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  • Is Head Start Helping Children Succeed and Does Anyone Care?

    If you’ve heard the results of the recent Head Start Impact Study, congratulations. You are one of the few Americans who, no thanks to national media sources, are aware that your taxpayer dollars have been funding a failing federal program for the last 45 years. The Heritage Foundation recently hosted an event titled: Is Head Start Helping Children Succeed and Does Anyone Care?, to discuss the recently-released Impact Study that found no lasting impact for Head Start children after first grade.

    According to the study–which compared both three- and four-year-old Head Start students with a control group of their peers–preschoolers who participated in Head Start did not fare any better than children who did not participate. Of over 100 potential benefits measured–including cognitive, social, and health outcomes–Head Start children made gains on only about 2 percent of them. Ironically, the only significant academic outcome was negative: kids who started Head Start at age three–meaning they had spent the most time in the program–were reported to do worse in kindergarten math than control group children.

    And, despite this poor performance, taxpayers have been on the hook for more than $167 billion since the program’s inception. What’s more, the administration just increased Head Start funding by $1 billion in its FY2011 budget.

    But almost as troubling as the results of the study is the poor manner in which it was executed. Panel participants–Drs. Russ Whitehurst, the director of education policy research at the Brookings Institution, and Nicholas Zill, who actually worked as a lead analyst on the Head Start Impact Study–spoke about the poor handling of the study’s release. It took the government six years from the time the data was collected to get around to reporting the results. Said Dr. Whitehurst: “Delayed data are useless data. One reason we’ve gotten so little attention to the data is that the actions that should have been predicated on the results of the study have already been taken.”  Dr. Zill went even further to say: “I think the main reason why [the study is] being ignored is the results were negative. In fact, I think if the results were positive, even if they had been delayed years and years they would have been on the front page of the New York Times, The Washington Post, and many other media outlets.”

    But now is probably not the best time to talk about the failure of government preschool, considering Obama’s plans to expand federal funding for early childhood education and care, which currently stands at a whopping $25 billion per year.

    Head Start is a prime example of bureaucratic dysfunction and the resulting waste in taxpayer dollars. It is what the Washington Times refers to as “a sacred cow.” It has become so politicized and entrenched, that even hard evidence of its failure holds no sway in policymaking. The Washington Times writes:

    …when it comes to delivering measurable, lasting outcomes, Head Start is more hype than help.

    “One would think the Obama administration and Congress would take a long, sober look at Head Start; These are damning findings for a program that has been ‘tweaked’ for 45 years at a cumulative cost of some $167 billion…

    Not surprisingly, the Heritage Foundation is apoplectic.

    The conservative think tank held a March 22 event called ‘Is Head Start Helping Children Succeed and Does Anyone Care?’ Nick Zill…answered that question with a presentation called ‘I Know Head Start Works. Don’t Confuse Me With The Facts’

    Does anyone care that Head Start is not helping children succeed? Apparently, the answer from Washington is “No”…but spoken quietly enough to make sure no one hears.

    Posted in Education [slideshow_deploy]

    10 Responses to Is Head Start Helping Children Succeed and Does Anyone Care?

    1. Danielle Columbia, S says:

      Wasting tax dollars goes further than just the Head Start program itself. To even qualify for Head Start they have to see their doctor and dentist and to make sure that they have routine checkups. Don't get me wrong I am all about taking care of children, but at what cost not just to American's put also to a circle that will not end if we don't start holding people accountable and responsible for their actions. We are setting up another generation to fail.

    2. Paul Terry Stone, Su says:

      The poor performance of most school children these days proves that Head Start doesn't work. Those of us who did not have access to Head Start mostly did better in school than children who do have such access. Maybe it's better to actually let small children be children.

    3. Carol, Lousiana says:

      Another taxpayer funded failure–shocking! It amazes me the amount of money poured into an educational system that fails to educate. Paul–you probably had encouraging parents, who wanted more for us than they had. I agree–we did well without Head Start. Head Start seems to be a very expensive daycare.

    4. bliss w. wilder says:


    5. Jeanne Stotler, wood says:

      Why not teach parents how to deal with their kids? I do day-care, I am a REt.nurse and I am constantly teaching new parents HOW to care for their babies. You would be surprised how many parents bring their kids to day care in clothes not appropiate for the season, lunches that are uneatable and sometimes dirty. I even had one who's child almost 2 was on formula and strained food?? Someday I am going to write a book. When you were in the hospital 3 days after birth, nurses talked to new mothers about nursing and feeding, now they don't have time, what needs to be done is a pre-parenting class, incorperated into Lamaze.

    6. Brad, Detroit, MI says:

      Head Start = Poor people's Free Day Care.

      You don't want to impose on those "really busy" couch potatoes the extra burden of watching and raising their children too ?

    7. Kathy Grappin, Clark says:

      Head Start gives low-income children the chance to attend preschool as their higher-income peers do. Both of these groups benefit from their experiences. If children maintain the benefits of Head Start through first grade, that is effective preschool. If they then fall behind in second grade, that is likely due to a problem with poor schools they attend after leaving Head Start, compared with those attended by their higher-income peers. Perhaps we need to look harder at addressing the whole child beyond the preschool years. Check out the Harlem Children's Zone Promise Academy and see the results their students have maintained through this program. A Harvard University study of Promise Academy students at middle school age shows the continuing success of the students. From this I conclude that all children succeed when they have their needs met on a continuing basis.

    8. Janice Caughlan says:

      It is rediculous to think that Head Start does not make a difference in the lives of young children. Head Start serves the poorest of the poor and if those children did not have Head Start what would they have? Some of them would not have immunizations to be ready for public or private school. Head Start provides training for families in nutrition, health and mental health. If the study shows that Head Start children are maintaining preschool benefits through the first grade then how is that the result of poor teaching in Head Start? Head Start is a comprehensive program dealing with parents, children, nutrition, health, mental health, transportation, parent involvement, education, and social services. Perhaps what is needed is more support in the school systems to provide more comprehensive services. Or perhaps you would prefer these children be forgotten and show no gains at all.

    9. A. Dedrick Wisconsin says:

      Head Start is an excellent place for 3, 4, and 5 year olds to learn to interact with their peers, learn social problem solving, eat a healthy meal and snack, learn what eating healthy means, learn about excersise through music and movement, learn to respect books and enjoy reading experiences. Head Start is more than just a daycare.The children need to have a physical, immunizations and a dental exam. If they did not get it to get into Head Start they may not get them until they are kindergarten bound. If these children did not have the opportunity to learn how to cope with others socially they would have a difficult time in kindergarten. If these children don't do better after first grade maybe it is the first grade teacher and school system letting them down. Head Start has to maintain a quality program to receive funding and are constantly being monitored for quality and to see if they are following the federal guidelines.

    10. Pingback: Opponents of DC School Vouchers Can't Get Facts Straight | The Foundry: Conservative Policy News.

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