HHS Withholding Findings on Head Start Effectiveness

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has once again failed to release a timely evaluation of the federally funded Head Start program.

What exactly is taking so long? It may be that the study results will likely yield similarly poor results as the evaluation of two years ago.

HHS is required to evaluate and report the findings of the effectiveness of Head Start, a preschool program for low-income children. Two years ago, results showed no lasting positive impact for first-graders who completed the program compared to Head Start-eligible children who had not.

In fact, some students who participated in Head Start actually performed worse academically than their peers who hadn’t been enrolled in the program. As Heritage’s David Muhlhausen wrote at the time:

Alarmingly, access to Head Start for the three-year-old group actually had a harmful effect on the teacher-assessed math ability of these children once they entered kindergarten. Teachers reported that non-participating children were more prepared in math skills than those children who participated in Head Start.

The third-grade follow-up study will likely tell a similar story.

HHS finished analyzing the Head Start data from the third-grade follow-up in 2010. It was set to release its report in September 2011, which then got pushed to September of this year. When it will actually appear is anybody’s guess.

On October 18, Senator Tom Coburn (R–OK) and Representative John Kline (R–MN), chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, wrote a letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius requesting the report’s release along with an explanation for the delay.

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Coburn pointed out that Head Start has cost taxpayers almost $8 billion this year alone, which translates to more than $14,000 per pupil over two years. Yet the program has failed to produce results.

President Obama said himself that his Administration would “use only one test when deciding what ideas to support with your precious tax dollars: It’s not whether an idea is liberal or conservative, but whether it works.” Applying this test, Head Start’s future should be called into serious question.

At a minimum, if taxpayers are required to continue funding a federal preschool program, states should be allowed to make Head Start funds portable, empowering families to use their share at any preschool provider of choice. Maybe HHS will consider that in their response to Senator Coburn’s letter—if they ever get around to it.

Amanda Lucas is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm.

Source material can be found at this site.

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