Head Start -- the romance of a government program that would provide care, nutrition, education, and skills to impoverished preschoolers in order to erase, to the degree possible, the handicaps poverty imposes. That was the idea in 1965, when Head Start was founded. Lyndon Johnson declared, upon signing the enabling bill that "Today, we reach out to five and half million children held behind their more fortunate schoolmates by the dragging anchor of poverty." Head Start, he promised, would be their "passport" out.
By 1987, even the program's founder, Yale psychologist Edward F. Zigler, declined to claim educational benefits for the program. But as the Thernstroms concluded, "Everyone could agree that poverty was hard on blameless children, so any federal effort purporting to help them was difficult to attack without seeming mean-spirited."....
A just-released study by the Department of Health and Human Services delivers incredibly harsh news about Head Start. A large, nationwide survey of 4,600 preschoolers who were randomly assigned to either the Head Start (experimental group) or no program (control group) were studied on 114 different measures ranging from academic skills to social-emotional development, to health status. The study found no statistically relevant effects from the Head Start program by the end of first grade.
So, what's the deal? What say you? How much evidence is enough for us to be willing to conclude that something that seemed like a no-brainer just isn't helping? Isn't it true that if one has occasion to cite studies in support of their views, then one must be willing to adjust their views when a host of studies indicates something contrary to what you'd hoped?
And what's the best case that can now reasonably be claimed as the virtue of Head Start?