Tag Archives: Research

Don’t Ask if Head Start “Works” – That’s Not the Right Question

Head Start is an $8.5 billion federal program, which means everyone loves asking if it “works.” But that’s a useless question.

We know Head Start produces positive outcomes. There’s a substantial body of evidence showing that Head Start improves children’s learning at school entry. Other research shows that Head Start children are more likely to graduate high school and have better adult outcomes than children who did not. And a growing body of research shows that high-quality preschool programs can produce long-lasting gains in children’s school and life outcomes.

But critics of Head Start cite the same studies I just did to make the opposite argument. They have valid points. Not every Head Start program is high quality, for example, so some programs don’t produce these positive gains for students. And the Head Start Impact Study showed that Head Start’s positive effect on test scores fades as children enter the elementary grades.

Both critics and proponents of Head Start are right – which is why the “Does it work?” question is so useless. We already know the answer, and it’s not a clean yes or no. Taken all together, the available evidence shows that Head Start is a valuable program that can get better. Given, instead of asking if Head Start works, we should be asking a better question: How can policymakers and practitioners make Head Start better for children and families?

That’s the question Sara Mead and I – along with Results for America, the Volcker Alliance, and the National Head Start Association – try to answer in our new report, Moneyball for Head Start. We worked with these organizations to develop a vision for improving Head Start outcomes through data, evidence, and evaluation.

Specifically, we call on local grantees, federal policymakers, the research community, and the philanthropic sector to reimagine Head Start’s continuous improvement efforts.

Local grantees: All Head Start grantees need systems of data collection and analysis that support data-informed, evidence-based continuous improvement, leading to better results for children and families.

Federal oversight: The Office of Head Start (OHS), within the Administration for Children and Families of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, needs a stronger accountability and performance measurement system. This would allows federal officials to identify and disseminate effective practices of high-performing grantees, identify and intervene in low-performing grantees, and support continuous improvement across Head Start as a whole.

Research and evaluation: Federal policymakers and the philanthropic sector need to support research that builds the knowledge base of what works in Head Start and informs changes in program design and policies. This will require increasing funding for Head Start research, demonstration, and evaluation from less than 0.25 percent of total federal appropriations to 1 percent, and those funds should focus on research that builds knowledge to help grantees improve their quality and outcomes.

Philanthropy and the private sector: The philanthropic sector, universities and other research institutions, and the private sector should help build grantee capacity and support the development, evaluation, and dissemination of promising practices.

Fully realizing this vision will require a multi-year commitment. There are steps, however, that Congress and the administration can take to make progress towards these goals. In the paper, we propose several recommendations for federal policy. Taken together, these actions can support Head Start grantees in using data, evidence, and evaluation to improve results for children and families.

The Definitive Ranking of 2016 Candidates… by Charter Performance

Note: Several candidates are missing from this chart. The states represented by Rand Paul (KY) and Bernie Sanders (VT) do not currently have charter laws. The states represented by Martin O’Malley (MD), Lindsey Graham (SC), Jim Gilmore (VA), Jim Webb (VA), and Scott Walker (WI) were not included in the 2013 CREDO study.

Charter schools are growing. The number of charter students has grown from 1.2 million to 2.9 million in less than a decade. Within two decades, a third of public education’s students – or more – could be educated in charter schools. That’s why the next president’s perspective and record on charters matters.  But what can we tell about the candidates based on how their states do with charter schooling?

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The Power of Full-Day Kindergarten

Fascinating recent paper from UVA’s Chloe Gibbs finds impressive results from full-day kindergarten, as compared to half-day. Specifically, children randomly assigned to full-day kindergarten in Indiana demonstrated stronger literacy skills at the end of kindergarten, with an estimated effect size of .3 standard deviations overall and an even greater impact of .7 standard deviations for Hispanic children.

These results are important for several reasons:

First, these are very large effect sizes for an educational intervention. The effect size for full-day kindergarten for Hispanic students was roughly 70% of the end of kindergarten achievement gap for children in the control group.

Second, while access to full-day kindergarten has expanded over the past two decades, it’s still far from universal. About 75% of kindergartners nationally are in full-day programs.

Third, the cost effectiveness of this intervention was impressive. Using cost estimates for the program, Gibbs calculated an effect size of 0.07-0.2 standard deviations per $1,000 spent on full-day kindergarten, which compares very favorably to similar estimates for other educational and early childhood interventions.

Finally, the circumstances that enabled this study shed light on the ridiculous nature of early childhood education policy. In 2007, Indiana decided to expand access to full-day kindergarten (at the time only 41% of kindergarten slots were full-day). But it did not do so by changing its state funding formula–which provides a 0.5 weight for children enrolled in kindergarten, whether half or full-day–to provide a full weight for kindergartners enrolled in full-day programs. Instead, it created a grant program that districts could apply for to make up the difference. This, combined with the fact that any district that applied received funding and that grants were allocated based on kindergarten enrollment, meant that districts did not have sufficient funding to provide full-day kindergarten to all students. So districts needed to create mechanisms to allocate the limited supply of full-day kindergarten slots–in some districts, a lottery. Great for Gibbs’ research–but lousy for kids. And just another example of the striking contrast in how public/government systems fund the pieces of the education system that we agree to be mandatory or an entitlement for students compared to those we don’t. There’s no inherent reason to believe that 5-year-olds should only go to school for half a day and 6-year-olds a full day, but because kindergarten is historically half-day in many places, providing 5-year-olds (already seen as children who should be in public schools) a full-day of school is seen as a luxury expense in a way that a full-day of school for, say, 2nd graders, never is. This is dumb.