May 1, 2009

Educational Investment, Part II: Paving the Way with Early Education

In 1964, then-President Lyndon Johnson authorized a preschool program as part of his Economic Opportunity Act. That program has evolved into today’s Head Start, which provides not only preschool education to children from low-income families, but also health and social services.

Since 1965, the money invested in Head Start programs has been steadily increasing. President Obama allotted an additional $5 billion to the program under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in the hopes of reaching 150,000 more children. The idea is that when education and healthy living start early, children stay in school, stay employed, enrich society and save taxpayer dollars in reduced welfare later on in life.

However, in 1997 the Government Accounting Office published a report entitled Head Start: Research Provides Little Information on Impact of Current Program. In response, Congress mandated the Head Start Impact Study. Under the Department of Health and Human Services, the research project took four years to design, involved 5000 children, over 350 centers, and received an 80% response rate. The study included both children enrolled in Head Start as well as a control group of children who were eligible but not enrolled due to a lack of seat vacancies. According to the DHHS 2005 summary, Head Start has small to moderate statistically significant positive impacts in some development areas, while no impact on others.

Kathleen McCartney
, Dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, points out that while experimental research supports early education, President Obama will have to construct a solid policy for early education out of the current “patchwork quilt of programs” currently in existence.

Many states see the value in early education and have begun to implement universal preschool programs, including Oklahoma, Georgia, New Jersey, and Illinois. However, according to the National Center of Education Statistics, none of these states are yet able to point to higher test scores as a possible result of increased access to early education. Only time will tell.

My own personal logic leads me to believe that positive educational experiences at a young age must increase any individual’s likelihood of having enriching educational experiences in the future. However, I was also not enrolled in an early education program. What are you experiences, either professional or personal, with early education? Is the President on the right track?

This post was written by Allison Tritt, a former high school English teacher, volunteer for Oxfam Japan and blogger with Literacy ‘n’ Poverty Project. She blogs to foster global awareness and remind others that there is always a way to get involved. Please leave your comments or email Allison at with any questions.

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