NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Head Start Has High Costs and Very Few Benefits

January 29, 2013

Four years after data was collected and two years after the report was finished, the Department of Health and Human Services has released its Impact Evaluation Report for Head Start, which reveals dismal results for the early education program, say Lindsey Burke and David Muhlhausen of the Heritage Foundation.

  • Head Start was established in 1965 and taxpayers have spent more than $180 billion on the program aimed at improving the academic outcomes of disadvantaged children.
  • The study finds that by the third grade, effects of the $8 billion-a-year Head Start program all but completely disappear.
  • For the 4 year old group, Head Start participation failed to raise the cognitive abilities on 41 measures, including language and math skills, when compared with students who did not have access to the program.
  • Head Start participation for 3 year olds actually lowered math abilities when compared with non-participating children who were more prepared for math in the classroom.
  • Teachers reported the Head Start children are shyer or more socially reticent. The only measurable progress was slight improvement in a couple of measures of socio-emotional, health and parenting outcomes.

For policymakers, the results of this study should guide future actions. Burke and Muhlhausen believe that the program should be discontinued based on the dismal results.

  • Cognitive development, including reading, language and math ability, did not improve for third graders assessed by the study.
  • Access to Head Start did yield slightly positive results in improving children's social skills and their approaches to learning.
  • Head Start had no measureable effect on parenting outcomes for nine of the 10 measures reported by parents. One measure, improved authoritative parenting style, did improve.

After 48 years of funding Head Start, this most recent Health and Human Services report demonstrates why the program must be discontinued. With no measurable positive benefit, funding should cease or states should be able to turn their Head Start funds into vouchers that could follow a preschooler to any private provider.

Source: Lindsey Burke and David Muhlhausen, "Head Start Impact Evaluation Report Finally Released," Heritage Foundation, January 25, 2013.


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