Editor’s Note: Looking Back on Fifty Years of Head Start

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Head Start Program, a federally funded endeavor to address socioeconomic inequality by providing a comprehensive set of child development services to families in poverty.

Throughout its history, the Head Start Program has achieved remarkable growth. When the program was conceived in 1965, it acted as a summer school pre-kindergarten program that was introduced in 21 states. Today, the program reaches over one million children across all 50 states each year, providing a suite of services that not only target children’s social, cognitive, and physical development but also help their parents foster productive home environments. These services last all day and all year.

The program’s longevity has also given rise to many opportunities to evaluate it, with mixed results. In this series, the Child and Family team at the Chicago Policy Review examines some of the perspectives that have fueled the debate. We have spoken with a policy researcher and a policy practitioner: Dr. Ariel Kalil, a developmental psychologist at the University of Chicago, and Yasmina Vinci, the Executive Director of the National Head Start Association. We have also analyzed research that takes more nuanced looks at the evaluation of Head Start: how does the program impact children whose skills begin among the lowest, and how well does it succeed as a cross-generational intervention?

Collectively, we find that, while the Head Start Program still has considerable room for improvement, it nonetheless has achieved meaningful success. Over what may be many more years of the program – it was most recently reauthorized in 2007, and it was appropriated more than seven billion dollars in the 2013 fiscal year – it is vital that we consider perspectives like those that we have reviewed in this series as we strive to improve one of this country’s oldest poverty-alleviation programs.

Feature Photo: cc/(Ani-Bee)

Brian Louie
Brian Louie is the Senior Editor of Child and Family for the Chicago Policy Review. He is interested in early childhood interventions and educational policy.

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