Head Start: Assessing Common Explanations for the Apparrent Disappearance of Initial Positive Effects




Bernardy, Pete Michael

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Experimental design evaluations have consistently found children given access to early childhood services through the federal Head Start program experience better academic and social outcomes relative to comparable peers by the end of their participation, but this early advantage is not sustained through the early elementary grades. However, two studies of the long-term impact of Head Start have found the program to produce improved rates of high school completion. Given these seemingly contradictory findings, this research uses data from a recent nationally representative random assignment study of this program to examine whether there is evidence of enduring effects of Head Start participation: (1) when controlling for within-child variation; (2) for learning skills not previously analyzed in published reports; (3) for children with higher quality Head Start experiences; (4) for children with higher quality early elementary school experiences; and (5) compared to a counterfactual of no preschool participation. No evidence of initial positive effects enduring into kindergarten or first grade is found.



Public policy, Child Development, Early childhood, Education, Head Start, Program Evaluation