I have known for at least a decade that it's a waste of money, but I had no idea what a waste it actually is.
In 2008, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) completed data collection for its third-grade follow-up study of Head Start, a federal preschool program designed to improve the kindergarten readiness of low-income children. Four years later, just before Christmas, the agency finally published the results of the congressionally mandated evaluation. The report’s publication date reads October 2012, meaning the final product sat at HHS for two months before being released.Since 1965, taxpayers have spent more than $180 billion on Head Start. Yet, over the decades, this Great Society relic has failed to improve academic outcomes for the children it was designed to help. The third-grade follow-up evaluation is the latest in a growing body of evidence that should urge policymakers to seriously consider Head Start’s future.Head Start and PerformanceThe timing of the release raises questions about whether HHS was trying to bury the findings in the report, which shows, among other outcomes, that by third grade, the $8 billion Head Start program had little to no impact on cognitive, social-emotional, health, or parenting practices of participants. On a few measures, access to Head Start had harmful effects on children.Now that the report has finally been published, the findings of the scientifically rigorous evaluation that tracked 5,000 three- and four-year-old children through third grade should inform federal policymakers who allocate billions of dollars annually to Head Start. Moreover, Congress will soon vote on a supplemental aid package to Hurricane Sandy victims that includes $100 million in additional Head Start funding. The Senate Appropriations Committee notes that 265 Head Start centers will receive the funding, which equates to more than $377,000 per center.2010 Head Start Impact StudyIn 2010, HHS released the findings of the Head Start Impact Study, which tracked the progress of three- and four-year-olds entering Head Start through kindergarten and first grade. Overall, Head Start had little to no positive effects for children who were granted access.For the four-year-old group, compared to similarly situated children not allowed access to Head Start, access to the program failed to raise the cognitive abilities of participants on 41 measures. Specifically, the language skills, literacy, math skills, and school performance of the participating children failed to improve.Alarmingly, access to Head Start for the three-year-old group actually had a harmful effect on the teacher-assessed math ability of these children once they entered kindergarten. Teachers reported that non-participating children were more prepared in math skills than those children who participated in Head Start.Head Start also had little to no effect on the other socio-emotional, health, or parenting outcomes of children participating in the program. For the four-year-old group, access to Head Start failed to have an effect for 69 out of 71 socio-emotional, health, and parenting outcomes. For example, “Teachers reported that Head Start group children were more shy or socially reticent than the control group children.” The three-year-old group did slightly better; access to Head Start failed to have an effect for 66 of the 71 socio-emotional, health, and parenting outcomes.The Long-Delayed Third-Grade Impact Study
Why are we wasting these billions that could be used elsewhere to a much better purpose than this scam?