Emma surprised me with her comment. “I think the lesson learned is government can’t replace the family.” Not something I would have expected from a high-level public school educator. I had sent her an article about the latest study showing that the 50-year-old Head Start Program has been, for all intents and purposes, a dismal failure. As a proponent and defender of most “progressive” educational ideas and programs, I expected her to give a fierce rebuttal and to tell me that somehow the researchers had gotten it wrong. But this time my friend recognized the uncomfortable reality.
Head Start is a federal preschool program designed to improve the kindergarten readiness of low-income children. More than 20 million children, over the last 50 years, have been enrolled. It has cost the U.S. taxpayer $180 billion – almost $9,000 per pre-school child! Someone has evidently been benefiting from that kind of government spending, but it certainly hasn’t been the children enrolled.
Back in 2010, Health and Human Services (HHS) released finds of the Head Start Impact Study which looked at the progress of three and four-year-olds through kindergarten and first grade. The results? The program had little to no positive effects for children enrolled. Now two years later, HHS has finally given us a look at these same students’ performance through the end of third grade. Head Start once again had little to no effect on social-emotional, cognitive, health or parenting outcomes of participating children. In some parameters looked at, there were negative consequences.
- Access to Head Start for each group had no statistically measurable effects on all measures of cognitive ability, including numerous measures of reading, language, and math ability.[
- 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.
- 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.
- Access to Head Start had no statistically measurable effect on all five health measures for each cohort, including receipt of dental care, health insurance coverage, and overall child health status being excellent or good. (Please visit The Heritage Foundation to see more specifics on the two studies.)
Taxpayers have just received an expensive lesson on the obvious: young children do best when they spend their early years close to and under the tutelage of their parents. However, well-intentioned “Government can’t replace the family.”