NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 5, 2004

Twenty-two years after the creation of the Head Start preschool program for low-income children, the school readiness gap between poor children and their middle-class peers remains large, says Krista Kafer of the Heritage Foundation.

Despite spending more than $66 billion on the program -- providing comprehensive health, social, educational, and mental health services to 21 poor children -- experts are beginning to realize that children cannot be inoculated in one year against the ravages of a life of deprivation. Empirical research on student performance seems to support this:

  • Today, low-income children enter kindergarten with a vocabulary a fraction of the size of their middle-class peers.
  • Three to four times as many middle- and upper-income students receive proficient scores on national assessment tests when compared with poor students.
  • Cognitive and socio-emotional test scores of former Head Start students do not remain superior to those of disadvantaged children who did not attend the program.

Kafer says part of the problem may be that Head Start emphasizes play activities rather than school readiness skills, such as pre-literacy and pre-math.

Source: Krista Kafer, "A Head Start for Poor Children?," Heritage Foundation, Backgrounder No. 1755, May 4, 2004.


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