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Head Start: A Good Idea That Needs to Deliver

June 13, 2005

New Brunswick, NJ. – The Director of the National Institute for Early Education Research, W. Steven Barnett, said today that the recently released study of the impact of the federal Head Start Program shows that the program can make a difference in the lives of disadvantaged children but must do more to deliver on that promise.

“The idea behind the establishment of Head Start more than 40 years ago is as valid today as it was then. The case for giving children from disadvantaged backgrounds the benefits of early education and other services is, if anything, more compelling today.”

But, Barnett said, Head Start must be strengthened with better support for teachers and an emphasis on highly effective practices in the classroom. “It is disappointing that after 40 years, teacher qualifications and pay continue to lag far behind the public school systems in this country,” said Barnett. “As a result, too many kids fail to get a fully effective early childhood education from Head Start.”

The Head Start impact study released June 9th, showed modest improvements in 14 out of 30 categories measured in 3-year-olds and 6 of 30 categories measured in 4-year-olds. “While it is unrealistic to expect any one program to fully close the achievement gap between poor children and the middle class, we know from research that we can do much better than this,” said Barnett. Claims that Head Start now closes half the achievement gap are mistaken, and the program needs serious improvement.

Barnett is calling on President Bush to put forward a plan that will enable Head Start to double its effects within 5 years. According to Barnett, “Such a goal is within Head Start’s reach, but will not be attained with business as usual.” He said the first step should be to insist that all Head Start leaders, teachers, and teacher assistants are adequately prepared to provide an effective education to young children. This will take time and money, but the returns to such an investment far exceed the costs, he said.

For more information, contact Carol Shipp, Deputy Director (732) 932-4350 x225 or Pat Ainsworth, Communications Director (732) 932-4350 x229.

The National Institute for Early Education Research (, a unit of the Graduate School of Education, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, supports early childhood education policy by providing objective, nonpartisan information based on research. NIEER is supported through grants from The Pew Charitable Trusts and others.