January 18, 2010

Not So Much of a Head Start

Justin Katz

Here's some news you're not likely to hear trumpeted throughout the media or proclaimed in town and state meetings of education officials:

After some prodding, yesterday the Obama administration released the long-overdue first grade evaluation of the federal Head Start program. As expected, the results show that the $7 billion per year program provides little benefit to children — and great expense to taxpayers.

The evaluation, which was mandated by Congress during the 1998 reauthorization of the program, found little impact on student well-being. After collecting data on more than 5,000 three and four-year-old children randomly assigned to either a Head Start or a non Head Start control group, the Department of Health and Human Services found "few sustained benefits".

You'll want to store this information somewhere in the mind. An ear to the tracks of education policy in the state reveals that expanding public education to younger ages is a favored idea among administrators, teachers, and unionists. At the education policy event that I attended in Warren, recently, the need for pre-K education was certainly mentioned multiple times.

This federal report suggests that a simple principle still applies: Early education definitely starts a child on a potentially more erudite path, but it isn't a remedy for inadequate instruction each and every year. The burden should be on the public education system to become more effective at its current task before its role expands.

(One wonders how conscious big-government types are of the dynamic that finds them with more power and influence the less competent they prove themselves to be.)

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I wish I had facts and figures, but it seems to me that every report I have ever read on "Head Start" indicated that there were few "sustained benefits". I don't think this is news.

Posted by: Warrington Faust at January 18, 2010 10:50 PM
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