Monday, February 01, 2010


Head Start's false start

In November 2004, the Tennnessean published an editorial touting Head Start's record of success. "Numerous studies chart the educational benefits of Head Start" said the Tennessean's editorial board.

In response, I posted this on a now-defunct blog:

If Head Start does indeed have a "record of success," I can only wonder why the Tennessean did not cite one study in which the program is credited with helping disadvantaged children prepare for their first year of school. Could it be that very few such studies - except those published by interest groups that have a financial stake in Head Start - actually exist?

$44 billion and 17 million children have passed through the Head Start program since 1965. A study conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services had this to say about Head Start: "In the long run, cognitive and socioemotional test scores of former Head Start students do not remain superior to those of disadvantaged children who did not attend Head Start." In other words, Head Start is a false start -- the net gain to children has been zero.

Five years have passed, during which a few, ahem, million dollars have passed through the Head Start program. Has anything changed? According to the February 8 National Review, the answer is no. To wit:

Reporters largely ignored it, but the Department of Health and Human Services released a study showing that Head Start’s positive effects peter out by the end of first grade. The study included 44 tests, of which 42 found no statistically significant and lasting improvement. Some positive results are to be expected when you run that many tests, and a footnote points out that the two apparently lasting results disappear after correcting for that tendency. Andrew Coulson and Adam Schaeffer of the Cato Institute point out that school choice, on the other hand, appears to have lasting positive results. Naturally, the Democrats have expanded funding for Head Start while ending school choice in D.C.

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