Media Cherry-Pick Facts To Falsely Label Head Start Program A Failure

Media outlets cherry-picked facts from a recent Health and Human Services report on the Head Start education program to promote the myth that the program is a failure. However, neither the HHS report nor other studies confirm those claims, and reports actually show the program has had a positive impact both early on and later in students' lives.

Media Outlets Claimed The Head Start Program Is Ineffective

WSJ: “Head Start Is Well-Intentioned” But “Ineffective.” From The Wall Street Journal:

What's worse than a Hurricane Sandy relief package chock-full of earmarks that have nothing to do with disaster relief? How about one that includes $100 million for a program that the government itself has repeatedly deemed ineffective?


The Department of Health and Human Services released the results of the most recent Head Start evaluation on the Friday before Christmas. Once again, the research showed that cognitive gains didn't last. By third grade, you can't tell Head Start alumni from their non-Head Start peers.


Like so many programs directed at the poor, Head Start is well-intentioned, and that's enough for self-congratulatory progressives to keep throwing money at it despite the outcomes. But misleading low-income parents about the efficacy of a program is cruel and wastes taxpayer dollars at a time when the country is running trillion-dollar deficits. [The Wall Street Journal, 1/13/13]

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: Government Knows Head Start Is “Ineffective But Keeps On Funding Anyway.” From the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

Among wasteful non-disaster-related spending in Congress' $50 billion second Hurricane Sandy relief bill is $100 million that's particularly egregious -- because it's for Head Start, which the federal government knows is ineffective but keeps on funding anyway.

Now costing $8 billion annually and having run up more than $180 billion on taxpayers' tab since its 1965 inception, Head Start is supposed to prepare low-income children for school. But it never seems to live up to its billing. Evaluations in 1969, 1985 and 2005 showed that any positive cognitive effect Head Start makes doesn't last.

So does a new evaluation, which found that “you can't tell Head Start alumni from their non-Head Start peers” by the time they reach third grade, according to The Wall Street Journal. [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 1/15/13]

Head Start Program Provides More Than Education To Low-Income Americans

The Head Start Program Provides “Comprehensive Services ... Which Include Health, Nutrition, Social Services And Other Services.” From the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:

Head Start is a federal program that promotes the school readiness of children ages birth to 5 from low-income families by enhancing their cognitive, social and emotional development. Head Start programs provide comprehensive services to enrolled children and their families, which include health, nutrition, social services and other services determined to be necessary by family needs assessments, in addition to education and cognitive development services. [U/S Department of Health and Human Services, accessed 1/16/13]

As Of 2011, Head Start Programs Served 1,142,000 Children And Pregnant Women Around the Country. From a Head Start fact sheet:

In 2011, Head Start programs throughout the country served 1,142,000 children ages birth to 5 and pregnant women cumulatively throughout the program year.


Head Start served a diverse group of children, families, and pregnant women. Nearly 40 percent identified themselves as Hispanic/Latino and almost 30 percent were Black/African American. [U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, accessed 1/16/13]

Head Start Program Has Had Positive Impacts On The Most At-Risk Students

HHS Study: Children From High Risk Households “Demonstrated Sustained Cognitive Impacts.” From a Health and Human Services study:

At the end of 3rd grade, the most striking sustained subgroup finding was related to children from high risk households. For this subgroup, children in the 3-year old cohort demonstrated sustained cognitive impacts across all the years from pre-K through 3rd grade. At the end of 3rdgrade, the Head Start children from high risk households showed favorable impacts on the ECLS-K Reading Assessment, the WJIII Letter-Word Identification, and the teacher reported reading/language arts skills. This was in contrast to the impacts for children in lower and moderate risk households, for whom there were no impacts. [U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, October 2012]

HHS Study: Children With Family Stress “Were Found To Have Multiple Positive Impacts On The Direct Student Assessments Over Time.” From a Health and Human Services study on the impact of Head Start:

Those children who started out with more familial stressors than their peers were found to have multiple positive impacts on the direct student assessments over time. Also, among the 3-year-old cohort, children of parents with no reported depressive symptoms experienced sustained benefits of Head Start in the cognitive domain through the end of 3rd grade and in the social-emotional and parenting practices domain through the end of 1st grade.

