Data suggests that enrollment in Head Start is not determinative of whether a child is a successful elementary school student or whether a child is a higher-functioning learner through elementary grades. Hence, those waiting for Head Start to be the silver bullet to end the achievement gap are sentenced to wait some more. What Head Start does do (as supported by this study) is ready young children for kindergarten and deliver them to a high-quality kindergarten teacher as eager little sponges ready to grow to their next level of learning (see Exhibits 3a and 3b showing statistically significant cognitive impacts of Head Start for the four-year-old cohort and three-year old cohorts, respectively (p. xxiv-xxvi)). This is what we should want for all children—to have the skills and readiness to begin to learn. A program that ensures our nation’s children are ready to learn when they reach school is a program worthwhile.
But the prompt asks whether Head Start is still relevant, which probes not just into the effects of the program (though, excitingly the random assignment of this study allows us to be able to determine actual causality of Head Start), but asks us to explore whether Head Start should continue to take up policy space, research, and public priority. Should the federal government continue to support the program?
I point to two reasons why Head Start should continue to be supported by the federal government: (1) the alternative to no federal government support is likely state-only support (rather than no support at all) and states are not currently in positions to take on this additional responsibility and (2) the federal government has societal interest in the secondary benefits Head Start has shown to produce in low-income children and families.
See why after the jump.