The key findings are presented below. First, we present findings related to the primary questions about the average effect of Head Start as a whole. Next we present findings about subgroups of children. As described later in this summary, the subgroup findings should be viewed as secondary and exploratory as compared to the main impact findings that are considered primary as well as confirmatory.
Confirmatory Impact Findings
Providing access to Head Start has a positive impact on children’s preschool experiences. There are statistically significant differences between the Head Start group and the control group on every measure of children’s preschool experiences measured in this study.
Access to Head Start has positive impacts on several aspects of children’s school readiness during their time in the program.
For the 4-year-old group, benefits at the end of the Head Start year were concentrated in language and literacy elements of the cognitive domain, including
impacts on vocabulary (PPVT), letter-word identification, spelling, pre-academic skills, color identification, letter naming, and parent-reported emergent literacy. There was also an impact on access to dental care in the health domain.
For the 3-year-old group, benefits were found in all four domains examined at the end of the Head Start and age 4 years, including impacts on vocabulary (PPVT), letter-word identification, pre-academic skills, letter naming, elision (phonological processing), parent-reported emergent literacy, McCarthy Draw-aDesign (perceptual motor skills and pre-writing), applied problems (math), hyperactive behavior, withdrawn behavior, dental care, health status, parent
spanking, parent reading to child, and family cultural enrichment activities.
However, the advantages children gained during their Head Start and age 4 years yielded only a few statistically significant differences in outcomes at the end of 1st grade for the sample as a whole. Impacts at the end of kindergarten were scattered and are mentioned below only when they appear to be related to the 1st grade impacts.
Cognitive Outcomes. By the end of 1st grade, only a single cognitive impact was found for each cohort. Head Start group children did significantly better on the PPVT (a vocabulary measure) for 4-year-olds and on the Woodcock-Johnson III test of Oral Comprehension for the 3-year-olds.
Social-Emotional Outcomes. By the end of 1st grade, there was some evidence that the 3-year-old cohort had closer and more positive relationships with their parents. These impacts were preceded by other social-emotional impacts (improvements in behavior-hyperactive behavior and total problem behavior, and social skills and positive approaches to learning) in the earlier years. The findings for the 4-year-old cohort are inconsistent with teachers reporting that children in the Head Start group are more shy and socially reticent and have more problems with student and teacher interactions than control group children while their parents are reporting that they are less withdrawn.
Health Outcomes. For the 4-year-old cohort, there was an impact on child health insurance coverage at the end of kindergarten and 1st grade, and an impact on child health status in kindergarten. For the 3-year-olds, there was an impact on child health insurance coverage in kindergarten only. (me: and the following graphs in that study show favorable impacts)
Parenting Outcomes. For the 3-year-old cohort, there were positive favorable impacts on use of time-out and authoritarian parenting at the end of 1st grade and on spanking and time out in kindergarten. These favorable impacts for authoritarian parenting and spanking were also demonstrated in the earlier years.
For the 4-year-old cohort, there were no significant parenting practices impacts in kindergarten or 1st grade.