he might achieve a lot less than he could.

> By starting out already committed to two causes, Bezos undermines his fund’s ability to answer the question he launched it with: “Where are the opportunities to make things better?”

> We’ve been trying for a long time to do early childhood education that produces lasting results for kids. The earliest attempt in the US was Head Start, the federally funded early childhood education program for low-income families, which has been running since the 1960s. There have been some studies with promising results, but there have also been many that struggle to detect any effect size.

> On the pessimistic side, randomized controlled trials (RCTs) have found that it barely improves outcomes for kids — and the gains don’t last, typically evaporating by first or second grade. A 2010 study by the Department of Health and Human Services found that “averaging across all children, the benefits of access to Head Start at age four are largely absent by 1st grade.”

Surprise Not

I am not surprised by those results. Nor should you be.

Government programs are inherently wasteful. There is no incentive to perform. Ironically, there is incentive to not perform, simply to get more funding.

Graft abounds. So does public union inefficiency.

Hire a bunch of bad teachers and it is damn impossible to get rid of them because of union rules.

Inability to Think

Anyone comparing government slush funds to private enterprise clearly cannot think.

Hello Vox

Instead of bitching at Bezos, we ought to be insisting that Head Start and other government programs be entirely shut down as ineffective!

Mike "Mish" Shedlock

No. 1-15

why doesn't Bezos start up a washing machine manufacturing plant in US that produces low cost quality clothes cleaning devices. ? I am awaiting your answer Alexis.


When you consider intervention into Education, it's worthwhile to consider Project Follow Through, the most expensive research project every done at that time. (Note that the following I am typing from memory, so there may be minor errors). Project Follow Through was intended to be tied to Head Start.

The project was started under LBJ, and ran for twenty years, or so. The project asked for experimental curricula, and accepted about 11 of them. They took a large number of children, and divided them into 12 groups, one for each of the curriculum, and a control group. Then they taught each group by that special curriculum all the way from elementary school through high school, and tracked their performance all the way through college. The experimental methods primarily were of two types. One type focused on improving self esteem (affective/cognitive skills), and the other focused on cognitive skills and problem-solving thinking skills (cognitive conceptual skills). One unique curriculum focused on repetitive drilling of core knowledge items. Another focused on using normal educational approaches, but increasing parental involvement.

Project Follow Through showed that both the affective/cognitive skills approach and the cognitive conceptual skills approach were complete failures. The students significantly under-peformed those taught by conventional methods. The one model that performed significantly better was the one that focused on drill-like repetition of core knowledge, known as "Direct Instruction", and was developed, not by the educational elite, but by a pre-school teacher, though he later joined the faculty at the University of Oregon. The approach that increased parental involvement also produced better results, but not by a large amount. Interestingly, Direct Instruction not only led to better test results, it led to higher self esteem than the approaches designed to boost self esteem. Apparently people feel better about themselves when they are actually smart than they do when they are told they are smart, but don't really know the material.

So, what came of this knowledge? Over the last twenty years we've seen little use of the successful approaches, and a huge growth in the two approaches that failed. What does Head Start used? I have no doubt it uses one or both of the two failed approaches, which is precisely why it produces little to no real benefit.

What will Bezos use? I think it's a given that he will turn to the educational elite, and they will use the latest and greatest approaches to boost self-esteem and to teach higher order thinking skills. And, the results from this will be different from the results of the past because....?

Ron Cataldi
Ron Cataldi

Why stop at preschool? Why not do away with all schooling? Oh wait, because Mish is posting misleading information, once again.


Best way to get a kid off to the right start?

Make sure the child has a loving mother and a father.

By far the most effective method for early childhood education.

And without it, nearly all government and private programs will fail.


"Jeff Bezos, the richest man in the world, caused a stir last week by announcing a major philanthropic initiative that will devote $2 billion to address homelessness and education." Why doesn't he use the $2bil to pay his employees a living wage.