Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Head Start

The Head Start program is supposed to give children from disadvantaged families help in future school success. The program has been in place since the mid 1960s.

The Department of Health and Human Services, which administers the program, issued a report in December of 2012 studying the effects of Head Start versus a control group through 3rd grade.

In the Key Findings there is the following statement, "Looking across the full study period, from the beginning of Head Start through 3rd grade, the evidence is clear that access to Head Start improved children’s preschool outcomes across developmental domains, but had few impacts on children in kindergarten through 3rd grade."

In other words, the positive benefits of Head Start were pretty much gone by the end of 3rd grade. In the Final Thoughts section the report identifies multiple studies that "showed a similar pattern of early positive impacts that were not sustained into elementary school."

So, if there are no lasting benefits, what the hell is the point of continuing the program?

The reports tries to provide some justification but it's primarily through speculation such as "...research suggests that positive outcomes later in life are possible."

Give me a call when you have numbers to support that speculation.

Head Start costs about $7 billion a year. Granted this is small potatos in the grand scheme of things, and Head Start may provide other benefits such as freeing up mothers for part time work, but you know the old saying, "a billion here, a billion there, it adds up."

Obama said in his State of the Union address that "Study after study shows that the sooner a child begins learning, the better he or she does down the road."

This was the justification for his proposal "to make high-quality preschool available to every single child in America."

From what I've read it sounds to me like the advantages are more theoretical than demonstrated. In a special article on early education Science makes the statement "The value of investment in early education depends on the quality of interventions and the conditions under which they are administered."

The article goes on to conclude "Early childhood education remains peppered with both opportunities and debate. Continued progress will require new research that bridges traditional disciplines of neuroscience, psychology, sociology, economics, public policy, health, and education."

I'm an engineer. I've written a lot of reports in my day and this is the kind of statement you make when you're "sure" something should be true but you don't have any compelling evidence to show that it is in fact true.

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