Green Room

Head Start and the party of science

posted at 12:22 pm on January 15, 2010 by

Education Week reports on a large-scale randomized control study of nearly 5,000 children released by the US Department of HHS this week, showing that the benefits of Head Start largely disappear by the end of 1st grade. Ed Week fails to report that had HHS not used a less-rigorous method of evaluating Head Start, the report would have shown no impact on the language and literacy outcomes for the four-year-old cohort. Nevertheless, Ed Week should get some credit for reporting the story, as the establishment media has avoided it like the plague.

It would be easy to suggest lefty bias as the reason for the media blackout, but maybe the establishment media has decided that the tiny, temporary effect of Head Start simply is not news anymore. In 1985, the first HHS meta-analysis of Head Start research concluded that no long-term gains had been shown. Last year, the New York Times published an op-ed by AEI’s Douglas J. Besharov (a Head Start backer) and Douglas M. Call, noting that:

In 1998, Congress required the Department of Health and Human Services to conduct the first rigorous national evaluation of the program. The Clinton administration took this mandate seriously and initiated a 383-site randomized experiment involving about 4,600 children. Confirming previous research, the study found that the current program had little meaningful impact.

For example, even after spending six months in Head Start, 4-year-olds on average could identify only two more letters than children from similar backgrounds not in the program; 3-year-olds could identify one and a half more letters. More important, no gains at all were detected in more vital measures like early math learning, oral comprehension (very indicative of later reading comprehension), motivation to learn or “social competencies” like the ability to interact with peers and teachers. (Emphasis added.)

Similarly, in 2005, NPR reported on the first phase of the current HHS study, which also showed Head Start produces only minimal, short-term benefits. Indeed, most of Head Start’s reputation hinges on studies of the Perry Preschool project and the Carolina Abecedarian project — neither of which bear much resemblance to Head Start programs.

Pres. Obama made a big deal of insisting that public policy be based on science, not ideology. But after decades of HHS studies showing that Head Start produces no meaningful gains for kids, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius put out a press release suggesting this latest study supports the program. Apparently. when it comes to Democrat-favored programs, the science is never settled.

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And how much are we spending wasting on this??

mgman on January 15, 2010 at 1:42 PM

I live in a suburb of Dallas right next to an elementary school. My son will be starting in August so I looked up some stats. We have about 375 kids and it breaks down to 260 hispanic, 60 black and 40 white. Of these, 275 are on free or reduced lunch. Also, you can only qualify for preschool if you are non-english speaking, parents in military or under a certain income. We live in an open district so most parents drive their kids to school. As I look out my kitchen window and see the parents drive by in morning and afternoon at least 95% are in late model SUV’s, pickups and nice sedans. Yakking on cell phones. My kid doesn’t qualify for jack. I drive a 1999 minivan. HeadStart is a JOKE. It is basically FREE DAYCARE!

mrsmwp on January 15, 2010 at 1:48 PM

As mrsmwp states: It is basically FREE DAYCARE! That’s really the only advantage for disadvantaged kids. You’re taking them out of their homes and giving them the needed custodial care. Anyone who has studied childhood development can tell you that the body and brain are designed to do certain things at certain ages. It happens earlier or later for some kids, but in the end (unless they are handicapped) they learn to do it. What real value is there to a 4-year-old being able to read? Better they learn empathy, caring and trust at home.

texabama on January 15, 2010 at 4:10 PM

Think they’ll get rid of Head Start before or after they get rid of the Energy Dept, the Rural Electrification Administration or the Tennessee Valley Authority?

Robert17 on January 15, 2010 at 4:42 PM

John Taylor Gatto is a former New York State and New York City Teacher of the Year.

His paper, “Against School: How public education cripples our kids, and why” is something every single American should read.

What we are doing/have done to our kids in the public school system is tantamount to child abuse!

painesright on January 15, 2010 at 5:20 PM

And, thanks to my nanny-state senators, we also have the Early Head Start Expansion Program

Face it. They are very simply against parents raising their own children.

Connie on March 11, 2011 at 5:25 PM

My kids missed the “Head Start” program, by a couple of years so they had to suffer through a daycare agenda prior to kindergarten. Once Head Start got “started” it hired the teachers from the daycare, who got a raise of course and continued teaching the same basic things (there’s only so much 4 year olds will absorb) that they taught at daycare.

Only difference is parents didn’t pay for it anymore, taxpayers did.

It’s flippin’ daycare people, they are 4 freaking years old. It’s just another huge waste of taxpayer money and it further chips away at the level of responsibility parents used to have.

Jebus I hate what our government has done and continues to do.

Tim Zank on March 11, 2011 at 5:30 PM

Head Start is just what it says: a head start on creating new dependents of the welfare state.

redfoxbluestate on March 11, 2011 at 5:39 PM

In the late 80’s, our oldest son was eligible for Head Start since we had no income the previous year (med school.) Since we couldn’t afford preschool at the time, it seemed like it couldn’t hurt and might make it easier to run errands with only one child.
What a joke. Most of the time in “school” consisted of feeding the kids breakfast and lunch. They were “learning” skills like how to pass out napkins and spoons, and how to throw away their trash when they were done. A parent was required to be the teacher’s assistant one day a month (thereby making it all but impossible for someone to have a part time job during those hours.) Parents also had to attend a parent meeting one evening per month, where they heard from people who gave them free help with insulation of their homes, parenting tips, etc. Even though most of the kids were actually living with Mommy at Grandma & Grandpa’s house, they got lots of free goodies at Christmas when local churches wanted to provide for the poor waifs. We were told (when we declined the gifts) that it would make our son feel left out. We even had to submit to nutrition lessons when he tested anemic (he is a very picky eater.)
Most of the parents I met were extremely proficient at sucking every free dollar from the various programs and not working a single hour. This program has no value and should be on the chopping block. Because of the “science” that says it doesn’t work. I would prefer to have them start kindergarten the summer before if they don’t pass the screening they usually do at enrollment, and let them get caught up then.
In Idaho, one state rep actually suggested that children be allowed to skip kindergarten if they already have those skills mastered, and reduce the time for it for most in order to focus on the kids who really need the help. The teacher’s union was not amused.

spudmom on March 11, 2011 at 6:22 PM

Headstart is just a good place to start weeding out socialists from capitalists. If you do well in headstart, you are highly likely to be a socialist later in life. At least, that was my experience.

astonerii on March 11, 2011 at 6:23 PM

And how much are we spending wasting on this??


Oh, but remember with a Democratic administration it’s not spending, it’s ‘investing.’ That’s why there is no budget crisis.

We’re rich investors, each and every taxpaying one of us!

chimney sweep on March 11, 2011 at 6:27 PM

Yet another lefty scam!

OldEnglish on March 11, 2011 at 6:34 PM

CC: Georgia’s Governor Nathan Deal and the Georgia Senate/House

Buy Danish on March 11, 2011 at 6:37 PM

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