by Andrew Walden
The Star-Advertiser January 13, 2013 editorializes, “How can anyone be against school readiness?”
The Governor’s office claims, “The State of Hawaii is committed to giving its keiki the best opportunity for school success and a strong early childhood education program is a proven way toward that.”
Abercrombie’s proposed $32.5M “school readiness” program combines private school vouchers with the federal Head Start program. The Star-Advertiser July 6, 2012 explains that Terry Lock, director of the Executive Office of Early Learning “...served six years as director of early childhood at Kamehameha Schools. She worked previously in the Office of Head Start in Washington, D.C.”
The conflict of interest is rather obvious. In 2010, legislators squeezed by economic recession, yanked funding from the Hawaii DoE pre-kindergarten program. Now, even as the teachers union fights for a contract and the DoE administration works to implement Race to the Top school reforms, Abercrombie’s proposal would direct millions of taxpayer dollars to preschools run by Kamehameha and other private preschool providers.
But the Head Start model is a proven loser. After 50 years of federal funding, the US Department of Health and Human Services has determined in two separate studies that Head Start is completely ineffectual. It may be difficult to “argue against school readiness” but it is not difficult to show that Abercrombie’s scheme will result in failure.
After nearly a decade of work, the DHHS Head Start Impact Study was released in January, 2010. The Brookings Foundation January 21, 2010 sums it up: “The study demonstrated that children’s attendance in Head Start has no demonstrable impact on their academic, socio-emotional, or health status at the end of first grade.”
The NY Post January 28, 2010 points out:
What's so damning is that this study used the best possible method to review the program: It looked at a nationally representative sample of 5,000 children who were randomly assigned to either the Head Start ("treatment") group or to the non-Head Start ("control") group.
Random assignment is the "gold standard" of medical and social-science research: It gives investigators confidence that the treatment and control groups are essentially identical in every respect except their access to Head Start. So if eventual test performances differ, we can be pretty sure that the difference was caused by the program. No previous study of Head Start used this approach on a nationally representative sample of children.
When the researchers gave both groups of students 44 different academic tests at the end of the first grade, only two seemed to show even marginally significant advantages for the Head Start group. And even those apparent advantages vanished after standard statistical controls were applied.
In fact, not a single one of the 114 tests administered to first graders -- of academics, socio-emotional development, health care/health status and parenting practice -- showed a reliable, statistically significant effect from participating in Head Start.
Joe Klein of Time Magazine explains:
The idea is, as Newt Gingrich might say, simple liberal social engineering. You take the million or so poorest 3-and 4-year-old children and give them a leg up on socialization and education by providing preschool for them; if it works, it saves money in the long run by producing fewer criminals and welfare recipients — and more productive citizens. Indeed, Head Start did work well in several pilot programs carefully run by professionals in the 1960s. And so it was "taken to scale," as the wonks say, as part of Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty.
It is now 45 years later. We spend more than $7 billion providing Head Start to nearly 1 million children each year. And finally there is indisputable evidence about the program's effectiveness, provided by the Department of Health and Human Services: Head Start simply does not work.
According to the Head Start Impact Study, which was quite comprehensive, the positive effects of the program were minimal and vanished by the end of first grade. Head Start graduates performed about the same as students of similar income and social status who were not part of the program. These results were so shocking that the HHS team sat on them for several years, according to Russ Whitehurst of the Brookings Institution, who said, "I guess they were trying to rerun the data to see if they could come up with anything positive. They couldn't."
And that was not all. The US DHHS Third Grade Follow-Up to the Head Start Impact Study, released in October, 2012 confirmed the results of its predecessor.
Lindsey Burke and David Muhlhausen of the Heritage Foundation explain the 2012 report findings:
- Cognitive development. Of 11 measures of cognitive ability—including reading, language, and math ability—access to Head Start made no difference for either three- or four-year-old students on any outcomes.
- Social-emotional development. Of 19 measures of social-emotional development—such as aggression, hyperactive behavior, and conduct problems—for the three-year-old cohort, access to Head Start was connected to a slight benefit in “social skills and positive approaches to learning,” as reported by parents, but it had no impact on any of the other outcomes. For four-year-olds, Head Start was associated with a small decrease in aggressive behavior but also appeared to be significantly linked to harmful impacts, including higher teacher reports of “an unfavorable impact on the incidence of children’s emotional symptoms,” as well as poorer peer relations.
- Child health outcomes. Of five measures of health outcomes, Head Start made no difference for either group, including no impact on “receipt of dental care, health insurance coverage, and overall child health status being excellent or good.”
- Parenting outcomes. Of the 10 measures of parental outcomes, Head Start appeared to have only one benefit for each group. Parents of the three-year-old cohort reported higher levels of authoritative parenting, and parents of the four-year-old cohort reported spending more time with their children.
Heritage: Head Start: When the Government Fails Completely