Program

Oct 27, 2014

OVERVIEW

Head Start is a nationwide government-sponsored program that provides grants to agencies that provide services to economically disadvantaged families with young children.  Funding from Head Start supports services that include preschool programs, health and nutrition services, parenting assistance, and family support.  Results from experimental evaluations of Head Start indicate that the program is effective in enhancing the cognitive development of participants, particularly within the areas of language, literacy, and pre-writing. Findings regarding Head Start’s impact on children’s social-emotional development, and physical health have been mixed. Additionally, results of follow-up studies examining the long-term impacts of Head Start have also been mixed.

DESCRIPTION OF PROGRAM

Target population: Children ages 3-5 who live in economically disadvantaged families

Head Start is a nationwide government-sponsored program that provides funding to agencies that provide services to economically disadvantaged families with young children. This funding is used to support a variety of services, such as preschool programs, health and nutrition services, parenting assistance, and family support. These services are intended to promote the healthy development of children, enhance children’s school readiness, and promote family engagement. The average nationwide cost for each child in Head Start is $7,582 (based on the 2011 Fiscal Year estimates).

EVALUATION(S) OF PROGRAM

Puma, M., Bell, S., Cook, R., Heid, C., & Lopez, M. (2005).  Head Start impact study: First year findings.  Final Report.  U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families.  Washington, DC.

Puma, M., Bell, S., Cook, R., & Heid, C., (2010). Head Start impact study: Final Report findings.  Final Report.  U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families.  Washington, DC

Puma, M., Bell, S., Cook, R., Heid, C., Broene, P., Jenkins, F., Mashburn, A., & Downer (2012). Third grade follow-up to the Head Start Impact Study. Final Report. OPRE Report #2012-45b. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Washington, DC.

Evaluated population: Two cohorts of children (2,559 three-year-old children, and 2,108 four-year-old children) were recruited from 84 randomly selected Head Start centers across 23 states.  The three-year-old cohort was approximately 37percent Hispanic/Latino, 33 percent Black/African American, and 30 percent White/Caucasian or other. The four-year-old cohort was approximately 52 percent Hispanic/Latino, 31 percent White/Caucasian or other, and 18 percent Black/African American. Across both cohorts approximately 11 percent of families were receiving TANF benefits, and 12 percent of families had an income of less than $500 per month in 2002.

Approach:  Parents applying for the Head Start program were randomly assigned to either the Head Start intervention group or a control group. Parents and children in the control group were not supposed to receive Head Start services during the Head Start program year, but were permitted to seek out other support services on their own, including preschools very similar to Head Start. Nevertheless, 17 percent of three-year-olds and 14 percent of four-year-olds in the control group participated in a Head Start program. Additionally, approximately 60 percent of the control group parents enrolled their children in a non-Head Start preschool program. Moreover, approximately 15 percent of the three-year-olds and 20 percent of four-year-olds cohort in the Head Start condition did not participate during the program year. Finally, although the evaluation tracked the outcomes of children within the treatment and control groups across multiple years, children’s participation in Head Start was tracked only during the first year of the evaluation (i.e., the Head Start program year). Because of this all three-year-olds (in both treatment and control conditions) had the potential to participate in Head Start at age four.

Data collection began in the fall of the Head Start program year (pretest) and continued through the end of third grade. Children in the four-year-old cohort were assessed immediately following the Head Start program year (posttest), and at the end of kindergarten, first grade, and third grade. Children in the three-year-old cohort were assessed immediately following the Head Start program year (posttest), at age four, and at the end of kindergarten, first grade, and third grade. At each time-point children were assessed on measures of cognitive skills (language and literacy, prewriting, math, school performance[school accomplishments, language and literacy ability, math ability, social studies and science ability, and grade promotion]), social-emotional development (children’s behavior, social skills, approaches to learning, parent-child relationships, teacher-child relationships, and school adjustment), and physical health (receipt of health care services, current health status).

Results:

Four-Year-Old Cohort: At the end of the program year (posttest), children who participated in Head Start demonstrated significantly greater  language, literacy, and pre-writing skills than children in the control group (effect sizes: color identification=0.16, emergent literacy=0.31, letter naming=0.25, receptive vocabulary=0.09, letter-word identification=0.22, spelling=0.22, oral comprehension=0.15, pre-academic skills=0.19). Additionally, compared with children in the control group, children who participated in Head Start were significantly more likely to have received dental care (effect size=0.31).

Results of the follow-up studies indicate that the majority of these impacts were attenuated over time. However, children who participated in Head Start had significantly greater receptive vocabulary at the end of first grade (effect size=0.09), and significantly higher reading scores at the end of third grade (effect size=0.11).

