Head Start to stop testing

Is Head Start working to prepare low-income children for school? Congress is expected to suspend testing of preschoolers in the federal program, “amid complaints from early childhood experts that the exam is developmentally inappropriate and poorly designed,” reports the Washington Post.

Since 2003, children have been evaluated by their teachers to determine if their Head Start programs are building skills they’ll need in kindergarten. Critics say the test was adopted without sufficient field testing.

On Early Stories, Richard Colvin gives the anti-test case without saying he agrees.

The Head Start establishment doesn’t want to make preparing students for school its priority, writes Checker Finn of Education Gadfly. So critics are going after the test — “more like a 15-minute oral interview” — of kids headed for kindergarten.

Maybe the test isn’t good enough and the suspension will be lifted when a better test is developed. But I hate to see a massive federal program with no accountability for results.

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Comments

  1. massive federal program with no accountability —-

    nope

    don’t want to see it

  2. Independent George says:

    This brings us back to one of the oldest issues with headstart – is it an academic program, or not?

    As I understand it, most of the public has always thought of it as an academic program (as did congress when it was first created), but most of the people working within it view it as a socialization program.

  3. Wouldn’t a meaningful measure of Head Start’s effectiveness be to compare how its graduates do in K-12 versus children of similar circumstance who do not attend Head Start?

    Surely, though, there ought to be a reasonable way to evaluate what children are learning in that program.

    Independent George, that is an interesting observation about the people working within Head Start; upon what is it based?

  4. wayne martin says:

    > Wouldn’t a meaningful measure of Head Start’s
    > effectiveness be to compare how its graduates do
    > in K-12 versus children of similar circumstance
    > who do not attend Head Start?

    These comparisons have been around for a couple of decades, as HeadStart is a fairly old program. Studies then to show that for Gr.1-Gr.3, the HeadStart kids do better, but by Gr.5 the differences seems to disappear.

  5. Cardinal Fang says:

    A useless test is no better than no test.

  6. This brings us back to one of the oldest issues with headstart – is it an academic program, or not?

    A better question would be, “who are the beneficiaries of HeadStart?”

    According to Wayne’s statistics, and in line with other stats I’ve read down through the years, it’s not the kids.

  7. Widebody says:

    A massive federal program with no accountability for results — sounds like Iraq.

  8. Wayne Martin says:

    I worked in a HeadStart program when I was in college. It was pretty much a socialization effort. This particular program was just for the summer, for five/six year olds going into first grade. I remember a couple of twins that ran away the first day when their mother left for work. I had to run about two blocks to catch them .. and bring them back to class. By the end of the session, these kids who didn’t talk to anyone other than themselves at first began to not only join in with others .. but actually began to show a certain amount of leadership by initiating games.

    I don’t have a problem with testing these kids .. but not certain what kind of test makes sense beyond the teacher’s evaluations.

  9. Given that the money to pay your stipend was raised via taxes, the rationale for the program ought to be that the good it’s doing outweighs the bad, the jobs that were never created, houses that were never built, etc. and there ought to be some way to measure that outcome. Otherwise you’re throwing darts in the dark.

    As it is, Headstart, like so much of the Great Society, is a moral analgesic for people who are too self-involved to deal with their moral discomfort directly. To paraphrase Tom Lehrer, Headstart is attractive to people who prefer to “be nice to people who are inferior to you” at arms-length.

  10. Wayne Martin says:

    .. money to pay your stipend ..

    Well .. I was paid minimum wage at the time .. $1.25/hour.

    However .. that was then and now is now .. here’s a précis of the current Head Start Program:

    http://www.brookings.edu/es/research/projects/wrb/publications/pb/pb27.htm

    Created in 1965 when preschool education was largely an unknown entity, Head Start has grown steadily over the years while maintaining a high level of popularity. There are now nearly 19,000 Head Start centers in all fifty states and the District of Columbia; the program enrolls more than 900,000 students (about 70 percent of eligible four-year-olds and 40 percent of eligible three-year-olds); and program costs approach $7 billion per year. Almost since its inception, Head Start has enjoyed a reputation as a successful program, meaning that most people, including policymakers, believe it supports child development and helps prepare children for school. But Head Start, which is financed by direct federal funding of local projects (bypassing states), is now coming under increasing scrutiny because some critics believe it does an inadequate job of preparing children for school. The Bush administration is proposing that control of Head Start be turned over to state governments that promise to meet a series of conditions regarding school preparation, comprehensive services, and public accountability. The purpose of this brief is to review the arguments for and against giving greater control of Head Start to the states and to make recommendations about Head Start policy.

