Head Start Impact Study: Final Report
Taking its cue from Obama’s campaign platform, the current administration has adamantly supported sizable boosts in “Zero to Five” programs meant to improve the school readiness of low-income children. But how effective are these programs, beginning with the iconic Head Start? This major study, commissioned by the Health and Human Services Department (and released 10 months late), raises serious doubts. It looked at a representative sample of 5,000 3- and 4-year-old Head Start applicants and randomly assigned each to one of two groups--those that were accepted (controlling for those who didn’t enroll) and those that qualified but were not (but were allowed to participate in other non-Head Start early childhood or day care programs). Analysts then investigated outcomes for each cohort across four key domains: cognitive development, social-emotional development, health status and services, and parenting practices. The results revealed that, while enrollment in Head Start had an immediate positive impact on student outcomes, these advantages largely vanished by the end of first grade. In fact, in only one measure of cognitive development did the 3- and 4-year-old Head Start cohorts show significantly better results at that point (out of 19 and 22 total measures, respectively). Will this study--just the latest one over forty-five years to find that Head Start benefits fade away--finally reroute the universal preschool juggernaut? We’re not optimistic. You can read it here.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
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