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  • The Head Start program works! (For about a year.)

    by Brian Saint-Paul


    Though it was easy to miss in the media non-coverage, last week the U.S. Department of Health & Human released its congressionally-mandated impact study on the Head Start program for the years 2002 – 2003. The results were devastating for supporters of the 45-year old, $100 billion dollar program.

    In the fall of 2002, researchers started to study two randomly selected groups of poor children: those who got into Head Start programs and those who didn’t. According to data collected a year later, the children in Head Start seemed to be better prepared for school on several, though not all, indicators of school readiness. Debates raged about how significant these results were, but the data at least showed several areas in which they were better prepared than their counterparts. They were better, for example, at identifying letters and had picked up more writing skills.

    Now consider today’s news from the Department of Health and Human Services: By the end of 1st grade, children’s participation in the program no longer shows up as having much of an impact on various cognitive and social-emotional measures, at least on the sample as a whole.

    “The study showed that at the end of one program year, access to Head Start positively influenced children’s school readiness,” HHS reported in a press release. “When measured again at the end of kindergarten and first grade, however, the Head Start children and the control group children were at the same level on many of the measures studied.”

    The goal of Head Start — to improve the educational performance of low-income children through supplemental lessons, health and nutrition services, etc. — is noble enough. But a good intention doesn’t guarantee policy success. If we’re serious about helping poor kids get the best education possible, we should support those programs that demonstrate success. Andrew Coulson at Cato has one good suggestion…  

     

    The views expressed by the authors and editorial staff are not necessarily the views of
    Sophia Institute, Holy Spirit College, or the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts.

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    • georgie-ann

      so what are all these statistics good for, if they don’t “listen” to them?,…

    • Deacon Ed

      of initiatives that the Federal government is inept at carrying out. The lesson to be learned: Let’s hand over total responsibility for the healthcare needs of all citizens of the USA to them!

      Oh, and by the way, why are we quibbling about a mere $100,000,000,000?????

    • Joshua

      I don’t find this a surprise. This year in kindergarten has been a “refresher” year for my daughter. In other words, she hasn’t learned anything she wasn’t taught in preschool! So while Head Start is teaching these kids some skills, they are re-learning the skills when they get to kindergarten. My daughter is bored in kindergarten. I was also a bored student and that led to some mischief during class time and poor study skills later on. Head Start may actually be hurting the kids that it is supposed to help.

    • Sarah L

      I was put in Headstart as a child and was bored to tears and frustrated with my flake of a teacher. The closest thing I had to a friend in there was a boy who was always acting out and ending up in the “naughty chair.”

      Our son (and our oldest child) has Asperger’s and qualified for “free” preschool to help give him a leg up socially and otherwise. He enjoyed it, for the most part, and we liked his teachers, but it was more like state-funded daycare than much else. He’s in second grade right now, and his Aspie traits are making it tougher to get through the school day without some kind of meltdown or trouble with his teacher or his paraprofessional assistants. He’s obsessed with door handles, right now, and he will insist on being the one in charge of opening and closing doors, checking door locks (to make sure they work) and challenging anyone who dares enter a room by the door he is guarding.

      It’s been an interesting year, so far. We’ve been getting lots of calls from his frustrated teacher, who keeps asking the ASD consultant for more ideas on how to motivate him and keep him on task. My husband is now as convinced as I am that homeschooling him is going to be necessary (and best for him)–starting, at the latest, next fall. He knows they’re trying to phase out the “one-on-one support,” and the only way to hold onto that is to make trouble (by simply refusing to do anything that doesn’t interest him, by getting out of his seat during classtime to go check the doors or open cupboards and drawers, by escaping any way he can and as often as he can–which is why he’s no longer allowed anywhere on campus without an escort . . .).

      Academically, he’s doing well. He’s alternately bored and frustrated, though, and he insists on being the teacher’s assistant rather than a student in the class.

    • Aaron

      Head Start is a good example of why we can’t just “try out” government programs: it’s nearly impossible to get rid of them when they don’t work. That’s why it’s so important to keep them from creating new bureaucracies on the basis of “We Must Do Something” until we’ve determined it’s absolutely necessary. Ronald Reagan couldn’t get rid of the Dept. of Education, and it was only a few years old and he promised to during the campaign! We’ll still be stuck with the Dept. of Homeland Security 100 years after the last terrorist attack. I wonder if someone, somewhere, is still getting a check from the Tennessee Valley Authority.

    • Todd M. Aglialoro

      C’mon, Brian, would you Think of the Children?

    • dymphna

      Head Start is qorthless except for one thing: it does get innocent children out of chaotic households for a few hours a day.

    • Brian Saint-Paul

      Thanks to everyone for the great comments. I particularly enjoyed reading some of your own experiences.

      Head Start is a good example of why we can’t just “try out” government programs: it’s nearly impossible to get rid of them when they don’t work. That’s why it’s so important to keep them from creating new bureaucracies on the basis of “We Must Do Something” until we’ve determined it’s absolutely necessary.

      Exactly. We keep making this same mistake.

      C’mon, Brian, would you Think of the Children?

      I’ve flirted with writing an article on that very thing. Provisional title: “Please Stop Thinking About the Children.”

    • Anne B.

      The same type of study was done in the 70′s and the results were identical. I learned about this in ’76 while I was in college taking Education courses. Evidently, nothing was done to rectify the problem then and most likely there will be nothing done now.

    • Kevin J Jones

      Head Start is worthless except for one thing: it does get innocent children out of chaotic households for a few hours a day.

      The effects of chaotic households are more permanent than the effects of a government program. Strong families and a pro-marriage, anti-cohabitation culture is precisely what these kids need.

      However, the government bureaucrats & hedonists who run the Dems and the hedonist libertarians who run the GOP have no interest in strengthening the family.