Head Start gains erased by 3rd grade

Head Start children’s academic and social-emotional gains are “essentially erased” by third grade, reports Early Ed Watch. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released the impact study, which was completed in October, on the Friday afternoon before Christmas.

If you really, really want to bury a study, this is how to do it, writes Jay Greene. HHS has “delayed, buried, or distorted” earlier Head Start research, he writes.

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  1. Cheer up – that won’t stop the government from continuing to flush beaucoup bucks down the Head Start drain.

  2. Deirdre Mundy says:

    If it’s just a jobs program, adult daycares so that wage earners can continue to work while caring for ailing parents might be a better bang for our buck….

  3. Why would it be a surprise that when you stop providing children with a supportive, structured, enriching educational environment, they gradually slide back to baseline?

    • Richard Aubrey says:

      It was sold on the basis that the gains would last.
      Permanent extra support was not only not part of the pitch, it would have been, you know, kind of, um, not nice to suggest it would be necessary.

    • Turns out they were provided with a supportive, structured, enriching educational environment – the public education system.

      Another perspective that’s worth investigating is why, when poor kids are given a head start, do they gradually slide quickly back to the baseline when exposed to that supportive, structured, enriching educational environment – the public education system?

      • Community and family values also play a large part. In many Head Start communities, doing well in school is not a priority and may be seen as a betrayal of community values. There’s an old saying: “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.”

  4. A number of other preschool programs ( Abecedarian and the Bereiter-Engelmann preschool at the University of Illinois, for example) *have* shown benefits, both academic and social, that lasted well into adulthood. So the obvious approach would be to look at those programs and modify Head Start to be more in line with what has been shown to work.

    Head Start has long been non-academic (even anti-academic) in focus, and it’s highly likely that its practices and instructional protocols need serious revision. A great deal has been learned in the last few decades about accelerating language development and reasoning in young children, and Head Start could certainly be improved by taking some of this on board.

    • I agree with you, but doing so would require the abandonment of some of the ed world’s most cherished ideas and the adoption of practices that are currently demonized to the point that they can’t even be mentioned; direct,explicit instruction and a properly-sequenced, content-rich curriculum. I’ve heard that even mentioning Engelmann’s name, in some circles, is almost heretical.

  5. Deirdre Mundy says:

    I’d like to see it replaced with Montessori…

    The Montessori method was SPECIFICALLY DESIGNED to reach underprivileged and traumatized children from difficult backgrounds. It only got co-opted by the wealthy because it works so well….

  6. “A number of other preschool programs ( Abecedarian and the Bereiter-Engelmann preschool at the University of Illinois, for example) *have* shown benefits, both academic and social, that lasted well into adulthood. ”

    Not true. Abecedarian’s results have been largely dismissed, if not discredited, and Bereiter-Engelmann is more of a teaching method than anything to do with support–and I don’t know that it’s been shown that the kids do substantially better in adulthood vis a vis cognitive ability.

    • I’m not aware that Abcedarian’s results have been “dismissed.” The program is intensive and expensive, but it produced significant, long-term results that saved taxpayers a lot of money by preventing special ed diagnoses, retention, dropouts, criminal activity, welfare dependency, etc. (Kids from welfare families who went through Abcedarian’s preschool did very poorly compared to middle-class children, but much better than the control group.)

      • Is anyone trying to replicate it? Including North Carolina?

        Googling suggests that the study is over an no-one is thinking about trying a second round (maybe with more kids).

      • It only involved 111 kids, so I don’t see how you can argue that it produced major taxpayer savings.

        And Spitz pointed out that they jimmied the numbers, which is why you rarely hear of it these days. They combined the results from four cohorts, when two of them had numbers that were actually lower, and the intervention group’s IQ was slightly higher to start with. Moreover, as Mark Roulo points out, the results have never been replicated.

        When you think of it, given the strong, nearly obsessive desire of many to prove that intervention works, and given the total failure of all except one project nearly 40 years ago, which is more likely: that the one project wasn’t actually a success, or that it was a success and just a complete fluke?

  7. I think this says more about the schools that follow head start, than about head start itself.