Quotes on Head Start
"Created as part of the War on Poverty in 1965, Head Start is a preschool community-based program funded by the federal government. By providing education, nutrition, and health services, Head Start is intended to provide a boost to disadvantaged children before they enter elementary school. Its goal is to help disadvantaged children catch up to children living in more fortunate circumstances."
"Since 1965, the federal government has sought to improve early educational opportunities for disadvantaged children through the Head Start program, spending more than $167 billion of taxpayers' money on Head Start. Head Start currently serves approximately 900,000 at an annual cost of at least $7,300 per child."
"With seven major objectives--improve the child's physical health, help the child's emotional and social development, improve the child's mental processes, establish expectations of success, increase the child's ability to relate positively to family, develop in the child and his family a responsible attitude toward society, and increase the sense of dignity and self-worth of the child and his family--Head Start raised a high bar that, in retrospect, doomed it to failure before it even began."
"Studies confirm that poor children begin school at a disadvantage and that this disparity grows throughout elementary and secondary schooling. In its almost 40 years of existence, Head Start has failed to close that gap. Head Start advocates blame the failure on a lack of financial support, not enough enrolled children, and not enough qualified teachers.
Yet why is the $7,000 per-student we are paying for the 900,000 children in Head Start not enough to provide "level" educational opportunities?
The problem is not the amount of funding. The problem is that a federal agency is trying to run a local preschool program, which results in an inefficient allocation of funds. (The people closest to the problem are the best equipped to fix it, and handle the money to do so -- not Washington.) The history of welfare reform suggests that Head Start program can be administered in a smarter way."
"Perhaps the best indication of Head Start's slumping reputation comes from low-income parents themselves, who now often choose other programs for their children. One can see this in the declining proportional enrollment of four-year-olds, Head Start's prime age group. Between 1997 and 2004, even as Head Start's funded enrollment increased by 22 percent, the number of four-year-olds in the program increased by an insignificant 2 percent.
In fact, because so many poor families now use other programs, Head Start has, for all practical purposes, run out of poor four-year-olds to serve. Rather than try to make itself more attractive to these families, Head Start advocates persuaded Congress in late 2007 to raise the income eligibility ceiling (essentially from the poverty line to 130 percent of poverty).
Surely, we can all agree that disadvantaged children deserve much better. And it is not simply a question of spending more money. Already, on a full-time, annualized basis, Head Start costs about $22,600 per child. Compare that $9,500 for a full-time child care center. Unfortunately, the Head Start establishment and its allies have persuaded key congressional leaders to protect the program from needed reform."
"I don't know what to do about Head Start, but I have two observations.
One, this country spends an astronomical amount on public education, so it's not like we don't care about educating the kids. But all the brilliant teachers, great books, fun games and nifty posters can't make up for millions of fatherless homes and crazy-quilt families. More should be done to support stable, married, two-parent homes, especially in poor neighborhoods.
Second, abstinence education, which once received roughly $200 million a year — chump change by Head Start standards — has been pilloried and is now greatly reduced (to $50 million a year) because some studies claimed it 'didn't work.'"
"A rigorous, national study has found that by the time Head Start children finish first grade, they score virtually the same on cognitive, socioemotional, health and parent-child interaction measures as poor children who didn't attend Head Start.
In other words, when it comes to delivering measurable, lasting outcomes, Head Start is more hype than help."
"The Head Start program, created in 1965 as part of the War on Poverty, is intended to boost the school readiness of low-income children. Head Start has grown from its early days of originally offering six-week summer sessions for 4-year-olds, to providing typically nine-month and sometimes year-long programs serving children from three to five years of age. The program is dedicated to promoting school readiness and providing comprehensive child development services to low-income children, their families, and communities, with an underlying premise that low-income children and families need extra support to prepare them for the transition to school. …
Based on a ― 'whole child' model, the Head Start program focuses on ― '. . . helping preschoolers develop the early reading and math skills they need to be successful in school. . . . Head Start programs promote school readiness by enhancing the social-emotional and cognitive development of children through the provision of educational, health, nutritional, social and other services to enrolled children and families. They engage parents in their children‘s learning and help them in making progress toward their educational, literacy and employment goals. Significant emphasis is placed on the involvement of parents in the administration of local Head Start programs.' Head Start is administered by local grantees and public and private non-profit and for-profit agencies that must adhere to national program guidelines - the Head Start Performance Standards - to ensure that programs provide a wide array of comprehensive services for families and children. ...
The Head Start program offers services to children and families through a variety of program options. The most common of these, and concomitantly the highest proportion of the study sample, is a center-based program option in which children are enrolled in classroom settings and parents participate in at least two home visits annually. Three other options represented in the sample are: (1) a home-based program option in which staff work directly with children and parents primarily in the home on a weekly basis and also in at least twice monthly group socialization activities, (2) a family child care option, in which services to children and families are provided in a family child care setting, and (3) the combination program option that allows for a variety of combinations of center-based class sessions with home visits."
