Funding Head Start is investing in the most critical time period where we can have the most impact. Brain researchers have discovered that 90 percent of brain development is completed by the age of 3, and by age 4 concepts of compassion, conscience and personal responsibility are established. Brain development is "activity-dependent," meaning that the electrical activity in every circuit--sensory, motor, emotional, cognitive--shapes the way that circuit gets put together. Like computer circuits, neural circuits process information through the flow of electricity. Unlike computer circuits, however, the circuits in our brains are not fixed. Every experience--whether it's seeing one's first rainbow, riding a bicycle, reading a book or sharing a joke--excites certain neural circuits and leaves others inactive. Those that are repeatedly and consistently turned on will be strengthened, while those that are rarely excited may drop away. Or, as neuroscientists sometimes say, "Cells that fire together, wire together."
Do early childhood programs like Head Start really work?
Yes. Recent studies point to both short and long term positive gains for children participating in comprehensive early care programs. Here are just a few positive reports:
- The results of a randomly selected longitudinal study of more than 600 Head Start graduates in San Bernardino County, California, showed that society receives nearly $9 in benefits for every $1 invested in these Head Start children. These benefits include increased earnings, employment, and family stability, and decreased welfare dependency, crime costs, grade repetition, and special education.
- A study from researchers at UCLA found that Head Start children are significantly less likely to have been charged with a crime than their siblings who did not participate in Head Start.
- In a 12-year longitudinal study of Washington State ECEAP (1988-2000), researchers found that ECEAP children made significantly greater academic gains, displayed more positive behaviors, enjoyed school more, and had fewer health problems than
- Families also greatly benefited from Washington State ECEAP's family orientation and focus on parent involvement and training. In year 1 of the study only 5% of ECEAP families were above the Federal Poverty Level; in year 9 over 50% had reached that level, a ten-fold increase. Their mean family income rose by more than 51%, and their reliance on public assistance was greatly reduced.
- Other studies have shown that at-risk children without quality preschool were 70% more likely to commit violent crimes, and have lower graduation rates and higher drug use.
Childhood Programs Take Mothers Out of the Home
Head Start firmly believes that parents are a child's first and most
important teacher. This program supports families in setting
goals and accessing resources to help families break out of the bonds
of poverty that often force both parents to work outside the
home. Increased family literacy, increased family awareness of
community resources, increased adult education and job skills, and
increased parenting skills help families to become healthy, informed,
and self-reliant so the choices they make belong to them- not
to the need to survive from paycheck to paycheck.
Article in Idaho Education News, April 17, 2015
Early Childhood Education Impacts Parents,
April 17, 2015
Sometimes lessons come from the most unexpected places. It’s
natural to associate early learning programs with the growth
and development of children, but what about parents? That is
William Strength and his wife volunteer with Head Start.
My young life was spent between two impoverished homes, rife
with addiction. My mother was a gambling addict who played
away all our money at the casino, despite the lack of food
in the house. My father fostered a drug habit that often
turned him violent and left no financial resources for food.
He was arrested many times for violent crimes and drugs. As
such, my school-aged life was spent on the move with little
regard given to my education.
After dropping out of high school at the beginning 10th
grade, I began to get into trouble myself. I was in and out
of jail and couldn’t keep a job — much less grow a career.
But, after meeting my wife and having two daughters, I
realized I wanted something better for them.Head
Start, an early childhood education program serving 60
Idaho communities, gave me the opportunity I needed to
change the path I was on and help create the best future
possible for my daughters.
Through Head Start, I learned that ages 0-5 are the most
developmentally important years of a child’s life. Enormous
linguistic, conceptual, social, emotional, and motor
competence skills are developed during this time. I also
learned that children who go through quality early learning
programs, like Head Start, are less likely to drop out of
high school, be retained a grade or end up in a juvenile
correction system. Early exposure to chronic stress, abuse
or neglect can harm a child’s development and ability to
learn. Not only does this expand the drastic difference in
grades, comprehension and test scores, but also translates
into a widening range of income levels for Idaho.
Because of the impact I could see programs like Head Start
having on the community, my own family and even on myself
wanted to get more involved. I now serve in the role of vice
chairperson for the father involvement program, SuperDads,
for the Pocatello/Chubbuck Head Start. I haven’t seen a jail
cell in a decade. I earned my GED and enrolled in college.
My wife became a Head Start teacher and we no longer live on
government assistance. My daughters are eager and excited
This week is the National Association for the Education of
Young Children’s Week of the Young Child. The purpose of the
Week of the Young Child is to focus public attention on the
needs of young children and their families and to recognize
the early learning programs and services that meet those
needs. My experience is a testament to these programs. I
know how important early learning is because it was not a
priority in my family when I was young. What I didn’t know
is that your child’s early development can have a profound
impact on your growth as a parent.