    $7,000 per student is really far too much to pay for this level of education. Clearly the system as grown to met the needs of the providers ..

  11. Closer to $8,000.

    Since you brought up your per-hour Wayne, I thought I’d take a swag at the Head Start per-hour.

    I didn’t bother to look any of this stuff up but it seems more or less reasonable to me:

    40 weeks/year
    5 days/week
    4 hours/day
    $7,777.78/per child/year
    $9.72/hour.

  12. The “complaints” come from the Fed’s own Government Accounting Office (GAO) which published a harsh evaluation several years ago questioning the validity and reliability of the tool used to assess Head Start children. Don’t have the link to the GAO study but it’s easily googled.

    As far as accountability goes, Head Start programs are required to submit a variety of quarterly and annual performance reports to federal overseers, are required by statute to assess children’s progress in 8 learning categories and are audited every three years by teams of independent federal contractors.

    For those lazy souls who declare death by association (it came out of the Great Society, therefore it must be bad)–maybe you could make an effort to visit your local Head Start program before you talk out of your ass. My guess is you will find committed and skilled people who know what they are doing…..

  13. Wayne Martin says:

    > As far as accountability goes, Head Start programs are
    > required to submit a variety of quarterly and annual
    > performance reports to federal overseers, are required by
    > statute to assess children’s progress in 8 learning
    > categories and are audited every three years by teams
    > of independent federal contractors.

    This is a lot of “overhead”, which provides what? What does all of this paperwork (and expense to generate) provide anyone, really?

    There really is no reason for the Federal Government to be funding this program. It’s clear why the current Administration wants to turn it over to the States.

  14. Well hello Red Queen.

    That’s not accountability for results. That’s accountability for reporting requirements. The results of Head Start are in and like everything associated with the Great Society, it’s a miserable failure.

    If you don’t like people making that generalization you’re free to point out the notable success of the Great Society.

  15. Larry Straus wrote: “Wouldn’t a meaningful measure of Head Start’s effectiveness be to compare how its graduates do in K-12 versus children of similar circumstance who do not attend Head Start?”

    No.

    Programs like Head Start and other pre-school initiatives should not be evaluated on their longitudinal impact on a student over the course of many years. The goal of these programs is (or should be) adequate preparation for kindergarten, of which socialization is a prime component. Compare Head Start kids with those who did not attend Head Start, in Kindergarten. You cannot compare outcomes four years down the road (or six, or twelve), because there is no way of knowing what has happened or not happened in the meantime to alter the effects of program participation.

  16. wayne martin says:

    > The goal of these programs is (or should be) adequate
    > preparation for kindergarten, of which socialization is
    > a prime component.

    And the taxpayers should pay $7B (and rising) for this?

    > Programs like Head Start and other pre-school initiatives
    > should not be evaluated on their longitudinal impact on a
    > student over the course of many years.

    Why not? How does the Nation justify this kind of expense?

    > The goal of these programs is (or should be) adequate
    > preparation for kindergarten, of which socialization is
    > a prime component.

    There was a time that Kindergarten was for socialization for entry into the first grade. What’s changed so that we now need pre-Kindergarten, and eventually, pre-pre-Kindergarten?

    Something has gone wrong .. very wrong. Keep in mind that posting after posting on this Blog, and others, points out that 60% of the kids are not reading at a proficient level (pretty much the same with math) .. that college kids are taking six years rather than four to graduate, and then only about half do after six years. That we have a nation of student who are functionally illiterate (well almost)–

    What Corporate America Cannot Build: A Sentence:
    http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F40F1EFA3E550C748CDDAB0994DC404482

    > You cannot compare outcomes four years down the road
    > (or six, or twelve)

    So there is no evidence that kids who went to Head Start read better than those who didn’t by the third or forth grade? If they don’t, what’s the point of the program and its expense?

  17. TMAO, evaluating Head Start students on their success in K is reasonable though I think that longitudinal data can also be useful. I would, for example, like to know how my students do in college — not just which ones they got into or how they scored on the SAT or the college math and English placement tests.

    I realize that there are many other variables that affect student performance over time but I’m not sure that those variables entirely invalidate such findings.

    What if, for example, there is something Head Start could be doing that might help children developmentally move toward literacy? Perhaps it wouldn’t be immediately measurable but might still be worth doing….