Impact on Children, Families, and Communities

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How do me measure Head Start’s success? Each year, Head Start children and families are evaluated to see how they are doing. The children are also followed years later to measure the impact of Head Start on their lives. Head Start is based on the premise that all children share certain needs, and that children from income-eligible families can benefit from a comprehensive developmental program to meet these needs. As a family-oriented, comprehensive, and community-based program, Head Start addresses developmental goals for children, teams with parents in their work and child-rearing roles, and puts them in contact with other service delivery systems. Here is a snapshot of various studies and research across the United States on the impact of these services:

  • Children completing Early Head Start programs did better on standardized tests of cognitive and language development, may need fewer special learning interventions later on, and performed better on critical social-emotional tasks, such as relating to their parents, attention and appropriate behavior, according to a seven-year DHS evaluation.
  • Four- and five-year-old participants were found to gain benefits that lasted through fifth grade, according to Duke University research.
  • University of Chicago found that Head Start reduced child mortality in elementary years, apparently due to screening and treatment referrals.
  • Head Start graduates were more likely to graduate from high school and attend college than their peers, according to a UCLA study.
  • Harvard research also found children who attended Head Start were more likely to graduate from high school and less likely to be out of a job and out of school as other young adults.
  • Business leaders argue that benefits are immediate — preschool creates jobs, gives parents more time to work, and reduces the number of children in high-priced special education programs and those having to repeat grades.

The Heckman Equation

Nobel laureate economist Dr. James J. Heckman studied much of the research on early childhood education and formulated the Heckman Equation, which is:

  • Invest in educational and developmental resources for disadvantaged families to provide equal access to successful early human development
  • Nurture early development of cognitive and social skills in children from birth to age five
  • Sustain early development with effective education until adulthood resulting in a more capable, productive, and valuable workforce for America for generations to come

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