Bringing Evidence to the Early Childhood Conversation: A Timely Issue

Behavioral Science & Policy AssociationImproving access to quality early childhood education is increasingly a priority for policymakers at all levels of government. But smart policies to expand early learning opportunities need to be based on research and evidence. A newly released feature in the Behavioral Science & Policy Journal seeks to provide an overview of relevant research, and includes a piece from me and my colleague Ashley LiBetti Mitchel.

The issue looks at what we’ve learned from recent policy developments and research on home visiting programs, state pre-k programs, and Head Start. Ron Haskins, who edited the series, provides an overview of the current landscape of early childhood education programs. Cynthia Osborne offers four lessons policymakers should take from research on home visiting. Dale Farran and Mark Lipsey and Christina Weiland offer differing takes on the potential to scale high-quality preschool. Ashley LiBetti Mitchel and I describe recent research and policy developments related to Head Start. And Ajay Chaudry and Jane Waldfogel outline a vision for a much more robust system of early care and education policies to improve results for American kids.

In our piece, Ashley and I argue that, while research demonstrates Head Start’s positive impacts on participating children, it also suggests that Head Start’s results vary widely across grantees and do not match those of the most successful early childhood programs. Given this evidence, we argue that the relevant question for policymakers is not whether Head Start works but how to increase the number of Head Start centers that work as well as the most effective Head Start centers and state-funded pre-K programs. We review the effect of recent policy initiatives that have sought to do this, and offer recommendations for future policies to further support improvements in Head Start quality and outcomes.

You can read our piece, as well as the entire issue, here.