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Head Start Program Also Shown to be Beneficial for Parent’s Education

October 30, 2014 09:00 AM

Head Start is the oldest and largest federally-funded preschool program in the United States, currently serving more than one million children with almost $8 billion dollars appropriated annually. From its inception, Head Start not only provided early childhood education, care, and services for children, but also sought to promote parents’ engagement in their children’s schooling, their childrearing skills, and their own educational progress.

Almost all evaluation studies of Head Start have focused on a child’s cognitive and social outcomes rather than the parent. In their recently released paper The Influence of Low-Income Children’s Participation in Head Start on Their Parents’ Education and Employment, Terri J. Sabol and P. Lindsay Chase-Lansdale takes advantage of the randomization from the Head Start Impact Study to examine the effect of newly entering children’s participation in Head Start on their parents’ educational and employment trajectories. Sabol and Chase-Lansdale’s paper will be published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management; it is currently available for public viewing through the end of November, 2014.

The Head Start Impact Study, mandated by Congress in 1998, is an ambitious study, including 4,000 newly entering 3- and 4-year-old children who were randomly assigned to Head Start or a control group. “Findings from the main study indicate that Head Start had less of an impact on children’s academic and social development than expected,” says Sabol. “Although participating in Head Start led to short-term improvements in development, these began fading by kindergarten, continuing through the third grade.” Such results have received media attention, indicating Head Start may not lead to long-term outcomes.

In their study, however, Sabol and Chase-Lansdale took a ‘family system’ perspective, asking if a child’s participation in Head Start might encourage parents to advance their own education. “Our study finds that among the 3-year-old cohort, parents whose children participated in Head Start had steeper increases in their own educational attainment compared with parents of the control-group children by the time children enter kindergarten,” says Sabol. “Findings are especially strong for parents with at least some college but no degree at baseline, as well as for African American parents.” Their research is one of the only studies to come out of the Head Start Impact Study that demonstrates positive impacts of the program for parents.

TJS_pictureTerri Sabol is an Assistant Professor in the School of Education and Social Policy and Faculty Affiliate in the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University. Her research focuses on the individual and environmental factors that lead to healthy child development, with a particular emphasis on schools and families. She applies developmental theory, psychological measurement and advanced quantitative methods to pressing social policy issues that affect low-income children and families.

LCLP. Lindsay Chase-Lansdale is the Frances Willard Professor of Human Development and Social Policy and Associate Provost for Faculty at Northwestern University. She specializes in multidisciplinary research on social issues and how they affect families and the development of children and youth. Her current research agenda involves an action-research project on education and workforce programs for low-income parents, combined with a high-quality, early childhood education program, for which she was recently awarded an inaugural Ascend Fellowship from the Aspen Institute.



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