"Head Start's impressive public relations triumph should surprise no one. The program's boosters base their appeal on a sensible-sounding premise: if we can intervene early in poor children's lives, give them a 'head start' on developing into good students and well-adjusted teens, then many of them will not grow up to be welfare mothers, deadbeats, or criminals. With every social catastrophe averted, we'll save ourselves a lot of worry, trouble, and money. That is the essence of 'fiscal conservatism,' advocates say, since a little ‘public investment’ now will pay huge dividends in tax revenues and forgone social spending later.
Head Start's sales pitch works wonderfully. Business leaders like the investment rhetoric. Journalists love all the photo opportunities with cute, smiling kids. Teachers' union officials and other leaders of the education establishment relish the chance to extend their reach beyond kindergarten into the preschool years. Big-spending politicians enjoy touting a program that actually appears to work. Fiscal conservatives prefer Head Start's relatively low price tag (in comparison with the rest of the education establishment's agenda: higher teachers' salaries, smaller class sizes, bigger buildings, equalization of spending for small or rural school systems, and so on).
The pitch works, despite the fact that Head Start's major selling point--early intervention can prevent future dependence and delinquency--rests on several shaky foundations. First, it assumes that policymakers can draw sweeping national conclusions from studies of a few unique (and non-Head Start) preschool programs. Second, it assumes that children's futures are fundamentally malleable, that a brief outside intervention can make an indelible impact on most children's lives despite the continuing influence of both heredity and environment. And third, the Head Start thesis assumes not only that successful early intervention is possible but that government is an appropriate and effective provider of it.
All three of those propositions are false. Head Start's hucksters, all smiles and promises, have sold the public on a shiny prototype that bears little resemblance to what will actually be provided and, upon closer examination, is an empty shell with nothing under the hood. Before American policymakers sign anything, they'd better take a good look at what they're getting."
"Despite the paucity of evidence that Head Start has a long-term impact on children, there is no doubt that Head Start's medical, nutritional, and (to some extent) educational services provide immediate benefits to poor children. But it does not follow that a federal government program is needed to provide those services to preschoolers. A mix of private-sector, nonprofit, church, community group, and extended-family providers is a better way to provide such care for children, poor or not."
"There is no great mystery as to why government programs like Head Start and Smart Start don’t provide the long-term benefits they promise. Two or three years of preschool are unlikely to make an indelible impact on children who will spend far more time with their parents and in what are often mediocre (or worse) government schools. There is no magic wand that can wish away the effects of poverty, family breakup, and educational malpractice. There are no shortcuts in tackling these problems, nor are many of them amenable to government solutions at all."
"…a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) study reported that, at the urging of local Head Start staff, some ineligible families misrepresent their income in order to enroll their children in the program. ... How much this misrepresentation (as opposed to changing family circumstances) contributes to over-income enrollment is unknown, but the bottom line is that when measured in the spring, about half the children enrolled in Head Start are not poor, and about 18 percent of the children served by Head Start are not even in the bottom 40 percent of families by income considering all children across both age groups. Obviously, some error is possible in the self-report, but the overall numbers are consistent with Head Start’s own enrollment figures. Head Start appears to serve many children who are not poor."
"Judged strictly on the basis of impacts on child development at age 5, Head Start cannot be judged more than modestly effective. Head Start does not accomplish its most important goal because it has only small effects on learning and development at the beginning of school and, at least according to the recent national randomized trial, few discernible effects on academic abilities at the end of either kindergarten or first grade."
"The federal government’s efforts to deliver on its promise, first made by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965, to help children from poor and minority families arrive on the doorstep of the public schools ready to learn has, for the most part, become stale and stagnant. Neither Early Head Start nor Head Start has delivered much, and the nation’s child care programs have been repeatedly shown to be of mediocre quality or worse. The real bottom line is that disadvantaged children are not achieving in the public schools as they should or could with proper help and preparation during the preschool years. Efforts to dramatically improve federal early childhood programs will succeed only if they are tied into ongoing, systematic, rigorous evaluations of alternative approaches."
More About This Topic...
- Preschool and Early Childhood Education
- Head Start
- Video: Head Start's Political Turning Point
- New Library Topic: Head Start
- Investing in Young Children: New Directions in Federal Preschool and Early Education Policy
- Quotes on Preschool Education Myths
- WETZSTEIN: Is Head Start a 'Sacred Cow'?
- Head Start: Background, Issues, and Bibliography
- Head Start Act (1964)
- Head Start Program Fact Sheet