On its face, the logic of providing early education, particularly for disadvantaged children, seems obvious, not only for the benefit to the child, but to the schools that will be educating the child down the line.
As a federal program, its cost is relatively modest; at $7 billion it accounts for about 0.8% of the Health and Human Services Department’s total budget.
Last year, results from the most comprehensive study of Head Start were released. The Head Start Impact Study Third Grade Follow-up randomly selected children for participation in Head Start or for comparison and followed them through third grade. Many of the comparison children participated in other preschool programs, some of which may also have been subsidized, and few had no preschool experience at all.
There was disappointment in the early childhood world that the Impact Study did not show much difference at third grade between Head Start and comparison children, but many felt the outcome pointed to the variety of early learning options available to children who didn’t attend Head Start. We’ve come a long way since 1965. Early learning is now found in numerous settings, funded through multiple public and private streams.