NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Reforming Head Start

February 17, 2003

The president's fiscal 2004 budget takes a major step toward reforming the Head Start program, say observers.

Since its inception in 1965, Head Start, which is currently administered by the Department of Health and Human Services, has been the primary preschool program for the poor. It now serves 900,000 disadvantaged children. Between 1992 and 2003, funding for Head Start more than tripled, rising from $2.2 billion to $6.67 billion. Yet several studies over the years have demonstrated that virtually all of the measurable benefits of Head Start in the short term dissipate over the long run.

To significantly increase the literacy component of Head Start, Bush is offering states the opportunity to integrate Head Start programs with other pre-school programs and with their K-12 curricula.

  • States would be given more authority to set the standards for Head Start teachers' qualifications.
  • To identify those Head Start programs that are effective, 4-year-olds would be asked to identify letters of the alphabet, differentiate between triangles and squares, and count to 10 (or 20).
  • In 2005, Head Start would be transferred to the Department of Education, where its literacy emphasis would be more easily implemented.

"Head Start is working, so there is no need to drastically alter it," says the Children's Defense Fund has said. However, the 2000 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests showed that the disturbingly wide gaps separating the reading scores of white students from those of black and Hispanic fourth-graders have actually increased since 1992. In fact, the reading scores of disproportionately disadvantaged minority students have either remained static or declined since 1992.

Source: Editorial, "Fix Head Start," Washington Times, February 16, 2003.


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