Head Start Debate Likely to Lead to Changes, But Maybe Not Overhaul
February 6th, 2013 by Paul Nyhan
One of the nation’s longest-running early education programs seems to be headed for changes.
In recent months, the federal Head Start program has been at the center of early learning debates, including new research questioning its impact, a pilot program that will merge Head Start and Early Start, and re-competition of more than 200 centers.
The new study reported many of the benefits of Head Start fade out by third grade, leaving some to suggest it was time overhaul the program and give more authority to states and parents. The report generated debate among education policy folks that initially seemed to underplay that this was only one report in decades of research on Head Start, and much of that research supports Head Start’s effectiveness.
This week, the news is that five communities will get opportunities to blend Head Start and its O-3 sister program, Early Head Start, to “create a seamless birth-to-five program,” according to the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the program. Check out a good summary by Early Years.
And now, President Barack Obama is considering a plan to expand access to high-quality early education that could impact Head Start, according to reports, and he could unveil broad outlines of the idea in his State of the Union address this Tuesday.
All of these developments mean that one of the biggest parts of the nation’s early learning system probably will change during the next four years. But, if some are waiting for Congress and the White House to overhaul or even scrap the program, they will probably be waiting a long time.
After 65 years, Head Start enjoys support on both sides of the aisle in Congress. And the old rule on Capitol Hill will only help. It is far harder to create new programs and far easier to preserve funding for existing ones. With Head Start this makes sense. It could benefit from improvements, but it has done a good job in many cases of preparing children for kindergarten.