Assessing the Evaluations of Early Childhood Education Programs

Chapter 27 - Westinghouse Learning Center/Ohio University Report on Head Start
Introduction to the Original Evaluation (Excerpt)

The federal Head Start program began in 1965 as an eight-week summer program for three- and four-year-old children to help "break the cycle of poverty by providing preschool children from low-income families with a comprehensive program to meet their emotional, social, health, nutritional, and psychological needs."

In 1968, four years after the initiation of Head Start, the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) issued a request for proposals (RFP) to study the impact of the program. The RFP came as a response to the widespread perception that many of the early evaluations of the new Head Start program were "limited in scope and weak in design." The RFP laid out many of the specifics of the evaluation, including its national scope and retrospective design. OEO awarded the contract to the Westinghouse Learning Corporation and Ohio University ("the Westinghouse group"). The study was not an experimental, randomized design. Rather, a sample of children who had attended a Head Start center between 1965 and 1968 and a matched sample of children from the same grades and schools who had not attended Head Start were administered a series of tests covering cognitive and affective development. This evaluation is included in this volume as it represents an early attempt to measure the impact of Head Start.

The Westinghouse group concluded that the summer Head Start program was "ineffective in producing any persisting gains in cognitive or affective development . . ." The full-year program was seen as "marginally effective" in producing some cognitive gains, but ineffective in achieving improvements in affective development. The cognitive gains, however, failed to achieve the suggested criterion of practical relevance. Although the Westinghouse group conducted the evaluation reasonably well given the constraints placed on it, there are major questions related to selection bias that undermine the credibility of the findings. Moreover, the uneven implementation of Head Start centers during the program's early years limits the generalizability of the findings.

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