All the studies of early childhood development emphasize that the good results come only from the high quality programs. We should keep that in mind as we consider the potential for enhanced early childhood development efforts here in New Hampshire. Here, a just-released federal study makes that point again:
While Head Start participation benefited children’s learning and development during their time in the federally funded preschool program, those advantages had mostly vanished by the end of 3rd grade, a new federal study finds.
In the final phase of a large-scale randomized, controlled study of nearly 5,000 children, researchers found that the positive impacts on literacy and language development demonstrated by children who entered Head Start at age 4 had dissipated by the end of 3rd grade, and that they were, on average, academically indistinguishable from their peers who had not participated in Head Start. The new findings, released today by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, are consistent with an earlier phase of the study which showed that many of the positive impacts of Head Start participation had faded by the end of 1st grade.
The $8 billion Head Start program serves nearly 1 million low-income children.
Researchers examined a nationally representative sample of Head Start programs. Study participants were children who were eligible for the preschool services based on family income. The children were assigned by lottery to a group that had access to Head Start services or a control group that did not have access to Head Start, but could enroll in other early-childhood programs.
Lisa Guernsey, the director of the Early Education Initiative at the New America Foundation, said the 3rd grade findings were no surprise, but still leave some major questions unanswered. One, she said, is the amount of time children spent in the Head Start classrooms because that varies widely across programs. The other, she noted, is a description of the quality of the learning experiences both in the Head Start classrooms and the early-childhood programs attended by children in the control group.
“We can’t tell whether time and quality made a difference,” she said. “We know that the interaction between the child and the teacher matters so much and if you are only in a classroom for three hours a day, four days a week and out all summer long, the experience is much different than for children who go a full day, a full year, and with a teacher that is strong.”