Thursday, January 14, 2010

Head Start

We sink billions of dollars a year into Head Start programs, but do these programs do any good?

Not so much.

Taxpayers have been on the hook for more than $100 billion for the Head Start program since 1965. This federal evaluation, which effectively shows no lasting impact on children after first grade and no difference between those children who attended Head Start and those who did not, should call into question the merits of increasing funding for the program, which the Obama administration recently did as part of the so-called “stimulus” bill.

Here's the government's actual report--at least, the 35-page executive summary. Here's one of the closing statements:

In sum, this report finds that providing access to Head Start has benefits for both 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds in the cognitive, health, and parenting domains, and for 3-year-olds in the social-emotional domain. However, the benefits of access to Head Start at age four are largely absent by 1st grade for the program population as a whole.

Seven billion dollars a year is a lot of money to spend for benefits that don't last past 1st grade.


MiaZagora said...

I don't get it. What is the "parenting domain"?

mazenko said...

Head Start - or some variation of it - is a good investment for the country. Beyond the basic academic achievement on standardized test benchmarks, we all know that education is much more than that. Head Start kids have a much greater chance of finishing high school, much greater chance of pursuing post-graduate schooling, much greater chance of completing that degree work, much greater chance of staying out of trouble, far fewer discipline problems and suspensions, etc. These are the intangibles that are not covered in the "actual report," the likes of which are used by public education critics to damn the whole system. Schools accomplish much more than reading and math skills. Spend a little time living in the city of Chicago, and talk to some community members involved, and you might have a truer, more human understanding of the issue that doesn't come through in statistics and executive summaries. Thus, this sort of criticism is myopic at best.

Darren said...

If all those benefits you mention were real, don't you think the government report to fawn over Head Start would have mentioned them? How do you mesh your statement that Head Start kids are more likely to finish high school or go to college with the report's finding that benefits don't show past 1st grade? Why are we spending $7B a year to make good kindergartners when that doesn't even translate to good 2nd graders, much less high school graduates?

allen (in Michigan) said...

Head Start, like all government programs loved by lefties, isn't really about the the stated purpose of the program but about the lefties.

Whether there is or ever has been any measurable value from Head Start is irrelevant. It can be pointed to as evidence of the caring and compassionate nature of the program's supporters by virtue of their support of the program. That's why lefties clearly take it personally when talk of ending ineffective or even counterproductive programs is in the air. It really is personal.

Ellen K said...

Why do we have Headstart AND PreK programs that basically help the same population group? It would seem that rather than having two different groups, with two different budgets and two different sets of administration costs, it would be much better to consolidate the services. But this is not how government works. The way government works is the more people who answer to you, the more powerful you are. This is what entrenches bureaucracies and costs us billions in taxes.

Mrs. C said...

Have to disagree, Ellen K. My autistic son is in a public preschool program where he has his own aide and uses PECs. No way we would qualify for Head Start, and if my son could speak, I wouldn't waste the taxpayers' money on preschool for my child, promise you. :)