Head Start, the federally funded education program for low-income children, doesn’t give participants the developmental boost it’s supposed to offer.
According to a study released last month by the US. Department of Health and Human Services, Head Start students aren’t any farther along than students in the same demographic who didn’t attend the program. Head Start offers traditional classroom education and in-home learning opportunities for children from birth to five years old.
The program’s apparent failure comes at a high cost. Taxpayers give Head Start $8 billion a year, roughly $7,000 for each of the 900,000 low-income children it serves.
Mandated by Congress in 1998, the study compared the academic and overall well-being of children enrolled in Head Start with the performance and well-being of students in a control group. It specifically measured the social and academic performance of the students and compared it against the performance of non-Head Start students.
The study analyzed cognitive skills involving reading and math, as well as socio-economic stability and parenting skills.
“There is little to no academic benefit,” said Lindsey Burke, a fellow at The Heritage Foundation. “As far as a preschool, [Head Start] fails. The kids are no better off than those who didn’t go.”
Head Start supporters say the type of testing that focuses on small children isn’t extensive enough. Often the results of a program like Head Start do not appear until later in life.
But after 48 years and $180 billion dollars, critics of the program say it is time to take it off the books. Burke suggested possible alternatives: Allow parents to choose where to spend the $7,000 Head Start receives for their child; consolidate all federal preschool programs (65 currently exist); or allow states to manage the program.
“Let’s not regulate these low-income children to under-performing Head Start centers,” Burke urged.
But wholesale changes in the program aren’t likely this year. Congress just approved an additional $100 million for Head Start centers in the Northeast as part of the Hurricane Sandy relief funding.