The only “lasting impact” of the Head Start program is on taxpayers’ wallets.

Those too-clever-for-words folks over at the Department of Health and Human Services have yet again tried to put one over on us. Using the oldest PR trick in the book, they released information to the media that they hoped no one would notice — on a Friday when people are too busy thinking about and planning their weekends. And because the report is very politically embarrassing, DHHS doubled down and went public on a Friday before a long holiday weekend.

So right before Christmas, on Friday, December 21st, we were hit with the results of the third and final phase of the federal government’s Head Start study. (Established by Lyndon Johnson in 1965, Head Start is the pet project of the early education crowd, which consists of spendaholic types aided, abetted and financed by the teachers unions, which love nothing more than expanding their roster of dues paying members. And President Obama is complicit member of this unholy alliance.)

The problem with the latest results is that they match those of the second phase of the study published in 2010, which revealed that basically Head Start has been a $180 billion (and counting) boondoggle. Lesli Maxwell in Education Week explains,

In the first phase of the evaluation, a group of children who entered Head Start at age 4 saw benefits from spending one year in the program, including learning vocabulary, letter-word recognition, spelling, color identification, and letter-naming, compared with children of the same age in a control group who didn’t attend Head Start. For children who entered Head Start at age 3, the gains were even greater, demonstrated by their language and literacy skills, as well their skills in learning math, prewriting, and perceptual motor skills.

The second phase of the study showed that those gains had faded considerably by the end of 1st grade, with Head Start children showing an edge only in learning vocabulary over their peers in the control group who had not participated in Head Start.

And now, in this final phase of the study, “there was little evidence of systematic differences in children’s elementary school experiences through 3rd grade, between children provided access to Head Start and their counterparts in the control group,” the researchers wrote in an executive summary. (Emphasis added.)

After the second phase results came out, Reason Foundation’s Lisa Snell blogged,

The just-released large-scale random assignment study of Head Start confirms once again that the $7 billion a year federal preschool program provides meager benefits to children at huge costs to taxpayers.

In other words, it’s a very expensive and wasteful federal babysitting program. The Heritage Foundation’s Lindsey Burke elaborates:

… This federal evaluation, which effectively shows no lasting impact on children after first grade and no difference between those children who attended Head Start and those who did not, should call into question the merits of increasing funding for the program, which the Obama administration recently did as part of the so-called “stimulus” bill.

Snell continues,

In the past the Obama administration has been criticized for sitting on a study and releasing it on a Friday when it showed solid evidence that the DC Opportunity Scholarship program worked. The administration did not release a study that might have influenced policy decisions about reauthorizing and funding the DC school choice program. On the other hand, the Obama administration also sat on a study by the Department of Health and Human Services that showed meager impact for children in Head Start. The study was complete and the information was available, but the Obama Administration went ahead and significantly increased Head Start funding through the stimulus act to the tune of more than $2 billion. The hypocrisy cuts both ways. (Emphasis added.)

Snell also quotes Douglas Bresharov in the New York Times,

…to keep a child in Head Start full-time, year-round, costs about $22,600, as opposed to an average cost of $9,500 in a day care center.

In a rare moment of candor, the mainstream media joined the naysayers when in 2011, Time Magazine’s Joe Klein weighed in,

You take the million or so poorest 3- and 4-year-old children and give them a leg up on socialization and education by providing preschool for them; if it works, it saves money in the long run by producing fewer criminals and welfare recipients…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.

Undaunted by a mountain of data, the National Education Association still proclaims its support for Head Start because

it maintains high quality classrooms and teachers, and effectively prepares our nation’s most at-risk children for school.

No better is the American Federation of Teachers. On their website, it crows that it

is gratified to see the Obama administration’s continued focus on the quality of early childhood education. As the president said during a recent visit to a Pennsylvania Head Start center, early education is “one of our best investments in America’s future.”

In any event, it is time to say no to the unions and any other special interests that only care about their selfish agendas. And for the rest the Head Start true believers, apparently all they have is evidence based on what Stanford’s Caroline Hoxby refers to as the “cardiac test.”

We just know in our heart that this is right.

Whatever their feelings may be, this shameful, wasteful spending must stop immediately.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

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    2 Responses to Head Start or Dead End?

    1. gnafu says:

      Head Start is a wonderful program for children! The teachers and parents are well qualified. If you have never visited one of the Head Start Facilities, I suggest you do so. The children who could not otherwise have this opportunity excel when they reach Kindergarten! The above report seems fictitious and is not well received. Head Start is investing in our children’s future. This is a much better plan than sending money to rich dictators who never pass the aide onto their people!! I, for one, am in favor of Head Start and find it unacceptable that researchers failed their quest.

    2. ginny hegge says:

      I’m sure Head Start is wonderful for children. It’s not wonderful, however, for taxpayers who must start demanding that their precious tax dollars be used effectively. Would you support those going for hospital stays to give cancer patients ice warm beds and nutritious food but doesn’t do anything for the cancer…all the while giving nice, well-meaning but incompetent doctors raises and giving pink slips to the gifted ones who actually want to fight the cancer (in this case, ignorance) effectively? The research is solid, it’s just not what you want to believe. It’s cruel to reject education reform we know works — like getting criminal and/or incompetent teachers out of the classroom, supporting and rewarding the best ones, raising standards for all children (rejecting what George Bush called “the soft bigotry of low expectations”) and giving more choices and control to parents, like the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program or Oakland’s American Indian Charters — in other words, supporting what works instead of what feels good but doesn’t. Attacking the scholarship is ignorant and dangerous. And stupid.

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