We’re by no means conspiracy theorists but we often wonder about research that seems to denigrate programs designed for lower income folks in this country. Then again, studies can be tricky depending upon how you frame questions and how you track the data.
At the end of the day, we’re happy that deeper research shows the benefits of Head Start might show up later in life. Furthermore, is the earlier study saying that the program gave no advantages to children went through Head Start or could it be saying that those children who went through it end up not starting behind in the first place? “Research” has shown that children from lower economic levels often start behind. Perhaps, Head Start gives them the opportunity to start on equal footing.
The Benefits of Mixing Rich and Poor
By DAVID L. KIRP MAY 10, 2014, 2:30 PM 200 Comments
The Great Divide is a series about inequality.
Whenever President Obama proposes a major federal investment in early education, as he did in his two most recent State of the Union addresses, critics have a two-word riposte: Head Start. Researchers have long cast doubt on that program’s effectiveness. The most damning evidence comes from a 2012 federal evaluation that used gold-standard methodology and concluded that children who participated in Head Start were not more successful in elementary school than others. That finding was catnip to the detractors. “Head Start’s impact is no better than random,” The Wall Street Journal editorialized. Why throw good money after bad?
Eli Reed/Magnum Photos
Children in 1990 in the Head Start program in Lampasas, Tex.
Though the faultfinders have a point, the claim that Head Start has failed overstates the case. For one thing, it has gotten considerably better in the past few years because of tougher quality standards. For another, researchers have identified a “sleeper effect” — many Head Start youngsters begin to flourish as teenagers, maybe because the program emphasizes character and social skills as well as the three R’s. Still, few would give Head Start high marks, and the bleak conclusion of the 2012 evaluation stands in sharp contrast to the impressive results from well-devised studies of state-financed prekindergartens.