In January, we learned that the $7 billion Head Start preschool program produces far fewer positive effects on participants' lives than its advocates have assumed. A rigorous study found that the program, after producing some initial gains during preschool, had almost no effect on children's cognitive, social-emotional, or health outcomes at the end of 1st grade, compared with a control group of children whose families had access only to the usual community services.
It would be a mistake to jump to the conclusion that early-childhood education never works. Clearly some programs, including some individual Head Start centers, do. This is the 10th instance since 1990 in which an entire federal social program has been evaluated using the scientific "gold standard" method of randomly assigning individuals to a program or control group. Nine of those evaluations found weak or no positive effects, for efforts such as the $300 million Upward Bound program (academic preparation for at-risk high school students), and the $1.5 billion Job Corps program (job training for disadvantaged youths). Only one - Early Head Start, a sister program to Head Start for younger children - was found to produce meaningful but modest effects.
A far better alternative is to use rigorous evidence about "what works" to evolve Head Start and other federal efforts into truly effective programs over time, and to use sophisticated models to trace their longer-term effects on children's life prospects…This approach draws on the insight that most of these programs are actually broad funding streams that finance multiple models and strategies ("interventions"). Although evaluations may show that the program as a whole has little or no positive effect, certain specific interventions within it may indeed be effective. An example of this in preschool education is Project Upgrade, a Miami-Dade County, Fla., initiative that trained teachers of low-income preschoolers in language and literacy instruction. Its interventions were shown in a large randomized evaluation to increase the development of children's vocabulary and early reading skills by four to nine months over the course of a single school year, compared with the control group.
The American public is increasingly concerned about the way their tax dollars are being spent. A clear shift in direction, based on proven-effective strategies, could turn programs such as Head Start into potent, rather than ineffectual, forces against the major problems facing the nation.
Read the entire article at Brookings
About this Study
Jacksonville Community Council Inc. (JCCI) is completing its latest community inquiry, Children 1-2-3: Early Learning for Future Success. This community engagement process has been examining the question, "How can Jacksonville best foster early learning success for children from birth to age 3 in our community?" Over the course of the process (October 2011 through April 2012), the meeting schedule, meeting summaries, key handouts and relevant articles have all been posted here. To find out more, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.