I doubt if it will have much effect. Judging from twin studies, parenting effects are small or zero.  I doubt if preschool as we know it has stronger effects.

Of course we’ll do it anyhow.  Just for laughs, it would be nice if someone would develop a comprehensive account of similar efforts over the past couple of generations – and their outcomes.

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63 Responses to Pre-K

  1. Spce Ghost says:

    I haven’t published my results yet, but my recent research has led me to the conclusion that being a parent is strongly heritable. An analysis of over 300 years worth of parish records from England indicates that people who became parents were strongly likely to have had parents themselves (r=0.98, +/- 0.03). I believe this is the strongest effect ever found in the social sciences. Perhaps you could suggest a good journal to submit my results to?

  2. ziel says:

    In 15 years everyone will be decrying our “failing Pre-K’s”. Republican politicians will demand that Pre-K’s be privatized, while Democrats will denounce the Pre-K Gap and rail against underfunded programs.

  3. JayMan says:

    James Thompson’s recent post:

    Psychological comments: Is it worth giving children pre-school education?

    I sort of remember someone making such a compilation of failed interventions. I can’t call recall who or where. I’d love to see it again.

  4. JayMan says:

    Anyway, I had this to say today:

    • epoch2013 says:

      I wonder. Is ideology the Achilles heel of the bright? It seems to me that political correctness is a toy to satisfy the moral needs of academics. However, it basically undercuts the survival of the treats that are associated with the right characteristics to create academics.

      Below is Jay1 has an abc-net article linked. In it a philosopher states that families should best be abolished, because having a loving family is “an unfair advantage”.

  5. Jay1 says:

    I doubt if it will have much effect. Judging from twin studies, parenting effects are small or zero. I doubt if preschool as we know it has stronger effects.

    Two philisophers recently:

    ‘I had done some work on social mobility and the evidence is overwhelmingly that the reason why children born to different families have very different chances in life is because of what happens in those families.’

    But people keep telling me the “blank slate” is dead, because academics now accept that genes are important.

    And this:

    Then, does the child have a right to be parented by her biological parents? Swift has a ready answer.

    ‘It’s true that in the societies in which we live, biological origins do tend to form an important part of people’s identities, but that is largely a social and cultural construction. So you could imagine societies in which the parent-child relationship could go really well even without there being this biological link.’


    it would be nice if someone would develop a comprehensive account of similar efforts over the past couple of generations – and their outcomes.

    Didn’t you have a post where you asked for the same thing?

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      “But people keep telling me the “blank slate” is dead, because academics now accept that genes are important.”

      Dying, not dead.

      Given that it was always total nonsense – points at animal breeding – and only came to dominate the culture for political / psychological reasons I don’t think the facts about it being total nonsense is what is causing it to deflate (slowly). What is causing it to deflate is the obvious and potentially huge benefit of tailored medicine. The Marxist part of the blank slate coalition would be quite willing to ignore that but the nice white lady part of the coalition can’t.


    • Jim says:

      People on the left today tend to verbally acknowledge that heredity does play some role in human behavior. Then they go right on as before as if heredity didn’t make any difference. Reset to state zero.

      • JayMan says:

        See my tweet above.

        • David C. says:

          Belief trumps all, because a funny thing happens when sensory information is carried into the brain: it first passes through a set of filters (as you know.) Info that agrees with belief is echoed. Info that falsifies belief is either ignored or, if too large, incites counterattack.

          Belief is all, no? I suspect this is some sort of “all people are god in their own existence” sort of thing, and another reason why postmodernism is so attractive to everyone except engineers whose products would fall from the sky (airplanes), not start (cars, trucks, etc.) and so on if they attempted to embrace a reality other than the actual one.

      • Tarl says:

        “This paper will show that heredity does play some role in human behavior…”
        (Thinks about being called a racist Nazi genocidal klansman eugenicist, deletes previous)
        “This paper will show heredity makes no difference in human behavior…”

    • Dale says:

      IIRC, Plato’s Republic proposes something like this. The only case I’ve heard of where children were not routinely raised by their biological parents was the early Israeli kibbutzes, where children were raised in herds by specialized caregivers. The result was that while the men didn’t mind the system, the women found it intolerable that they didn’t have regular interaction with their particular offspring and the system was abandoned.

    • David C. says:

      “so you could imagine societies in which the parent-child relationship could go really well even without there being this biological link.”