Written by William Strength, a parent who volunteers with
Head Start: Making a Good Thing
01:22 PM ET
It takes a lot more than the
ABC's and a working knowledge of
colors to get ready for
kindergarten. As 1 million
low-income children head to Head
Start programs across the
country this month -- we know
that providing them and their
families with a broad range of
services will give them their
best possible chance at success
in school. That's why, in 49,000
classrooms across the country,
Head Start teachers and staff
are not only providing critical
education services, but also
dental, nutritional, mental
health and other services to the
children and their families.
The children who attend Head
Start come from families and
communities facing enormous
economic and social challenges.
Head Start serves the highest
need populations, including
children who are in the child
welfare system, are homeless,
are just learning English, and
who have disabilities. Often,
families who faced barriers to
critically needed services in
other settings get access to the
services they need through Head
While we know through
extensive research that Head
Start helps prepare our most
vulnerable children for
kindergarten, we also know that
we can do better. We want to
ensure that more children
benefit from quality Head Start
programs, and that those
benefits continue through their
school years. That is why the
Office of Head Start has
launched a reform agenda that is
bold, innovative, and built on
the best evidence available.
This reform is designed to
ensure that all Head Start
children are ready for success
in kindergarten and that all
Head Start programs are high
quality and well managed.
We have sent a strong message
to Head Start programs and the
entire early education community
that the bar for quality has
been raised. If a program is not
delivering the high-quality
educational experience our
children deserve, and if there
is a more capable, better
qualified entity to run Head
Start in a community, we owe it
to our kids to shift funding to
the more capable entity. While
we are holding programs more
accountable for higher quality
services, we are also providing
them with additional training
and technical assistance through
our National Centers.
Focusing on what happens in
the classroom is key to
improving children's experiences
while they are in Head Start.
But that is not enough. We are
also working to improve the
linkages between Head Start
programs and the public schools
children will enter when they
start kindergarten. Strong
linkages can accomplish several
goals: they can assure that Head
Start educational goals are
matched up to what the schools
think are important readiness
goals; they can ease the
transition for children by
making sure that schools have
good information and are
prepared for the children coming
from Head Start; and they can
improve parent engagement at the
critical point when the child is
transitioning from Head Start to
Head Start is the foundation
of our nation's commitment to
providing equal access to
quality early learning programs.
For children to reach their full
potential -- and for our nation
to reach its competitive
potential -- we must provide the
learning environments and
services that children need in
their first few vital years of
development. Focusing on these
children's success now is
providing low-income families
the opportunities they deserve
and strengthening our country's
workforce for decades to come.
Since 1965, Head Start has
provided a critical lifeline for
more than 28 million children
and their families. Ed Ziegler,
one of the founders of Head
Start, always said that Head
Start is not just a program --
it is an evolving concept.
Every day, the Office of Head
Start continues to intensify our
impacts, foster innovation, and
ensure accountability so that
every child in every Head Start
program has the best opportunity
to reach their full potential.
Head Start children need and
deserve the most effective early
education program possible. We
are taking aggressive steps
every day to meet our
commitments to them.
Yvette Sanchez Fuentes is
the national director of the
Office of Head Start in the
Administration for Children and
Families division of the U.S.
Department of Health and Human
Head Start Works
By Yasmina Vinci, Executive Director, National Head Start Association
September 2010 Scholastic.com
A few active Head Start
opponents have inaccurately portrayed the recent Head Start Impact Study
as being negative to Head Start, and by doing so have unfairly misled a
number of fair-minded observers. In actuality, the Study was yet another
affirmation of the decades of rigorous peer-reviewed research showing that
Head Start works.
The Head Start IS measured the school readiness of
Head Start children compared to a control group, some of whom stayed home
and many of whom attended other preschool programs. The result was
dramatically favorable to the Head Start children. The prime conclusion of
the study was that the Head Start children left Head Start better prepared
"on every measure of children's preschool experiences measured in
The study also looked at certain measures of
academic performance at the end of first grade and was unable to detect
any statistically significant difference between the two groups, a fact
that Head Start opponents have trumpeted loudly. What the opponents fail
to mention is that the data from the control group were totally
contaminated by the time children entered school.
Parents in the control group, as they should have
been, were allowed to do what was best for the children—find another
program not included in the study. In fact, 40 percent of the control
group children were enrolled in other Head Start centers that were not a
part of the study at some point before they entered kindergarten. An
additional 25 percent of the control group children attended other
preschool programs for an average of four hours/week more than the Head
Start children spent in Head Start.
In reality, there was no longer a valid control
group by the time children reached first grade. There was no attempt made
by the study to compare individual children who had actually attended Head
Start with those who had not.
Issues of fade-out at specific points in the
education process are not new. Previous studies have shown ebbs and flows
in achievement from grade to grade throughout the educational experience.
