NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Heritage Backgrounder: Effectiveness Of Head Start Unproven

July 15, 1998

This year, Congress will consider legislation to reauthorize the Head Start program for five years. The general purpose of Head Start is to provide comprehensive health, social, educational and mental health services to disadvantaged students. But even though more than $30 billion has been spent and 15 million children have been served since 1965, remarkably little is known about its effectiveness.

  • There has not been enough research done to allow the impact of the Head Start program to be assessed, according to a April 15, 1997, Government Accounting Office report, "Head Start: Research Provides Little Information on Impact of Current Program."
  • Nor is such research planned by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), reaffirmed Carlotta C. Joyner, director of education and employment issues at the GAO, in June 1998 congressional testimony.
  • Although HHS says studies established the program's effectiveness early on, the GAO says those studies were inconclusive and that the program has changed substantially since then.

Heritage researchers note that HHS's annual performance plan, which is supposed to link performance measures directly to funding requests, gives no details on what is expected in return for the $4.7 billion HHS request for Head Start in Fiscal Year 1999.

Source: Nina H. Shokraii and Patrick F. Fagan, "After 33 Years and $30 Billion, Time to Find Out if Head Start Produces Results," Backgrounder No. 1202, July 15, 1998, Heritage Foundation.


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