      So that writer never heard of adoption? (And no on has ever studied any aspects thereof?) As an adoptee harboring his own views about biological vs nurture parents, my bemusement at reading this was noticeable.

  6. Greying Wanderer says:

    It’s in the interests of the people paid lots of money to close the gap not to close the gap.

    • gcochran9 says:

      Not if they end up in prison, as in Atlanta.

      • Abelard Lindsey says:


        Of course if you parade around claiming that you’ve finally closed the gap and receive adulation for it, sooner or later someone is bound to look more closely and find out the truth. Its one think to make a lot of money as a crook, then slink off to an anonymous retirement in Costa Rica. Its another to bath in the public adulation as a result of your misdeeds and think no one will catch on.

        I’m actually surprised people went to jail (significant sentences too) over the Atlanta scandal.

  7. Martin says:

    Pre-K also presumably involves taxing people to direct resources to other people. So to the extent that parasitism is part of its goal, it may not be completely ineffectual. Also simply detracting resources from others can help in a zero-sum competition.

  8. capital says:

    Pre-K is a product sold to parents with the job of making the parent feel good about themselves..
    If it provides some additional baby-sitting duties freeing up some additional work time, isn’t that worth paying for if they want it?

  9. Hipster says:

    Do twin studies suggest that having a father at home matters at all?
    If Pre-K doesn’t matter, and being in a completely different family doesn’t matter, then why should dad sticking around matter?
    And as such, would it then be an intelligent reproductive strategy to just have dozens of kids with any and all takers and then not be involved in their lives at all?
    Hell you could even then start your own traditional family and raise two kids the “right” way, just in case that does actually matter.

    • JayMan says:

      I think this was already covered here:

      Quality vs Quantity | West Hunter

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      “Do twin studies suggest that having a father at home matters at all?”

      I don’t know about twin studies but I know a large percentage of violent crime revolves around changing sexual partners so minimizing the changing of sexual partners minimizes that part of violent crime.

      So at a society or group level I’d say monogamy has significant benefits.

    • Matt says:

      When heritability is studied with twin studies, I gather (although I haven’t read many, so perhaps I know nothing), that what is studied tend to be traits, which are generally large scale statistical variables made up from survey data, etc and which are meant to each explain significant parts of human behaviour / personality / outcome variation.

      The finding I gather is that those tend to be pretty heritable, and the non-heritable bit tends to be random.

      And when it comes to specific knowledge and skills and group membership and contacts that society is generally set up to try and push onto pretty much anyone with the personality and intelligence for it (i.e. much of what is on education) these traits explains much of the outcome.

      So on that basis you could say that having a father around is unimportant.


      1) There’s obviously quite a lot of skills and knowledge and group membership that society isn’t focused on transferring to people, on the whole.

      And if that’s the case, having the father around to transfer those skills and group affiliations (which yes, depends on the kid having the right traits) probably has some effect. Sons of senators / generals tend to be much more likely to be senators / generals that people with their level of formal credentials, and that’s probably not a genetic effect and you’d see something quite different if they adopted out their kids and had no contact with them.

      2) Large, simple measurable personality traits like “extroversion” or “IQ” may not explain most of the variation in human behaviour and outcomes. In which case it is hard to measure the parent-child / child-sibling, etc. correlation systematically, and thus hard to test comparisons in different family environments, in which case nobody really knows jack.

      • JayMan says:


        You need to read this post:

        The Son Becomes The Father | JayMan’s Blog

        All that has been looked at. Zilch for shared environment.

        • Matt says:

          Yeah, sure Jayman, Greg Cochran’s kids know exactly 0% more than they would’ve known about stuff GC knows than if they’d been adopted. That’s likely, that he’s transferred exactly no knowledge to them they wouldn’t otherwise have. I’m not talking about how much this shows up in “income” or their education metrics, or anything crude like that, where the societal pressures to exceed in them are so high that the inherited trait is the determining factor. Stuff where society isn’t pushing for it.

          • JayMan says:


            No one claimed that you don’t get knowledge and skills from parents.

          • Matt says:

            Sorry if I’ve misunderstood you, but what’s the bit where “All that stuff has been looked for. Zilch for shared environment” then, if not point 1 of my two paragraphs? Do you want to be a bit more explicit about what in my post you were responding to?

