Head Start:

Research Insufficient to Assess Program Impact

T-HEHS-98-126: Published: Mar 26, 1998. Publicly Released: Mar 26, 1998.

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Carlotta C. Joyner
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GAO discussed Head Start's impact on children and their families, and the adequacy of the Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) current research plans to provide additional information on Head Start's impact.

GAO noted that: (1) the Head Start program has provided comprehensive services to millions of low-income children and their families; (2) little is known, however, about whether the program has achieved its goals; (3) although an extensive body of literature exists on Head Start, only a small part of that involves program impact research; (4) because of these research studies' individual and collective limitations, this body of research is insufficient for use in drawing conclusions about the impact of the national program; (5) HHS has the following initiatives it describes as impact assessments: (a) development of performance measures focusing on program outcomes, rather than just processes; (b) a national longitudinal study of a representative sample of Head Start children and their families; and (c) a collaborative effort with the National Center for Educational Statistics; (6) these efforts are headed in the right direction for Head Start to evaluate the impact of its program; and (7) it is unclear, however, whether these efforts will meaningfully compare the outcomes achieved by Head Start children and their families with those achieved by non-Head Start children and families, leaving unanswered questions about Head Start's impact.

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