Head Start is a federally funded early childhood educational intervention program designed to reduce disparities in preschool outcomes. While a recent impact study may indicate that Head Start is ineffective, our Research Affiliates are investigating further to assess whether the program’s long-term effects improve the life chances of participants.
The first randomized experimental study of Head Start, the National Head Start Impact Study (NHSIS), found impacts on academic outcomes of .15 to .3 standard deviations measured at the end of the program year, although the estimated impacts were no longer significant when measured at the end of kindergarten or first grade. Assessments that Head Start is ineffective based on the NHSIS results may be premature, given our currently limited understanding of how and why early childhood education improves long-term life chances. Additionally, many of the specific changes to Head Start that have been proposed could potentially wind up doing more harm than good. Researchers hope to contribute to our understanding of the programs’ impact and effectiveness.