Head Start Impact Study

Justin Torres

Administration for Children and Families, Health and Human Services
June 11, 2005

The first installment of this Congressionally-mandated study of 5,000 Head Start kids in 84 programs finds modest impacts on participants' cognitive development and less impact on physical or social-emotional health or parenting practices. Three and four-year-olds in the program demonstrated small-to-moderate gains in pre-reading, pre-writing, vocabulary, and parent reports of children's literacy skills, though none in oral comprehension or early math skills. But surprisingly, there were only small or no gains for either age group in such measures as socialization or improved attitudes toward learning, and while access to health care improved, the actual health of Head Starters did not budge. And parental attitudes and practices changed only minimally - a little less spanking, a little more use of educational activities. So the findings are all over the map and do not lend themselves to easy use by either side in the Head Start debate, though it's obvious that this program is not coming even close to shrinking the achievement gap. Future installments of this study will follow kids through the 1st grade and, let's hope, even further. Keep in mind that most previous Head Start studies found the cognitive gains fading during the first few years of regular school (more a commentary on the school systems than on Head Start). In the meantime, check out the data here.

"Head Start children show some gains," by Kevin Freking, Associated Press, June 9, 2005

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