NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


January 18, 2010

The Department of Health and Human Services has been sitting on an evaluation of the Head Start government run pre-school program.  The study found virtually no lasting effects on participants. 

The study used a gold-standard, random assignment design and had a very large nationally representative sample.  For students who were randomly assigned to Head Start or not at the age of 4: 

  • The researchers collected 41 measures of lasting cognitive effects; of those 41 measures, only one was significant and positive while the remaining 40 showed no statistically significant difference.
  • The one significant effect was for receptive vocabulary, which showed no significant advantage for Head Start students after kindergarten but somehow re-emerged at the end of 1st grade. 

For students randomly assigned to Head Start or not at the age of 3: 

  • The researchers also collected 41 measures of lasting cognitive effects; this time they found two statistically significant positive effects and one statistically significant negative effect.
  • Again, 38 of the 41 measures of lasting effects showed no difference and the few significant effects, which could be produced by chance, showed mixed results. 

It is safe to say from this very rigorous evaluation that Head Start had no lasting effect on the academic preparation of students, says Jay Greene, a professor of education reform at the University of Arkansas and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. 

The long and short of it is that the government runs an enormously expensive pre-school program that has made basically no difference for the students who participate in it.  And folks are proposing that we expand government pre-school to include all students, says Greene. 

Source: Jay Greene, "Head Start Basically Has No Effect," Goldwater Institute, January 15, 2010. 

For study: 


Browse more articles on Education Issues