President Obama recently announced his support for preschool education, citing programs in Georgia and Oklahoma. It makes me question my own support of programs such as Head Start. I have not looked into its evaluation and the long term impacts until now. Here is a synopsis of my finding:
- The Abecedarian and Perry demonstration projects provided high-quality child care/preschool for children from disadvantaged backgrounds and showed positive educational and life outcomes at a cost of about $12-19,000 a year per student (Head Start costs a lot less up front but also a lot less effective). Return on investment was about 6.9% according to University of Chicago Economics Professor Charles Heckman. There were 111 participants in the Abecedarian and 128 in the Perry RCT design evaluations with follow up to age 40 in the latter project.
- Head Start is a federal program under DHHS with a budget of about 8 billion in 2012 and serves close to a million children nationwide. The program provides comprehensive services that include preschool education, medical, dental, and mental health care, nutrition services, and parental support. There have been 2 recent reports on the long-term impacts/outcomes of Head Start:
- The Head Start Impact Study released Jan 2010 showed that the advantages children gained in cognitive development and health during their Head Start and age 4 yielded only few statistically significant differences in outcomes at the end of 1st grade for the sample as a whole (disappointing).
- A follow-up report tracking the progress of these same children through third grade was published late in 2012. You guess it, by third grade, the Head Start program had little to no impact on cognitive, social-emotional, health, or parenting practices of participants.
- Apparently, we have 1600 Head Start programs of various qualities. Craig T. Ramey and Sharon Landesman Ramey concluded in their paper: "exemplary Head Start programs should serve as mentors, while failing programs must be transformed or terminated promptly to prevent harm."
- So what's the verdict? "re-invent" Head Start? faciliate competition, expand model programs, support State's initiatives, etc. (just don't increase the deficits hah). Early childhood education and care has become a core issue for the OECD. Its focus is on improving quality of ECEC with data on country policy experiences, toolkits and international comparison. I say they have a head start on us and it's time to get cracking!
"I wish to do something Great and Wonderful, but I must start by doing the little things like they were Great and Wonderful"