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The Difficulty in Assessing the Effectiveness of Early Education Programs

The Difficulty in Assessing the Effectiveness of Early Education Programs

A recent report looking at research into Head Start programs—or federally funded early education programs for low-income families—has revealed that research is not conclusive enough to determine the effectiveness despite 50 years of operation and 30 million children served, said The Hechinger Report.

The July 2015 report was published by the Department of Education and comes from What Works Clearinghouse; it determined from studying over 90 varying research reports on Heard Start that only one study was scientifically valid in assessing whether students' academic or behavioral skills had improved, the article said.

That study's findings concluded that Head Start programs do not outwardly improve the skills of the young learners coming through its doors.

"It found that Head Start had 'potentially positive effects' on general reading achievement and 'no discernible effects' on mathematics achievement and social-emotional development for 3-year-old and 4-year-old children."

Michael Lopez, one of the people behind the research into the What Works Clearinghouse report, told The Hechinger Report that it is a very difficult task to properly and scientifically research a singular early education program such as Head Start.

Lopez said that many researchers will not morally stand behind comparing a group of children enrolled in Head Start to a group of children staying at home for fear of denying young learners early education in the name of research.

And if researchers were on board, Lopez said that many parents who once agreed to have their children opt out of early education ended up enrolling their children in preschool after all; comparing Head Start to any good preschool program was likely to make research inconclusive as well. Head Start, he said, was likely to be very similar in quality to any other good preschool program.

"Furthermore, Head Start programs vary wildly throughout the country. Some are full day. Some aren’t. Some employ highly qualified teachers. Some don’t. It’s quite possible that when you average the results from programs around the whole country, as Lopez’s study did, the bad programs offset the good ones and the overall result is a wash," the article said.

When The Hechinger Report reached out to the administration that oversees Head Start, Administration for Children and Families (ACF), spokesperson Pat Fisher noted that the report only analyzed social, emotional, and academic short-term skills as opposed to analyzing research that has also looked at the benefits of Head Start on graduation rates and keeping future adults out of prison.

The spokesperson also pointed out that Head Start has taken on several changes over the past seven years where research has not yet taken into account and that as soon as the end of next month changes could be voted on to turn all Head Start programs into full-day, year-round programs, another big change.

Still, Lopez insists that despite the obstacles, more rigorous research into the effectiveness of not only Head Start, but early education programs in general should be invested in to improve the future quality of what early education offers for young learners.

Read the full article here and comment with your thoughts below.

Article by Nicole Gorman, Education World Contributor


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