Head Start Works; Congress Should Keep It Moving Forward

Posted on January 6, 2017
Yasmina Vinci's commentary on 'the power and promise' of Head Start

Jan. 6, 2017 (Washington, D.C.) As the newest Members of Congress join their colleagues in the nation’s capital to legislate a path toward a productive, prosperous and peaceful future, I am hopeful every member of the 115th Congress is reflecting on America’s core values and how those values contribute to the American dream.

As a member of the Head Start community, I find myself reflecting on the more than 33 million vulnerable children whose lives have been transformed by the Head Start advantage.

Last year was marked by tremendous support and energy for Head Start’s proven, two-generation approach to delivering quality early learning services to our nation’s most at-risk children. At the same time, foes of this national commitment to start America early continued making reckless justifications for disinvestment.

 

Fortunately, a rich body of new research and streamlined, de-bureaucratized, performance standards discredited Head Start critics’ assertions.

Among last year’s Head Start hallmarks were new studies that bolstered the case for investing in high-quality, early childhood interventions that target very young disadvantaged children, engage parents, and teach a full range of skills.

Of particular note was the groundbreaking study, The Lifecycle Benefits of an Influential Early Childhood Program, released just last month by Nobel Laureate economist James Heckman that found comprehensive, birth-to-age-5 early childhood programs like Head Start can deliver better outcomes in education, health, social behaviors, and employment.

Previous research by Dr. Heckman found a $7 to $1 return on investment per child, per year for early childhood education in the U.S. This new research shows a significant rise in the return on investment — $13 per child, per year — due to increased long-term benefits. According to the report, this return on investment will reduce taxpayer costs in the long-term and prepare our workforce for future success.

Other studies released last year reinforced the power and promise of Head Start. The Brookings Institution’s Hamilton Project, The Long-term Impact of the Head Start Program; the Georgetown University Center for Research on Children in the United States, The Effects of Tulsa’s CAP Head Start Program on Middle School Academic Outcomes and Progress; and The Institute for Research Labor and Employment at Berkeley, Revisiting the Impact of Head Start, all underscored the effectiveness of the Head Start advantage.

The Hamilton Project study analyzed data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth and found increasing evidence of the long-term effects of Head Start. Tulsa’s CAP program is a case study in how local design and flexibility allows communities to tailor programs and maximize  long-term effects. The Berkeley policy brief pulled together the findings from multiple papers using data from the Head Start Impact Study.  

These new studies add to a robust body of research affirming the significant and meaningful long-term effects of Head Start.

Another hallmark was the release of the new Head Start Performance Standards, a tremendous step forward in enhancing the high-quality early learning programs for nearly one million children each year.

Ironically, there is a small cadre of naysayers who assert there is substantial variation in quality across the states. This narrow interpretation of the Head Start delivery model fails to not only acknowledge the demonstrable improvement in quality since the 2007 reauthorization – which was clearly borne out of the recent FACES report conducted by Mathematica – but ignores that variation in local program design is intentional, and quality is consistently high across programs.

In reality, the new Head Start standards place higher emphasis on reducing bureaucracy and enhancing efficiency, both of which are critical to the effective delivery of Head Start services.

The new rules outline a vision of Head Start that is evidence-based, data-driven, and outcomes-focused – a significant and positive step forward for millions of future Head Start children and families.

We are in the midst of a transformative period for Head Start. As we look to the future, we turn to the incoming Congress and administration for support in Head Start’s continuous national commitment to provide community-driven, early learning opportunities for vulnerable children and their families.

Now is the time to rally together as a nation and re-commit to ensuring every poor child is prepared to pursue the American dream, regardless of dint of circumstance.

Yasmina Vinci is the executive director of the National Head Start Association. Her commentary first appeared in The Hill, a Washington, D.C. publication.