In spite of the ups and downs in achievement, long-term studies continue
to reach the same conclusion: Head Start results in significant
improvements in a wide variety of educational outcomes and life outcomes,
such as increased high school graduation rates; fewer grade repetitions;
fewer kids going into special education classes; higher vocabulary levels;
better emotional development; reduced mortality rates of young kids;
families moving out of poverty, and a significant impact on long-term
outcomes of adults 19 years or older who attended Head Start.
The fact is Head Start does work for a vast majority
of children. Can implementation of the program be improved? Of course. And
it will be. Head Start has a 45-year history of continuous improvement.
This study was conducted from 2002 to 2005. Two years ago, the Head Start
reauthorization included many significant improvements to the program,
some of which are in the process of taking effect and are not reflected in
this study. This study likely will only catalyze the improvements already
underway in Head Start since its reauthorization in late 2007.
We also need to improve the connections between the
comprehensive services children receive in Head Start and the additional
supports they may need to continue their successful progress in elementary
schools. Head Start looks forward to working with the Department of
Education and school districts across the country to help improve
post-Head Start education by sharing strategies, such as parent
involvement, that have worked well in Head Start and should work well in
the elementary school setting.
Persistent myths put Head Start program in the
Head Start – the comprehensive birth-to-five education and health
program serving nearly a million low-income children each year – is
one of the federal government’s best success stories. Unfortunately,
Head Start increasingly finds itself caught in the crossfire between
the opponents and proponents of expanded pre-kindergarten (pre-K)
services for children not now eligible for Head Start.
For opponents of wider pre-K, the assumption seems to be that they
have to “take out” Head Start first in order to lay waste to
“universal preschool.” The recent op-ed by Hoover Institution
senior fellow Chester Finn (“Targeted – not universal –
preschool is the answer,” May 19, 2009) is a prime example of this
The truth is that President Barack Obama, who has pledged to spend
$10 billion or more a year on “zero to five” education, and
Congress – which already has approved a $2.1 billion “down
payment” on that commitment for Head Start and Early Head Start –
have it exactly right: Head Start works. It gets results. And it is
extremely accountable in terms of how federal monies are spent.
Using Mr. Finn’s op-ed article as a guide, let’s take a look at
the myths and facts about Head Start.
Myth: Head Start is ineffectual.
Fact: Head Start is one of the best-documented
success stories in the federal government. Studies show that Head
Start generates benefits that exceed its costs. Our society receives
nearly $9 in benefits for every $1 dollar invested in Head Start
children, according to the preliminary results of a longitudinal study
of more than 600 Head Start graduates in San Bernardino County, Calif.
These projected benefits include increased earnings, employment and
family stability; and decreased welfare dependency, crime costs, grade
repetition and special education. Head Start benefits its children and
society at large by reducing crime and its costs to crime victims.
Head Start children are significantly less likely to have been charged
with a crime than their siblings who did not participate in Head
Myth: Head Start programs are shoddy and don’t
measure the right things, such as kindergarten readiness.
Fact: The federal government probably has more
information on the quality of Head Start programs than it does for our
major banks undergoing stress tests. Two nationally representative
studies from 2003 and 2005 – the Head Start Impact Study and the
Family and Child Experiences Survey, respectively – reveal that Head
Start programs are of consistently good quality. Head Start assesses
the kindergarten-readiness of its students through locally based
assessments and through multiple nationally representative studies of
the children enrolled in Head Start. The Head Start Impact Study found
statistically significant positive impacts for 3- and 4-year-old
enrolled children on pre-reading, pre-writing, vocabulary and parent
reports of children’s literacy skills.
Myth: Congress has forbidden Head Start to use
readiness measures to evaluate program effectiveness.
Fact: The fact that Congress terminated the
scientifically flawed Head Start National Reporting System did not
eliminate the use of other readiness measures. In fact, Head Start
programs must assess child outcomes three times a year and are
encouraged to follow the Head Start Child Outcomes framework and
assess children three times a year in eight developmental domains:
language development, literacy, mathematics, science, creative arts,
social and emotional development, approaches to learning, and physical
heath and development. In addition to the assessments that each local
program must undertake, the U.S. Department of Health and Human
Services has conducted the Head Start Impact Study and the Early Head
Start Impact Study to evaluate the effectiveness of the Head Start and
Early Head Start programs, respectively.
Head Start prepares children for kindergarten and makes a
difference in the lives of its graduates as they progress through
their primary and secondary education. More than 200 years ago, John
Adams declared: “Facts are stubborn things.” When it comes to Head
Start, the stubborn facts demonstrate why it is that Head Start is the
premier national birth to five early childhood program.
Yasmina Vinci is executive director of the National Head Start
Association in Alexandria, VA.
The News Tribune