Head Start Facts and Impacts

Children that participate in Head Start programs receive innumerable benefits. These advantages appear immediately, last a lifetime, and even have an effect on other generations. The effects are particularly strong amongst certain subgroups of children, particularly Hispanic and African-American children, dual language learners, children who are homeless or in foster care, those who qualify for free lunch, and those whose mothers didn’t graduate high school.

These advantages include:

By the end of the program:

  • Head Start children make progress towards norms in language, literacy, and math. Head Start children also score at the norm on letter-word knowledge by the end of the year. (Aikens et al., 2013; Bloom and Weiland, 2015)
  • Early Head Start children show significantly better social-emotional, language, and cognitive development. Children who attend Early Head Start and transition to Head Start are more ready for kindergarten than children who do not attend Head Start.  (Love et al., 2002)
  • The Head Start Impact Study found Head Start children scored better than a control group of children in all measured domains of cognitive and social-emotional development. (U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, 2010)
  • Head Start children in foster care or other non-parental care are more ready for school. (Lipscomb et al., 2013)
  • Head Start children have better social skills, impulse control, and approaches to learning. Head Start children also decrease their problem behaviors, such as aggression and hyperactivity. (Aikens et al., 2013)
  • Obese, overweight, or underweight children who participate in Head Start have a significantly healthier BMI by kindergarten entry. (Lumeng et al., 2015)
  • Children in Early Head Start are more likely to be immunized and have services for children with disabilities (Love et al., 2002).
  • Head Start children are more likely to receive dental checkups and have healthy eating patterns than non-participants. They have lower body mass index (BMI) scores and are less likely to be overweight compared to children in other non-parental care. (Lee et al., 2013)
  • Children show additional gains in social-emotional development as a result of participating in Head Start at both 3 and 4 years old. (Aikens et al., 2013)

Throughout K-12:

  • Compared with children in parental care, Head Start children performed considerably better on cognitive and social-emotional measures in kindergarten and had fewer attention problems and exhibited fewer negative behaviors. (Zhai et al., 2011)
  • Head Start graduates in the Baltimore City Schools enter kindergarten with higher attendance levels than their peers and maintain those levels through third grade. (Connolly and Olson, 2012)
  • Full-day Head Start children in the Montgomery County Public Schools were more likely to meet reading benchmarks by the end of kindergarten, compared to students who had haf-day preschool or no preschool. The students also required half as many special education services per week as their peers without the MCPS preschool experience. (Zhao and Modarresi, 2010)
  • Mortality rates for 5- to 9-year-old children who had attended Head Start are 33 to 50 percent lower than the rates for comparable children who were not enrolled in Head Start. (Ludwig and Miller, 2007)
  • Children who attend Early Head Start have significantly fewer child welfare encounters during their elementary years. (Green et al., 2014)
  • Head Start children in Harrisburg had higher mean scores in the fifth grade than a control group on all academic and executive functioning outcomes. (Greenberg and Domitrovich, 2011)
  • Early Head Start shows positive impacts on participants’ social-emotional functioning that last through fifth grade. (Vogel et al., 2010)
  • Head Start children in Tulsa, OK, have higher math test scores in 8th grade, are less likely to be chronically absent, and less likely to be held back a year by 8th grade. (Phillips et al., 2016)

As adults:

  • Head Start children have a higher likelihood of graduating high school, attending college, and receiving a post-secondary degree, license, or certification. (Bauer and Schanzenbach, 2016)
  • Head Start students are more likely to graduate high school, more likely to go to at least one year of college, less likely to be out of school and unemployed, and less likely to be in poor health. (Deming, 2009)
  • Among children who attended Head Start in the 1960s-70s, white children were 28.3% more likely than their siblings to complete high school and 27.6% more likely to attend college. (Garces et al., 2002)
  • Head Start improves adult health status for graduates; they are 7% less likely to be in poor health as adults than their siblings who did not attend. (Johnson, 2010; Deming, 2009)
  • As adults, Head Start graduates are 19% less likely to smoke than their siblings who did not attend. The savings from these reduced health costs are equal to 36%-141% of the program costs. (Anderson et al., 2010)
  • Among children who attended Head Start in the 1960s-70s, African American children who attended Head Start were 12% less likely to be arrested or charged with a crime compared to their siblings. (Garces et al., 2002)
  • Compared to siblings who did not attend, Head Start graduates demonstrated improved educational attainment, adult health status, and wages, and decreased grade repetition and incarceration rates for black males. (Johnson, 2011)
  • Exploring the evidence on lasting effects of Head Start for children and society both from and beyond the Head Start Impact Study shows the long-term effects and benefit-cost ratio of Head Start. (Karoly and Auger, 2016)

Other generations:

  • Early Head Start parents offer more stimulating home environments, read more with children, use less physical punishment, and have higher levels of self-sufficiency. (Love et al., 2002)
  • Head Start parents are more likely to increase their educational levels during their children’s early years than other at-risk parents. (Sabol and Chase-Lansdale, 2014)
  • Head Start parents invest more time in learning activities with their children, and non-resident fathers spend more days per month with their children. (Gelber and Isen, 2011)
  • Head Start graduates report investing more in their own children; their children benefited from more positive parenting practices. Head Start graduates spent more teaching their own children numbers, letters, colors, and shapes, more time praising their children, showed their children more physical affection, spent more time doing the child’s favorite activities, and reported spanking their children less. (Bauer and Schanzenbach, 2016)

Source: https://www.nhsa.org/facts-and-impacts