An analysis of participants in a Tulsa Head Start program found many indicators that the federal early-education program works — and the positive effects last into middle school.
Overall, participants in the Community Action Project Head Start program had higher math scores, lower rates of grade retention and were less likely to be chronically absent.
The findings are significant because they contrast with other research showing the program’s positive effects fade quickly.
Some sub-groups of children, however, did not show enduring improvement on achievement-related measures, including boys and blacks.
Head Start is a pre-K program intended to boost school readiness for low-income children.
In 1998 Oklahoma was the second state to establish a universal public pre-kindergarten program available to all 4-year-olds. All state-funded Head Start programs , including ones like CAP Head Start that involve private providers, must maintain high standards, including hiring teachers with bachelor’s degrees and early-childhood certification and keeping student-to-staff ratios at 10 to one or lower.
The latest study appeared in the August issue of Developmental Psychology. Georgetown University researchers analyzed performance markers of 8th grade students and once-retained 7th grade students who started kindergarten in Tulsa Public Schools in 2006.
Head Start participants scored higher on the state math achievement test in 7th grade compared to those who didn’t attend pre-K. Participants were also 31 percent less likely to have been retained a grade and 34 percent less likely to be chronically absent in 8th grade.
Not all subgroups of children fared the same. The study found no lasting effects for boys or blacks on any of the achievement-related outcomes. Head Start participants fared similarly to non-participants on suspensions, special education placement, course grades, reading achievement, honors course selection and gifted program placement.
“The positive impacts of the program on Hispanic, ELL (English Language Learner) and the lowest income children offers signs of hope and affirm the importance of outreach efforts to enroll these children,” the study’s authors wrote in a policy brief published by the Center for Research on Children in the U.S. “That the longer-term impacts did not extend to black children – or to boys – is of great concern and warrants focused attention to their experiences post-Head Start in the public school system.”