          • Martin says:

            From a biological perspective, extra-genetic information encoded in “knowledge” and “skills” would only really be “knowledge” and “skills” if it had impacts on fitness. If extra-genetic information does indeed do “zilch” for fitness, then there’s no basis for claiming that you get knowledge and skills from your parents or anywhere else for that matter.

          • Yeah, I think you’re misunderstanding.
            I was adopted; I only got to know my biological family in adulthood.
            Obviously I learned different things from my parents who raised me than I would have learned from my biological parents, who are very different people, but my basic capacity to soak up knowledge would have been identical either way. So one set of parents might have taught me more about football and the other more about baseball, but my predilection for sports would have been identical.

            Nobody cares about whether a kid learns to play baseball or football. We care about a kid’s ability to learn any kind of sport. Or less trivially, we don’t care whether a kid’s parents stock Sports Illustrated or Scientific American; we care about a kid’s ability to read, and reading ability does not appear to be negatively affected by stocking Sports Illustrated.

            No one is arguing that you do not physically learn anything from your parents.

    • Yudi says:

      One of the problems with father absence is that the men who engage in it are rarely doing anything productive when they’re not at home taking care of their families. Often, they seek out men like them and engage in mischief.

    • Dale says:

      You write, “would it then be an intelligent reproductive strategy to just have dozens of kids with any and all takers and then not be involved in their lives at all?”

      You’re right, of course, but evidence from mammal species without paternal investment shows that actually succeeding in such a strategy is not easy — generally, a small fraction of the males father the majority of the young. And it seems to be similar among non-monogamous humans — females prefer highly dominant males who display command of resources (generally by spending them).

      Unfortunately, such intense competition doesn’t hinge on the male possessing properties that we consider to be good for society as a whole. Males who do well in subcultures like that tend to be successfully violent and spend money freely.

      Which reminds me of “The Autobiography of Malcolm X”. Malcolm spent many years in the Nation of Islam, and much of what it did was operate a training program to turn lower-class blacks into middle-class blacks, instilling a range of habits and prejudices that are stunningly 1950’s: monogamy, saving money (vs. spending it immediately), avoiding expensive credit (vs. prioritizing current spending). Despite all the anti-white rhetoric, its actions were stunningly Suburban White Man.

  10. panjoomby says:

    as commented at Dr. Thompson’s blog:
    at least one rigorously standardized ability test for children in the last 25 years took the trouble & expense to norm the sample on (among other things!) pre-school attendance (yay vs. nay). the norms were the same either way. so it didn’t matter. those were heady days back when we thought it might matter:)

  11. The point of these programs is just to subsidize slightly-nicer daycare for poor people, and to help out the unfortunate teachers who are evaluated based on how those kids do on standardized tests. Sure, the long-term outcome might not budge, but if you spend 3 years trying to pound the alphabet into a kid instead of one, they might score slightly better at the time.

  12. Cracker1 says:

    “The point of these programs is just to subsidize slightly-nicer daycare for poor people”

    I like this idea and the availability should be universal.
    Forget about the alphabet and work on play. Playing nice with others. Finger-painting. Clay modeling. Cut and paste shapes. Socializing.
    Pay the unskilled mothers to take care of their kids in a community setting.

  13. ohwilleke says:

    The long term data on the benefits of Pre-K for children in poverty has been collected and is quite convincing, persisting long into adulthood, something largely not seen for later educational interventions. I strongly suspect that this works mostly by partially addressing environmental conditions that suppress potential IQ in problematic high stress poverty environments, and that this result would not be replicated in economically stable middle class families.

    The evidence that severe poverty can suppress genetic potential is ample and is robust as it has been tested by methodologies. Similarly, the hereditary component of IQ is much low in poor kids than in affluent ones. Twin studies and adoption studies don’t capture this because so few of the kids involved are in severe poverty.

    • JayMan says:

      You’re joking, right?

    • gcochran9 says:

      I don’t think so.

    • Dale says:

      You write, “The long term data on the benefits of Pre-K for children in poverty has been collected and is quite convincing” Could you offer some pointers to that result? I read a number of pundit articles, and all of them said that the effects seen by good studies were fairly small, though in some cases it seemed like it would be worth the expense. It’s possible that the pundits I read form a biased collection, though.

  14. Dale says:

    Here’s an article by Megan McArdle on the subject. The upshot is that there is evidence that pre-K for poor kids can help. (Which is hardly surprising, since they come from crappy environments.) The trouble is that programs for poor people are a hard sell politically, and universal programs are far less efficient uses of money.

