The Ongoing Impact of Head Start and Past Pre-K Investments on Early Education

 

We spend a lot of time analyzing the emerging world of high-quality early education, but this world isn’t springing from thin air. It is important to review past work that is fueling new ideas about what child care and pre-kindergarten can be.

 

Over the past week, two stories did that by exploring different parts of early learning’s foundation that are helping to define new systems. Head Start is one of the oldest federal early learning programs and The Atlantic explores its impact in “Everything We Know About Early Childhood Has Changed Since Head Start.”

 

When President Johnson signed the bill authorizing Head Start back in 1965, he had some research to back up the idea of early childhood interventions — and a lot of hunches. Nearly half a century later, researchers have the benefit of long-term studies to give them more answers, although that hasn’t ended debates on the subject.
 
It seems clear that the most effective efforts to help low-income children get an early start go beyond teaching numbers and letters — they involve the family, community, everything. Everything is expensive. But the kind of class-based achievement gap that led Johnson to fight for Head Start in the first place may be a cost the U.S. can’t afford to pay as kids of color, many of them from families of modest means, become a majority of the future student population and workforce.

 
“Everything We Know About Early Childhood Has Changed Since Head Start.” 4/22/14.
 

Over at Ed Central’s Early Ed, they ask: “We Can Scale High-Quality Public Pre-K — Can We Scale Effective Legislating?”
 

At this point, we have more than enough evidence that pre-K programs can be effectively scaled. That experiment works. Congress should expand it, and they should do it yesterday. What policy folks need now, though, is to figure out how to scale effective legislating.

 
“We Can Scale High-Quality Public Pre-K – Can We Scale Effective Legislating?” 4/30/14. New America Foundation.

 

(If you are not following the story’s author, Conor Williams, on Twitter, consider it. His Twitter feed (@ConorPWilliams) is a great way to track many developments in early education, and it’s often amusing.)

 

His story also highlights a critical issue, “crowding out,” when child-care providers lose resources to school-based pre-K programs.

 

[Jason] Sachs and [Steven] Dow noted that many community-based child care providers have long used the resources that come with serving four-year-olds to cover the cost of serving relatively more expensive infants and toddlers. As public, school-based pre-K has covered more four-year-olds in Oklahoma and Boston, this has “crowded out” child care providers from that market — which is undercutting their ability to serve younger children as well.

 
“We Can Scale High-Quality Public Pre-K – Can We Scale Effective Legislating?” 4/30/14. New America Foundation.
 

As work to expand high-quality pre-K gains momentum around the country, this “crowding-out” dynamic should demand more attention and new ideas. We plan to explore it in a future story.

 

Check out these two stories and think about how past early education work is helping to define work today and tomorrow.

 
 

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