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The Failure of Head Start

That's the conclusion of the latest and most comprehensive study of the program ever conducted, writes Andrew Coulson, "This study used the best possible method to review the program: It looked at a nationally representative sample of 5,000 children who were randomly assigned to either the Head Start."   The conclusion, "by the end of the first grade, children who attended Head Start are essentially indistinguishable from a control group of students who didn't."

Yesterday in the State of the Union address, President Obama suggested we use "common sense" in reforming our laws and instutions.  According to Coulson, "the president already raised spending on the program from $6.8 billion to $9.2 billion last year."  In light of the latest, peer-reviewed science, perhaps he should call for ending Head Start, and using that same money for voucher and charter school programs that have shown more promise for improving our schools.

Categories > Education

Discussions - 12 Comments

Who has a link to the study? This would be a remarkable research design.

P.S. Supposing this to be a study of the kind described in the Post story, why are we more inclined to act on this science than on that of efficacy studies in medical practice?

If I am not mistaken, the conclusions replicate previous research, though IIRC, in previous studies the observable differences in performance attributable to compensatory education dissipate by the end of the third grade, not the first grade. All this has been bruited about in opinion magazines and such for twenty years or more.

Link anyone? Thequestion has to do with the study design.

The great thing about the blogosphere and the web is that it's made for self-starters. I was able find the study relatively easily. Go get it. It would certainly be good to make sure that the data hold up.

Who says we are? The authorities have been pumping money into Head Start for 44 years; complaints about its efficacy have been in the public domain for half that time. I do not imagine it will be repealed for quite some time. Vested interests and all.

What was that about?

Here's the link to the Westat study, which indeed has an unusual and subtle design. It will take careful study but a quick look does not support the blunt, even dismissive, headline put forward by Cato and Richard Adams. You might say it supports instead the idea of "pre-school choice" -- an interesting idea. This may explain why Adams breaks off the sentence in the post that might have told us what the other assignment was in the study.
http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/opre/hs/impact_study/

Art Deco- Sorry, I wasn't clear. I meant why do we more readily credit evaluations of Head Start than those of medical practices. In both cases some might benefit from a generally ineffective treatment. I agree Head Start has endured. So have variations in clinical judgment, as the Wennberg studies show.

That was about your 7:04 am comment on 29 January.

It would not occur to me that the moderators of this blog might have an issue with pre-school choice.

I imagine there is someone who more readily credits research on educational methods with research on medical practice. I do not know who that might be.

Leaving aside the question of whether or not compensatory education is utile or not, officials can more readily address potential problems in this area. If Head Start is useless, you can discontinue appropriations for it. If physicians are prescribing ineffective treatments, you either have to have intramural campaigns to change guild culture, grant permission to insurers to turn off the spigot, or be directly coercive with private parties. Tougher nut to crack.

I don't think the Westat study demonstrates that Head Start is useless, but I know that's not your main point. I wish you were right that doctors, or many of them in non-academic practice, don't reject statistical evaluations of what they do. But maybe that's what you meant by "guild culture."

By the way I see you blog from the most beautiful part of the world.

What I mean by 'guild culture' are the habitual responses, rules of thumb, and formal treatment protocols followed by physicians. Altering guild culture would be undertaken through professional journals, conference presentations, and the miscellaneous activities of the American Medical Association, &c.

I think highly educated professionals tend to resent outsiders second-guessing their judgment. I would wager professors are worse than physicians in this regard.

I figure the insurance companies and the utilization review apparat have the numbers. The trouble is, the commercial interests of the former render their advisories suspect and the latter are often consumers and transmitters of data, not its generators. Physicians do not like taking orders from these types and a critical mass of patients remonstrate with legislators to neutralize them.

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