JLF’s Terry Stoops, director of research and education studies, has a must-read piece today about a federal report, buried by its release as the Christmas holiday began, that spells out the reality of the much heralded Head Start program.

By early 2012, HHS continued to sit on a follow-up report that tracked Head Start children through third grade. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and four of his colleagues sent 
a letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius demanding the release of the follow-up report. The agency released it — Friday, Dec. 21, 2012. 

The Head Start Impact Study was rigorous, to say the least. Over a six-year period, researchers randomly assigned 5,000 newly entering 3- and 4-year-old children to Head Start and non-Head Start programs through their third-grade year. Random assignment, also called experimental design, is the unequivocal “gold standard” in social science research. 

Researchers examined several developmental areas, including measures of cognitive, social-emotional, language and literacy, and health outcomes. They found that Head Start improved the preschool experience of participating children, but the program provided few benefits beyond kindergarten. 

Researchers concluded, “[T]here was little evidence of systematic differences in children’s elementary school experiences through 3rd grade, between children provided access to Head Start and their counterparts in the control group.” Head Start Director Yvette Sanchez-Fuentes issued the classic Orwellian response: “Children who entered the program 10 years ago clearly benefited from their Head Start experience.” 

Is this program worth $8 billion per year?