Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Early education - is it really all it's cracked up to be?

Apparently a new evaluation of the long-standing early education programme for low income children in the US has shown that there is very little difference in outcomes between those that are enrolled and those who were not. Rather than rely on the report about the report I had a very quick look at the actual evaluation;

In sum, this report finds that providing access to Head Start has benefits for both 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds in the cognitive, health, and parenting domains, and for 3-year-olds in the social-emotional domain. However, the benefits of access to Head Start at age four are largely absent by 1st grade for the program population as a whole. For 3-year-olds, there are few sustained benefits, although access to the program may lead to improved parent-child relationships through 1st grade, a potentially important finding for children’s longer term development.

Importantly this is an evaluation through to 1st grade only. A further report is pending into outcomes by 3rd grade.

Head Start has been going since 1965 and was instituted as part of Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty.

It costs nearly $US7 billion and 60 percent of enrolled children are non-white.

I guess what interests me is other countries have modelled educational/social policies after Head Start. In NZ there has been increasing focus on and professionalisation of early education across the board. No doubt there will be many studies that show a positive effect. But when it comes to low income children in particular, I would think that the home environment and the parental input are more influential. Perhaps there is only so much intervention can (generally) achieve - and if this study is anything to go by - the difference may be disappointingly modest.

(Of course, it could also be argued that the quality of education and environment of Head Start needs to be extended through to later grades or that there is something wrong with US schools or that children are less malleable as they get older. I am beginning to wonder if I should even hit the publish button....but there isn't anything else that caught my interest today.)

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