The Head Start debate, which began 50 years ago when the program first launched, shows no signs of abating. With newly released standards comes some big changes and the need for additional funding.

Now that the Department of Health and Human Services has released new Head Start Performance Standards, more people are again discussing the benefits and costs of Head Start. The new standards, discussed in a previous School Leaders Now article,  will require some additional funding from Congress.

Friends and foes usually center the Head Start debate around long-term benefits. Does participation specifically (and preschool in general) really make a big difference?

Head Start Debate: Two Positive Studies

Two new studies point to positive outcomes. A study of Tulsa’s Community Action Project (CAP) Head Start program found that positive effects of the program last through the 7th grade. Head Start graduates had higher state math test scores. They were also significantly less likely to repeat a grade or be chronically absent.

A new economic analysis from the Hamilton Project at Brookings uses data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. This survey has tracked a multi-generational representative sample since 1979. Head Start participants were more likely to graduate from high school and more likely to have attended college or received a postsecondary degree or certificate than their siblings who either went to a different type of pre-K or who did not attend any program.

Even more interesting is that Head Start graduates appear to invest more in their own children. They engage more frequently in positive parenting practices, such as reading to their child and showing physical affection.

That’s the kind of long-term effect that we need.