Friday, April 01, 2011

Cutting Head Start is bad fiscal policy

A good example of what I'm talking about is Head Start, a program that perhaps needs some fixing, but shouldn't be gutted.  Here's Harvard School of Education Dean Kathy McCartney:

From the beginning, policymakers and social scientists have debated whether Head Start is effective enough. Rigorous experimental studies have demonstrated that children in Head Start outperform other poor children on a range of cognitive and social outcomes; however, some social scientists have dismissed statistically significant effects as too small.

In fairness, the results for standardized achievement and cognitive tests are rather modest. But they don't tell the whole story. David Deming from Carnegie Mellon University conducted a clever evaluation of Head Start by comparing siblings, one who experienced Head Start and one who did not. His findings show that Head Start children score higher on a measure of young adult success that includes high school graduation, college attendance, idleness, crime teen parenthood and health status. And the effect is large; in fact, Head Start closes one-third of the gap between children from families with median incomes and those with bottom quartile incomes.

The health effect that Deming identified has been replicated in many other studies. Children participating in Head Start are less obese, more likely to be immunized and less likely to smoke as adults. This saves us money, too.

Head Start offers a further benefit to our country. Specifically, this program enables poor parents to remain in the work force and to earn higher salaries. As such, Head Start supports welfare reform by helping poor families break the cycle of poverty. Too often, the only option for poor parents is informal child care arrangements of low quality that do not support the developmental needs of their children or their own employment needs.

Many early childhood advocates have good ideas about how to make Head Start even more effective; for example, a longer school day and an improved teacher work force. Such changes would undoubtedly result in even larger effects for our nation's most needy children.


Cutting Head Start is bad fiscal policy

By Kathleen McCartney, Special to CNN

March 14, 2011 4:56 p.m. EDT

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