01 02 03 Institute for Effective Education, University of York: The varying impact of an earlier years programme 04 05 15 16 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 31 32 33

The varying impact of an earlier years programme

A paper from MDRC analyses variation in the effects of the Head Start programme in the United States using data from the Head Start Impact Study.

Head Start is the largest US federal programme for early years development of disadvantaged children and has served more than 30 million children since 1965.

The MDRC paper confirms previous studies that suggested substantial variation in the effects of Head Start in relation to the individual, subgroup, and between Head Start Centers.

The main findings were:

• Head Start improved cognitive outcomes in children with the lowest cognitive skills and tended to reduce disparities between children in key cognitive outcomes.

• Dual-language and Spanish-speaking children with low pretest scores gained the most from Head Start.

• Much of the positive effect of Head Start came from mitigating for limited prior English; the positive effect on children with limited English persisted for at least three years.

The added value of Head Start compared with local alternatives varied substantially between Centers and reflected differences in provision (such as hours of care, teacher education, and classroom quality).

Some Head Start Centers were much more effective than alternatives (including parental care) and others were much less effective than alternatives.

Source: Quantifying Variation in Head Start Effects on Young Children’s Cognitive and Socio-Emotional Skills Using Data from the National Head Start Impact Study (2015), MDRC.

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