Is Head Start Helping Children Succeed and Does Anyone Care?
Rachel Sheffield /
If you’ve heard the results of the recent Head Start Impact Study, congratulations. You are one of the few Americans who, no thanks to national media sources, are aware that your taxpayer dollars have been funding a failing federal program for the last 45 years. The Heritage Foundation recently hosted an event titled: Is Head Start Helping Children Succeed and Does Anyone Care?, to discuss the recently-released Impact Study that found no lasting impact for Head Start children after first grade.
According to the study–which compared both three- and four-year-old Head Start students with a control group of their peers–preschoolers who participated in Head Start did not fare any better than children who did not participate. Of over 100 potential benefits measured–including cognitive, social, and health outcomes–Head Start children made gains on only about 2 percent of them. Ironically, the only significant academic outcome was negative: kids who started Head Start at age three–meaning they had spent the most time in the program–were reported to do worse in kindergarten math than control group children.
And, despite this poor performance, taxpayers have been on the hook for more than $167 billion since the program’s inception. What’s more, the administration just increased Head Start funding by $1 billion in its FY2011 budget.
But almost as troubling as the results of the study is the poor manner in which it was executed. Panel participants–Drs. Russ Whitehurst, the director of education policy research at the Brookings Institution, and Nicholas Zill, who actually worked as a lead analyst on the Head Start Impact Study–spoke about the poor handling of the study’s release. It took the government six years from the time the data was collected to get around to reporting the results. Said Dr. Whitehurst: “Delayed data are useless data. One reason we’ve gotten so little attention to the data is that the actions that should have been predicated on the results of the study have already been taken.” Dr. Zill went even further to say: “I think the main reason why [the study is] being ignored is the results were negative. In fact, I think if the results were positive, even if they had been delayed years and years they would have been on the front page of the New York Times, The Washington Post, and many other media outlets.”
But now is probably not the best time to talk about the failure of government preschool, considering Obama’s plans to expand federal funding for early childhood education and care, which currently stands at a whopping $25 billion per year.
Head Start is a prime example of bureaucratic dysfunction and the resulting waste in taxpayer dollars. It is what the Washington Times refers to as “a sacred cow.” It has become so politicized and entrenched, that even hard evidence of its failure holds no sway in policymaking. The Washington Times writes:
…when it comes to delivering measurable, lasting outcomes, Head Start is more hype than help.
“One would think the Obama administration and Congress would take a long, sober look at Head Start; These are damning findings for a program that has been ‘tweaked’ for 45 years at a cumulative cost of some $167 billion…
Not surprisingly, the Heritage Foundation is apoplectic.
The conservative think tank held a March 22 event called ‘Is Head Start Helping Children Succeed and Does Anyone Care?’ Nick Zill…answered that question with a presentation called ‘I Know Head Start Works. Don’t Confuse Me With The Facts’
Does anyone care that Head Start is not helping children succeed? Apparently, the answer from Washington is “No”…but spoken quietly enough to make sure no one hears.