Among the 4-year-olds, the subgroups that demonstrated sustained benefits are children of parents who reported mild depressive symptoms, severe depressive symptoms, and Black children. Head Start children of parents reporting mild depressive symptoms demonstrated favorable cognitive impacts through the end of 3rd grade. This was in contrast to those with no, moderate, or severe depressive symptoms. However, favorable impacts were reported only at the end of the Head Start year for parents with severe depressive symptoms. In the parenting and social-emotional domains, predominantly favorable parent-reported impacts were sustained for children of parents with severe depressive symptoms. Black children experienced favorable impacts in the social-emotional domain at the end of kindergarten through 3rd grade as reported by teachers, parents, and the child self-report. [U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, October 2012]

Head Start Executive Director: Study Proves “Definitively” That Head Start Does Its Job Of Getting “At-Risk Children Ready For Kindergarten.” From an op-ed by Yasmina Vinci, executive director of the National Head Start Association, in Reuters:

One question the HHS study does answer definitively is whether Head Start does its job. The program gets at-risk children ready for kindergarten in every aspect the study measured. After one year in Head Start, children showed gains in vocabulary, letter-word identification, mathematics and social-emotional development compared with peers. In addition, parents involved with the program used more appropriate discipline and spent more time engaging in literacy activities with their children.

These findings affirm the Head Start model in design and in practice. Head Start's success over the decades has been built on evidence-based practices. The model, informed by programs like the Perry Preschool, an influential  project that tracked children for decades, is constantly adapting -- using the best available science and teaching techniques to meet the needs of local communities. [Reuters, 12/27/12]

Head Start Program Participants More Likely To Find Success Later In Life

Participants Of Head Start Program Were Less Likely To Be Arrested For Crimes Or Fail To Obtain A High School Or GED Diploma. From the Highscope Educational Research Foundation:

Into Adulthood: A Study of the Effects of Head Start, by Sherri Oden, Lawrence Schweinhart, and David Weikart with Sue Marcus and Yu Xie (2000), presents encouraging findings from a 17-year follow-up study of 622 young adults 22 years old in Colorado and Florida, who were born in poverty and did or did not attend Head Start as young children. The researchers located and interviewed 77 percent of the original sample of children.

The study found evidence of important effects on school success and crime. For females (but not males) at one study site after adjusting for background differences, only about one-fourth as many Head Start participants as nonparticipants (5% versus 19%) failed to obtain a high school or GED diploma, and only one-third as many (5% versus 15%) were arrested for crimes. [Highscope Educational Research Foundation, accessed 1/16/13]

Different Groups Had Different Positive Outcomes From Head Start Program Later In Life. From a study examining long term impacts of the Head Start Program on different groups of children by Eliana Garces, Duncan Thomas, and Janet Currie of the Department of Economics at UCLA:

Four indicators of economic and social success in adulthood are examined. We find that, for whites, participation in Head Start is associated with a significantly increased probability of completing high school and attending college as well as elevated earnings in one's early twenties. African Americans who participated in Head Start are significantly less likely to have been charged or convicted of a crime. We also find suggestive evidence that African-American males who attended Head Start are more likely than their siblings to have completed high school. Finally, we uncover some evidence of positive spillovers from older children who attended Head Start to their younger siblings, particularly with regard to criminal behavior. [National Bureau of Economic Research, December 2000]

Head Start Participants Are More Likely To Graduate From High School And Attempt At Least One Year Of College. From a study examining long term effects of the Head Start Program by David Deming of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University:

Head Start participants are about 8.5 percentage points more likely to graduate from high school, 6 percentage points more likely to have attempted at least one year of college, 7 percentage points less likely to be idle, and 7 percentage points less likely to be in poor health. [American Economic Journal, July 2009]

Head Start Program Has Health Benefits For Children And Parents

Mortality Rates Decreased In Head Start Students Ages Five To Nine. From a 2006 study by Jens Ludwig and Douglas L. Miller:

Our main finding is that there appears to be a large drop in mortality rates to children five to nine years of age over the period 1973-83 due to causes addressed as part of Head Start's health services. Our estimates imply that a 50 to 100 percent increase in Head Start funding reduces mortality rates from relevant causes by 33 to 50 percent of the control mean, enough to drive mortality rates from these causes in the treatment counties down to about the national average. [Georgetown University, 4/23/06]

Head Start Programs Helped Parents At Risk Of Depression. From a Department of Health and Human Services Report from June 2002:

Among parents at risk of depression in the eight research sites that measured depression at baseline, Early Head Start parents reported significantly less depression than control-group parents when children were 3, and Early Head Start demonstrated a favorable pattern of impacts on children's social-emotional development and parenting outcomes among these families.  Although Early Head Start was also effective with children whose parents did not report symptoms of depression, the impacts on families of parents with depressive symptoms are notable, as that is a group that other programs have found difficult to serve. [U.S Department of Health and Human Services, June 2002]

Head Start Programs Helped Students Acquire Health Insurance, Receive Immunizations, And Receive Continuous Medical And Dental Care At Higher Rates. From the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:

[U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Head Start fact sheet, accessed 1/16/13]