Three-Year-Old Cohort: At the end of the program year (posttest) children enrolled in Head Start demonstrated significantly greater  language, literacy, and pre-writing skills  than children in the control group (effect sizes: pre-writing=0.14, emergent literacy=0.35, letter naming=0.24, test of phonological processing=0.10,  receptive vocabulary=0.18, letter-word identification=0.26, pre-academic skills=0.22).  Additionally, compared with children in the control group, children in Head Start had significantly less hyperactive behavior (effect size=-0.21), and total problem behavior (effect size=-0.14). Furthermore, at the end of the program year children enrolled in Head Start were significantly more likely to have received dental care (effect size=0.33), and to have an “excellent” or “good” overall health (effect size=0.11) than were children in the control group.

At age four, children who participated in Head Start at age three had significantly better emergent literacy skills (effect size=0.16), phonological processing (effect size=0.15), social skills and positive approaches to learning (effect size=0.11), and access to dental care (effect size=0.33) than children in the control group. Additionally, compared with children in the control group, children who participated in Head Start at age three had significantly better word identification in Spanish (effect size=0.26), were less likely to demonstrate hyperactive behavior (effect size=-0.12), had greater social skills and positive approaches to learning (effect size=0.11), and were more likely to have health insurance (effect size=0.14) at the end of kindergarten. At the end of first grade, children who participated in Head Start at age three had significantly better oral comprehension (effect size=0.08), were closer to their parents (effect size=0.10), and had more positive parent-child relationships (effect size=0.10) than children in the control group. Finally, at the end of third grade, children who participated in Head Start had significantly better ratings on social skills and positive approaches to learning (effect size=0.12) than children in the control group.

Faddis, B. J., Ahrens-Gray, P., & Klein, E. L. (2000).  Evaluation of Head Start family child care demonstration.  Final Report.  US Department of Health and Human Services.  Commissioners Office of Research and Evaluation and Head Start Bureau.  Portland, OR: RMC Research Corp.

Evaluated population: A total of 972 families with 4-year-old children were recruited from a nationally representative set of Head Start sites.  Approximately 37percent of these children were White/Caucasian, 30 percent were Black/African-American, 25 percent were Hispanic/Latino, 4 percent were Asian, 2percent were American Indian, and 2 percent were multi-racial/other. Just over half (53 percent) of families in the evaluation were single-parent families.  Finally, the average family annual income was $12,000 in 1994, and over 70 percent of families were receiving public assistance.

Approach: To qualify for the study, each family had to have a child who was 4 years old and who was going to enroll in kindergarten the following academic year.  In addition, parents had to be working, in job training, or in school.  Parents were recruited to participate in the study by each of the 18 agency sites.  After meeting study criteria, children were randomly assigned to either a center-based Head Start program, which served as the control condition, or a Head Start family child care program, which served as the intervention program. The Head Start family child care program differed from the traditional center-based Head Start in three ways: (1) it was based in a family home rather than center, (2) it provided full day classes rather than the half-day classes provided by center-based programs, and (3) it provided services year-round rather than operating on a nine-month academic calendar like center-based programs. Children were evaluated on measures of cognitive development, social and emotional development, and physical development at entry into the study (pretest), immediately following their participation in Head Start (posttest), and at the end of kindergarten (follow-up).

Results: Results of the evaluation indicated that children enrolled in the Head Start family child care condition had significantly higher teacher ratings of cognitive development than did children in the Head Start center-based classroom condition. Additionally, children in the family child care Head Start condition were rated significantly higher on music and movement skills than were children in the Head Start classroom condition.  There were no significant differences between children in the family child care Head Start condition and the Head Start classroom condition on tests of cognitive development.  The intervention and control condition children did not significantly differ on measures of adaptive behavior, or social-emotional outcomes.  At the kindergarten 1-year follow-up, children in both conditions performed equally well on measures of cognitive, social-emotional, and physical development.

SOURCES FOR MORE INFORMATION

Website: http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ohs

References

Abbott-Shim, M., Lambert, R., & McCarty, F. (2003).  A comparison of school readiness outcomes for children randomly assigned to a Head Start program and the program’s wait list.  Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, 8(2), 191-214.

Faddis, B. J., Ahrens-Gray, P., & Klein, E. L. (2000).  Evaluation of Head Start family child care demonstration.  Final Report.  US Department of Health and Human Services.  Commissioners Office of Research and Evaluation and Head Start Bureau.  Portland, OR: RMC Research Corp.

Puma, M., Bell, S., Cook, R., Heid, C., & Lopez, M. (2005).  Head Start impact study: First year findings.  Final Report.  U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families.  Washington, DC.

Puma, M., Bell, S., Cook, R., & Heid, C., (2010). Head Start impact study: Final Report findings.  Final Report.  U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families.  Washington, DC.

Puma, M., Bell, S., Cook, R., Heid, C., Broene, P., Jenkins, F., Mashburn, A., & Downer (2012). Third grade follow-up to the Head Start Impact Study. Final Report. OPRE Report #2012-45b. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Washington, DC.

KEYWORDS: Preschool, Children (3-11), Males and Females (Co-ed), Provider-Based, Child Care, Parent or Family Component, Child Care, Early Childhood Education, Reading/Literacy, Health Status/Conditions, Social Skills/Life Skills, Cost, Manual.

Program information last updated 10/27/2014