      • JayMan says:


        If someone claims to turn lead into gold, you should be highly suspicious. Attrition, publication bias, other forms of statistical legerdemain likely explain that (that is assuming this particular study wasn’t thoroughly debunked somewhere).

      • gcochran9 says:

        Henry and I gave talks at a conference at the University of Chicago last summer, basically trying to sell some genetics to the economists. James Heckman was there: he didn’t give a talk, but he did ask some questions. Some of his team, postdocs and such, did give talks, and they did not impress me. To me they seemed wrong on virtually everything. Their sole nod to human biology was confused crap about epigenetics. You could watch their talks, if you wanted to.

        I doubt if James Heckman’s idea on pre-K have high predictive value, any more than the various experts that told us about all the wonderful outcomes we could expect from Head Start and many other programs, none of which came to pass.

        As I understand it, many pundits think that Heckman is the go-to guy on pre-K. Have I ever said what I think of pundits?

        • James says:

          Okay here’s some evidence for you:

          1) Melhuish (2004). A literature review of the impact of early years provision upon young children

          Click to access 268_literaturereview.pdf

          2) Sylva, et al (2014). Students’ educational and developmental outcomes at age 16: Effective pre-school, primary and secondary education (EPPSE).

          Click to access 5.%20RR354_-_Students__educational_and_developmental_outcomes_at_age_16.pdf

          3) Bauchmüller, Gørtz and Rasmussen (2011). Long-run benefits from universal high-quality pre-schooling.

          Click to access wp_008_rbmgawr.pdf

          • JayMan says:

          • gcochran9 says:
            1. The early intervention studies with the most striking results all involve quite small samples. Why would that be so?
            2. All such studies need to carefully disentangle genetic effects. These studies have done such a good job that you can hardly even find the word ‘genetic’ in their text: twice in the first review, zero in the last two. Since twin studies clearly show that genetic influences on behavior are strong (except for homosexuality, of course) while non-genetic influences are something other than the ones that most professionals in the field JUST KNOW have to matter (zero influence from shared family environment strongly implies that face time with liberal arts majors also has zero influence), studies that ignore genetics are wrong. Studies that looked for effects from factors that would show up as shared family environment – like which school you go to, let alone whether you attend pre-K, are surely wrong. Does this imply that I have no respect for disciplines that explicitly reject any genetic influence on behavior, like sociology? It surely does. If sociologists had significant predictive power, people would listen to them, pay money for their analyses: nobody does.

            3. Well, they would say that, wouldn’t they? The people who do this type of crap are in many cases strongly attached to their stupid notions – so we see people like Eric Turkheimer proclaiming that it is immoral to to deduce things about someone’s character and psyche from how they look – but you can, to a degree. Can facts be immoral? This reminds me of the immortal scene in Deuce Bigelow, European Gigolo, in which our hero is searching Europe (inch by inch!) for a black guy he needs to find. He checks out the only chicken and waffles restaurant in Belgium – and there the guy is. The black guy yells at Deuce, saying that it’s racist to think he could be found in a chicken and waffles restaurant. Deuce says – “But you’re here” – and the black guys says, yeah, but it was racist to figure it out.

            Some of the people that disbelieve in the very possibility of genetic influences on IQ are lying – Nisbett is, for example. But many others (Turkheimer, I suspect) are so strongly attached that anything that disproved their beliefs would be a major suicide risk. Fortunately, for most of them, nothing on God’s green earth could change their mind. Only a few of these guys are in danger.

            Educational efforts later in life ( > 5) don’t seem to have much effect. Heckman knows this – and concludes that since later educational interventions don’t have the happy effects he desires, early intervention must!

  15. James says:

    Well you can’t fault the sample size in the case of the Danish study (Bauchmüller, Gørtz & Rasmussen, 2011): it is the whole of the country! Sure, the study doesn’t explicitly mention genes, but it does control for parental SES, including level of maternal education, and it does take into account the influence of parental choice on preschool quality (or as the authors put it, they “test a number of instrumental variables” in order “to deal with possible endogeneity in the allocation of children into pre-schools”). Therefore, HOW might genetic factors be a confounding variable?

    True, all these studies in developmental psychology do not accord with findings in behavioural genetics regarding the shared environment, but then the benefits of high-quality preschool are found to be greatest for those from disadvantaged backgrounds and behavioural genetics has been accused of bias towards middle-class participants.

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