Assessing the Evaluations of Early Childhood Education Programs

Chapter 7 - Early Head Start - Research and Evaluation Project
Introduction to the Original Evaluation (Excerpt)

The Early Head Start program began in 1995 as a comprehensive, two-generation program intended to enhance children's development and help parents educate their young children. As of 2009, there were more than 650 Early Head Start programs serving more than 66,000 low-income children and their families at a cost of about 10,700 per child. Early Head Start serves pregnant women and low-income families with infants and toddlers. The program was developed partially in response to a 1994 report from the Carnegie Corporation that described a "quiet crisis" facing families with infants and toddlers, with many low-income children starting life in subpar environments and without sufficient interaction with caring adults. Shortly thereafter, the Advisory Committee on Head Start Quality and Expansion recommended that Head Start programs "address the fragmentation of services by forging new partnerships, and expand services in a number of ways, including serving more families with infants and toddlers."

John M. Love and Ellen Eliason Kisker of Mathematic Policy Research and Jeanne Brooks-Gunn of Columbia University led the national evaluation team (the "MPR team"). The first phase of the Early Head Start Research and Evaluation Project used data from 1996-1998 and followed children from birth through their first three years. The research design was based on random assignment, which appears to have been carried out well and with a large sample size. The evaluation reported a pattern of statistically significant, but small, impacts across a range of child and parent outcomes with some important exceptions. The effect sizes for virtually all outcomes, however, fell below levels that have traditionally been considered educationally meaningful. Moreover, a high attrition rate is likely to undermine any longer-term follow-up, leaving unclear the program's effects with respect to many important outcomes, such as school readiness.

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