Sunday, May 06, 2012

Head Start does not work

A comprehensive study by DHHS shows that Head Start does not work:
Indeed, Head Start did work well in several pilot programs carefully run by professionals in the 1960s. And so it was "taken to scale," as the wonks say, as part of Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty.  
It is now 45 years later. We spend more than $7 billion providing Head Start to nearly 1 million children each year. And finally there is indisputable evidence about the program's effectiveness, provided by the Department of Health and Human Services: Head Start simply does not work. 
According to the Head Start Impact Study, which was quite comprehensive, the positive effects of the program were minimal and vanished by the end of first grade. Head Start graduates performed about the same as students of similar income and social status who were not part of the program. These results were so shocking that the HHS team sat on them for several years, according to Russ Whitehurst of the Brookings Institution, who said, "I guess they were trying to rerun the data to see if they could come up with anything positive. They couldn't."

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

it's sad that people think that school/education makes people smarter. school does not make anyone smarter. we are already pre-set before birth. at most one can veer a little one way or another, but one can't be made smarter than they are more or less pre-set to be.

Anonymous said...

Education teaches specific skills. It doesn't create the ability to learn.

The premise of Head Start was that the ability was there, only the education was missing, which was why performance was low. If the education were increased, the performance would increase.

The thing about truly huge programs like this, it that they are so large, you can't say well they didn't have enough time or if you did more. Every one of these huge endeavors has failed from Kansas City school district to Head Start.

It reminds me of the activists who complained that giving women hormones in menopause was too dangerous and should be stopped. The industry launched the enormous Nurses study to prove them wrong and ended up proving them right, but on such a grand scale, it was no longer refutable using the counterweight of smaller studies. That part of the Nurses study had to be stopped because it violated ethics for studies on human subjects.

Head Start doesn't harm kids, so it will likely continue despite its ineffectiveness.

Anonymous said...

Education teaches specific skills. It doesn't create the ability to learn.

The premise of Head Start was that the ability was there, only the education was missing, which was why performance was low. If the education were increased, the performance would increase.

The thing about truly huge programs like this, it that they are so large, you can't say well they didn't have enough time or if you did more. Every one of these huge endeavors has failed from Kansas City school district to Head Start.

It reminds me of the activists who complained that giving women hormones in menopause was too dangerous and should be stopped. The industry launched the enormous Nurses study to prove them wrong and ended up proving them right, but on such a grand scale, it was no longer refutable using the counterweight of smaller studies. That part of the Nurses study had to be stopped because it violated ethics for studies on human subjects.

Head Start doesn't harm kids, so it will likely continue despite its ineffectiveness.

pat said...

My main career was in Program Evaluation. I transferred into the School of Public Aministration at George Washington University to get an MPA. I wanted to evaluate government social programs.

I took a lot of math and research design. I won several fellowships and scholarships to do math modeling for planning departments in Washington DC. I had almost no competition for those math oriented opportunities. GW trained most of the top beaurocrats in the federal government but almost none of them were quantitative.

I was joining a movement that was aimed at reforming government. A few years earlier a similar movement had been promoted for employing accounting types. But in the early seventies the great hope for better government was in the use of scientific method. The idea was that you treated a government program as if it were a formal hypothesis and then you measured the results to confirm or disconfirm that hypothesis.

The Head Start Program was evaluated by Westinghouse at this time. It was the largest and most sophisticated study ever done. The results were clear and unequivocal - Head Start didn't work.

At the time I was worried. I feared that my chosen field would be swamped before I could get a career foothold. I wanted to study public welfare programs. I thought that when the public saw the Westinghouse study, older more experienced men would get all the evaluation opportunities that I expected to soon follow.

But a funny thing happened. The Westinghouse study was ignored. Politicians went on praising Head Start and voting it ever larger appropriations. No one seemed to care that all the educational benefits to participants soon faded.

Evaluation was still a hot career for a while. I got hired right out of grad school at a management consulting firm that specialized in evaluation. But not doing evaluation per se. We were part of Nixon's "War on Cancer". It was rather odd. All of us had strong math and stat backgrounds but no one knew a damn thing about medicine.

One thing every professional evaluator knew was that Head Start didn't work. There was never any doubt about that.

Albertosaurus

Steve N. said...

"it's sad that people think that school/education makes people smarter. school does not make anyone smarter. we are already pre-set before birth. at most one can veer a little one way or another, but one can't be made smarter than they are more or less pre-set to be."

This is true across large populations, but is not true on a case by case basis. The brain is incredibly plastic and *can* be stimulated to be smarter. Where raw smarts isn't enough, hard work and conscientiousness can be taught. But it's just incredibly hard work, more suited to (above average) homeschooling parent, and doesn't scale well.

If you are a dumb parent with a dumb kid, probably the best thing you can do for this kid is to find some smart, dedicated couple to adopt him. It won't undo the genetics, but it can compensate for a lot of it.

Luke Lea said...

how about that abcdarian (sp?) project?