Strengthening Head Start: What the Evidence Shows. States are working to produce better programs for children


Many states report positive outcomes in terms of increased child care and services as a result of coordination and collaboration.(63)

  • Ohio reported that the collaboration between state and federal Head Start and Ohio preschool and child care programs has enabled the state to increase not only the amount of care available to low-income children but also their access to Head Start services.
  • In Colorado, where the state legislature created the Community Consolidated Child Care Pilot Program to encourage communities to design consolidated programs of comprehensive early childhood care and education services for children in low-income families, state officials reported a larger increase in the number of children served in pilot counties than elsewhere in the state.
  • State officials in Oregon identified positive outcomes that have resulted from its collaborative efforts, including increased numbers of preschool programs, licensed providers, and home-based care for infants and toddlers, and the initiation of a career development program for providers.

There is some evidence suggesting that high quality state preschool and pre-kindergarten programs can enhance the school readiness of children and lead to improved performance in school. This evidence includes the following:

  • A meta-analysis of all evaluations of state-funded preschools from 1977 to 1998 found positive impacts in improving childrens developmental competence in a variety of domains, in improving later school attendance and performance, and in reducing subsequent grade retention. These results were similar to the gains made by children in Head Start.(64)
  • A non-experimental evaluation of Michigans School Readiness Program, a state-funded preschool program for four-year-olds at risk of school failure, found that at kindergarten, those children who had participated in the program scored higher than non-participants in many areas of child development  language and literacy, initiative, social relations, creative representation, and music and movement  but not mathematics. In the fourth-grade state assessments, the participant group scored higher than the non-participant group in reading and math. Participants also had a significantly lower rate of grade repetition than the comparison group. Also, teachers rated participants significantly higher in mathematics, literacy, thinking skills, and problem solving. Additionally, the program was found to have positive effects on parents involvement in school activities and communication with teachers in the first three years of school. Researchers estimate that the program annually prevents 1,700 Michigan children from having to repeat a grade, saving the state an estimated $11 million each year.(65)
  • An on-going longitudinal study of Georgias universal pre-kindergarten program found that a majority of teachers believed that students who attended pre-K were better prepared for kindergarten in specific skill areas, such as pre-reading, pre-math, motor skills development, and interactions with adults and children. However, because the evaluation design does not include a comparable comparison group of children who did not attend the pre-K program, researchers are unable to make reliable causal interpretations of the data.(66) In second grade, childrens teachers rated their readiness above average, with 79% of the former pre-K participants rated as average or better in readiness. Similar results were found for their readiness for third grade.(67)
  • Many state preschool programs meet or exceed Head Start standards for classroom characteristics, including staff-to-child ratios, teacher qualifications and training requirements, maximum number of children allowed per classroom, and curriculum guidelines. These characteristics have been linked to quality.(68)
  • Six states have been widely recognized for providing exemplary preschool education to low-income children  Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Ohio, Oregon, and Washington. These programs are characterized by most of the following markers of quality: universality, classroom quality, at least two years of service (i.e., accommodating three- and four-year olds), comprehensive services, and extended hours.(69)
  • Delaware, Georgia, and Oregon require their state subsidized pre-kindergarten programs to follow federal Head Start standards. Six states  California, Connecticut, Georgia, Maryland, Michigan, and Washington  require preschool programs to adhere to educational standards. In addition to these six states, nine states and the District of Columbia have specific educational standards for pre-kindergarten. Five more states are working on such standards.(70)

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