Research Ought to Give Second Thoughts about Government Preschool Programming

It’s been almost two years since I last brought your attention to the overwhelming research findings that the nearly-50-year-old Head Start program has not made a real difference in education outcomes. But a new Wall Street Journal story by Stephanie Banchero points out that some federal officials appear intent on doubling down.

In an article last month, Heritage Foundation scholars not only summarized the lackluster findings regarding the latest Head Start research but also some disturbing news about how it was released:

In 2008, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) completed data collection for its third-grade follow-up study of Head Start, a federal preschool program designed to improve the kindergarten readiness of low-income children. Four years later, just before Christmas, the agency finally published the results of the congressionally mandated evaluation. The report’s publication date reads October 2012, meaning the final product sat at HHS for two months before being released. [emphasis added]

It’s always nice to see policy makers making decisions about tax-funded programs based on results rather than intentions and flowery words. So here’s hoping leaders in Washington, D.C., would demonstrate enough humility to realize that simply reauthorizing or expanding Head Start — or running a similar program under a different name — isn’t going to work. Maybe a little extra encouragement from We the People in the states might cause them to rethink the approach.

That leaves me with a couple exit questions for Colorado supporters of increased state funding of early childhood education:

  1. Would you support the phase-out of the Head Start program with the unused funds disbursed to Colorado to implement a more effective and accountable ECE program?
  2. Would you support such a state-based program to provide maximum parental choice among public and private preschool providers?