Head Start study: Quality doesn’t matter

Head Start’s benefits fade quickly and disappear by third grade. Advocates say that’s because the quality of Head Start programs varies significantly.

“How much does program quality really impact children’s learning and development in Head Start classrooms? asks Kristen Loschert on EdCentral.

Not much, concludes a recent study by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Using data from the Head Start Impact Study (HSIS) and follow-up reports, researchers analyzed how differences in program quality influence children’s cognitive and social-emotional development. They found “little evidence that quality matters to impacts of Head Start,” according to the report.

“I was disappointed,” admits co-researcher Stephen Bell. “We’re not really very far ahead in making Head Start better or understanding which variants of Head Start are worth emphasizing now.”

Exposing children to academic activities was considered a mark of a high-quality program. However,  “3-year-olds who received less exposure to academic activities . . . demonstrated better behavior outcomes” through kindergarten.

If even “quality” Head Start programs don’t produce lasting benefits, then why are we spending billions of dollars? Maybe something else — parenting support for single moms? — would make a difference.

About Joanne


  1. Stacy in NJ says:

    “Maybe something else — parenting support for single moms? — would make a difference.”

    Isn’t that what Head Start is, though? Otherwise, you’re suggesting that we “re-educate” single mothers on the proper way to parent. It can be phrased as “extra support” but is in fact re-education or teaching “parenting skills”.

    Joanne, Do you really think it’s a good idea to empower federal or state government employees with the task of “educating” parents on the proper way to parent? How’s that gonna work out? There probably is real value in helping single and disadvantaged parents develop better parenting skills, but a government agency isn’t the appropriate mechanism. It’s way to likely to abuse its authority and how do we measure accountability?

  2. Head Start is a jobs program for the adults involved; any gains among the kids are secondary to the primary mission.

  3. “Head Start’s benefits fade quickly and disappear by third grade.”

    That’s simple regression to the mean. If you want kids to continue to show the benefits of an enriched environment after they leave Head Start, you have to enrich the post-Head Start environment.

    • And that’s *not* the public education system brilliantly enriching environment that it is?

  4. “Regression to the mean” is not a casual effect. It has to do with sampling.

  5. Michael E. Lopez says:

    I would like to know if the gains are relative gains or absolute gains, actually. But I am too lazy too look it up right now.

  6. The problem that much of the headstart children face is that they still live in a culture based on victimization, and dependence. If any of them actually try to succeed, their neighbors pull them back into failure like crabs trying to escape a bucket.

  7. J-F Belliard says:

    I would implement two major changes. A-You want to be a teacher : before your degree is delivered you must write your biography and become totally aware of your childhood traumas; B- all girls must write and discover their childhood traumas before they start to reproduce and the liberated teachers will guide them thru this process.
    It will take one generation and many problems will be solved because the CAUSE will have been addressed instead of blowing billions on the EFFECTS. Sorry for the bad mothers who chose bad partners.