The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Opinion

February 25, 2013

Jeff Goldammer, guest columnist: Let's set record straight about Head Start

JOPLIN, Mo. — I read the Feb. 14 letter from Duane Eberhardt printed in the “Your View” section of The Joplin Globe.

Mr. Eberhardt pulls one item from the 420-page Head Start Impact Study report and attempts to paint the entire Head Start program with that one brush. In doing so, he ignores all the positive findings in the study and the tremendous volumes of research on the effectiveness of the Head Start program. To use an analogy from Valentine’s Day: It would be like buying your wife a beautiful arrangement of roses, then saying that they were a worthless failure because they did not look the same a week later.

The Head Start Impact Study is a recent addition to decades of research on the effectiveness of Head Start. Mandated by Congress in 1998, it was conducted on a sample of children in Head Start in academic year 2002-03, who were then compared to a control group in other early childhood settings, some of which were other Head Start programs.

In his letter Mr. Eberhardt’s calls the program “worthless” and “insane.” Though I don’t know Mr. Eberhardt or his credentials, I place more value on the analysis in the study.

Here are some examples.

The authors of the study state: “Providing access to Head Start has a positive impact on children’s preschool experiences. There are statistically significant differences between the Head Start group and the control group on every measure of children’s preschool experiences measured in this study.”

The Advisory Committee on Head Start Research and Evaluation: “The appropriate interpretation of the studies’ findings in context is that Head Start and EHS are improving family well being and improving school readiness of children at or below the poverty line in the United States today.”

Dr. Edward Ziglar: “Differences within and between the Head Start and control groups are just one reason why the longitudinal follow-up of the impact study should not be treated as a test of the value of Head Start. The program’s value should only be assessed against the goals that have been set for it. Since its inception, Head Start’s purpose has been to prepare poor children for school. Over the years scientists, policymakers and the public have developed unreasonable expectations that Head Start should raise IQ scores, lift children and families out of poverty and close the achievement gap between poor and more-affluent children. Congress tried to quell this practice in 1998 by mandating the singular goal of improved school readiness. Measured against this outcome, Head Start is certainly a success.”

In the study “School Quality and the Long-Run Effects of Head Start,” Rucker Johnson addresses the question of whether Head Start graduates show different long-term effects based on the quality of their neighborhood schools. Overall, Johnson’s results show that Head Start improved educational achievement, adult health status and men’s wages while decreasing grade repetition and incarceration rates for black males. These findings support the research that Head Start contributes to long-term outcomes regardless of early fade-out in test scores, as well as the body of research showing that ongoing investment supports higher outcomes.

Mr. Eberhardt’s letter fails to mention any of the research documenting Head Start benefits that extend beyond elementary school. Rigorous peer-reviewed studies have shown positive outcomes for Head Start children as they move through life. They are less likely to need expensive special education services in their later school years, and they are less likely to repeat grades. In fact, they are more likely to graduate from high school, to go to college and to get jobs. Head Start graduates are less likely to commit crimes and less likely to go to jail. Perhaps most important of all, because of health and nutrition services Head Start alumni are healthier as proved by their lower death rates from illness.

Numerous studies on early childhood programs show that at least $7 is saved from every $1 spent on Head Start. That is a better return on investment than the stock market and a much better deal than most of the spending our government makes.

Let’s be clear: The Head Start Impact Study shows that Head Start children outperformed the control group in every domain that the study measured, including positive cognitive, social-emotional, health and parenting impacts. The Head Start children left Head Start more ready for school than their peers in the control group.

If you want to really analyze Head Start’s effectiveness, then at least get the whole picture. Go to www.nhsa.org/research and view the extensive research archive on the Head Start program.

Jeff Goldammer is director of the Head Start and Early Head Start programs in Barton, Jasper, Newton and McDonald counties.

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