NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Long-Term Effects of Head Start Program

February 22, 2002

Begun in 1965 as a summer program for disadvantaged children, Head Start has grown into a school-year program enrolling more than 800,000 preschoolers at a cost of about $5,400 per child. Designed as an early intervention to remedy deficiencies that handicap disadvantaged children when they start school, Head Start addresses both academic and physical problems.

Throughout its history, critics have questioned the effectiveness of Head Start. Previous research suggests that Head Start improves early test scores but these improvements tend to "fade out" by third grade. However, the current focus of policy debates about Head Start is whether the program enhances longer-term outcomes.

A recent study found that Head Start does generate long-term improvements in important outcomes such as schooling attainment, earnings and crime reduction. For instance:

  • Disadvantaged whites enrolled in Head Start are more likely to graduate from high school and to attend college than siblings who did not.
  • White children of high school dropouts have higher average earnings between the ages of 23 and 25 if they attended Head Start.
  • African-Americans who attended Head Start were "significantly less likely to have been booked or charged with a crime" compared to siblings who did not participate in Head Start.
  • Male African-Americans were more likely to complete high school and to participate in the labor force if they had attended Head Start.

The data for this study comes a 1995 survey of adults ages 30 or younger who were asked about their Head Start experience as pat of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) which began in 1968 with a survey of 4,802 households containing 18,000 individuals.

Source: Linda Gorman, "Favorable Long-Term Effects of Head Start," NBER Digest, August 2001; based on Eliana Garces, Duncan Thomas and Janet Currie, "Longer Term Effects of Head Start," NBER Working Paper No. 8054, December 2000, National Bureau of Economic Research.

For NBER Digest text


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