Here is Head Start's mission statement:
Head Start promotes school preparation by enhancing the social and cognitive development of children through the provision of educational, health, nutritional, social and other services.
Head Start was launched in 1965, part of President Lyndon Baines Johnson's "Great Society." ( Did y'all catch that I used Johnson's middle name?) It is presently part of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). It has become one of America's longest running anti-poverty programs as it tries to meet its mission statement. This country has spent over $180 billion since its inception. The FY2013 (which started in October 2012) called for $8 billion to fund Head Start and Early Head Start. That funding level represents less than a ½ percent increase over the FY2012 budget. That sparse increase elicited this statement from Yasmina Vinci, executive director of the National Head Start Association (NHSA):
"As many families continue to struggle with poverty, we are pleased that the President understands the critical importance of maintaining current services for our most at-risk children and families. However, we are disappointed that there is not more of an investment in the quality improvements for which funding is so desperately needed across all Head Start and Early Head Start programs, old and new."
Vinci also said, "The funding level offers vulnerable, low-income preschoolers a window of opportunity to set a course for lifelong success. But she added that NHSA is 'disappointed' that there was not more of an investment, despite the sluggish economy."
With that background, let's examine what not one, but two, studies have shown: that Head Start is not achieving its mission. Two Congressionally mandated studies of Head Start have shown that it does not work. The two studies examined 5,000 children in 2010 (through the first grade) and 2012 (through the third grade). Both studies' results are presented below:
- For the 2010 study:
- "Overall, Head Start had little to no positive effects for children who were granted access."
- "For the four-year-old group, ... access to the program failed to raise the cognitive abilities of participants on 41 measures. Specifically, the language skills, literacy, math skills, and school performance of the participating children failed to improve."
- "Access to Head Start for the three-year-old group actually had a harmful effect on the teacher-assessed math ability of these children once they entered kindergarten. Teachers reported that non-participating children were more prepared in math skills than those children who participated in Head Start."
- "Head Start also had little to no effect on the other socio-emotional, health, or parenting outcomes of children participating in the program."
- "For the four-year-old group, access to Head Start failed to have an effect for 69 out of 71 socio-emotional, health, and parenting outcomes."
- For the 2012 study:
- "Access to Head Start ... had no statistically measurable effects on all measures of cognitive ability, including numerous measures of reading, language, and math ability."
- "For measures of parent-reported social-emotional outcomes, access to Head Start for the three-year-old cohort failed to affect four of the five [Social-Emotional Development] measures." Personal comment: no emotional effect? Uh oh!
- "Head Start failed to affect four measures of parental-reported problem behaviors."
- "Access to Head Start had no statistically measurable effect on the 10 teacher-reported measures of social-emotional development for the three-year-olds."
- "For the four-year-olds ... Teachers reported 'strong evidence of an unfavorable impact on the incidence of children's emotional symptoms'."
These were studies, not someone's opinions. There were some positive results derived from participation in Head Start, such as "... a slight beneficial impact on children in the areas of social skills and positive approaches to learning." But even one instance of harm caused to children far outweighs any positive effects. After all, it's for the children.