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The Head Start Debates

The Head Start Debates

Volume Editors: The Late Edward Zigler Ph.D., Sally J. Styfco, John T. Bruer Ph.D., James A. Griffin Ph.D., The Late Jane Knitzer   Chapter Authors: W. Steven Barnett Ph.D., Delores Baynes, Douglas J. Besharov, Helen Blank M.U.P., Barbara T. Bowman M.A., Judith A. Chafel Ph.D., David B. Connell Ph.D., Amy Stephens Cubbage M.S., J.D., Arthur J. Frankel Ph.D., Walter S. Gilliam Ph.D., Polly Greenberg, Sarah M. Greene, Carolyn Harmon Ph.D., Christopher C. Henrich Ph.D., John Hood, Wade F. Horn Ph.D., Alfred J. Kahn, Sheila B. Kamerman, Robin Gaines Lanzi M.P.H., Ph.D., Joan Lombardi Ph.D., Paul J. Lombroso, Greta M. Massetti Ph.D., John Merrow, Gwen Morgan, Robert W. O'Brien Ph.D., Deborah A. Phillips Ph.D., Chaya S. Piotrkowski Ph.D., Peggy Daly Pizzo, Nicole Oxendine Poersch, Gregg Powell Ph.D., Kyle D. Pruett, Craig T. Ramey Ph.D., Sharon Landesman Ramey Ph.D., Arthur J. Reynolds Ph.D., Julius B. Richmond, Carol H. Ripple Ph.D., Loretta Sanchez, Rebecca D.A. Schrag, Irving E. Sigel Ph.D., Catherine E. Snow Ph.D., Jule M. Sugarman, Heather L. Sugioka, Elizabeth Edwards Tufankjian M.S., David P. Weikart Ph.D., Sheldon H. White Ph.D., Grover J. Whitehurst Ph.D., Martin Woodhead Ph.D.   Foreword Author: Mariela Paez Ed.D., M.Ed.

ISBN: 978-1-55766-754-0
Pages: 592
Copyright: 2004
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Are we failing the children most at risk? 52 of America's leading experts weigh in.

The future of Head Start depends on how well we learn from and apply the lessons from its past. That's why everyone involved in early education needs this timely, forward-thinking book from the leader of Head Start. The first book to capture the Head Start debates in all their complexity and diversity, this landmark volume brings together the research and personal experience of 52 top experts in a wide range of fields—including education, research, medicine, and social work. This powerful compilation of voices mines Head Start's 38-year history for lessons learned, turns a critical eye on where the program is headed, and offers readers distinct and often contrasting viewpoints on three major issues:

  • Goals. Explore three crucial questions about the goals of the program: cognitive development vs. school readiness, short-term vs. long-term progress, and Head Start as an antipoverty tool vs. Head Start as a child development program
  • Effectiveness. Investigate the impact of Head Start on children's literacy, cognitive skills, health, school readiness and success, and parent participation—and learn how research might be improved so outcomes can be assessed more accurately
  • Future directions. Examine ways that Head Start might evolve to improve program quality, explore how to meet the child care needs of particular families, provide universal access, address administrative and funding challenges, and prepare children for lifelong learning

This compelling, urgently needed book will help readers understand the complexity of Head Start, shape future policy, and ensure that all young children will arrive at school ready to succeed.

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Review by: Gerald Tirozzi, Executive Director, National Association of Secondary School Principals
"Brings into clear focus the significant impact of Head Start on our nation's preschool population . . . truly a tour de force for those policymakers and educators who want to make a major difference in insuring the development of our nation's most important resource—its youngest children!"
Review by: T. Brazelton, Professor Emeritus, Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School
"A tremendous contribution to a longstanding debate . . . This book encourages long-needed dialogue and collaboration among educators, clinicians, and investigators, and will significantly inform policy at this critical juncture in the progress of Head Start programs."
Review by: Sharon Kagan, Columbia University
"A powerful, balanced, provocative analysis of the most trenchant and durable issues facing our nation's pioneer and most promising social program. . . . [This] is the first no-nonsense compendium of articles that is audacious enough to speak truth to policy. It is tough love for Head Start . . . crisp, caring, concerned, compassionate, and right on target. Urgently needed today and, unequivocally, a classic for tomorrow."
Review by: Marian Edelman, President, Children's Defense Fund
"Another crucial contribution to the ongoing national conversation on Head Start — a discussion that has enormous implications for millions of America's most vulnerable children."
Review by: G. Lyon, Chief, Child Development and Behavior Branch, National Institute of Child Health Human Development
"Accomplishe[s] what no previous review . . . of Head Start has been able to achieve — a genuinely balanced analysis. . . . The writing is uniformly elegant and provides the reader with an insider's view . . . of the critical debates relevant to two major issues currently confronting the program—its effectiveness and its future."
Review by: Christopher Dodd, U.S. Senator
"Our children represent our nation's future. That's why this book is so important. It provides a thoughtful look at early childhood development and school readiness [and] brings together a wide array of experts with insightful analyses and commentary."
Review: Childhood Education
So thoroughly do they examine Head Start, that an appropriate subtitle might be "Everything You Wanted to Know About Head Start".
Review: Education Week
Gives a balanced view of the complex debates surrrounding the federally funded preschool program.
Foreword, by Lisbeth Schorr

Debate I: The Goals of Head Start

IQ versus Social Competence

1. Early Educational Interventions and Intelligence: Implications for Head Start
Craig T. Ramey and Sharon Landesman Ramey

2. Familiar Concept, New Name: Social Competence/School Readiness as the Goal of Head Start
Rebecca D.A. Schragg, Sally J. Styfco, and Edward Zigler

Long- versus Short-Term Effects

3. When Psychology Informs Public Policy: The Case of Early Childhood Intervention
Martin Woodhead

4. Head Start-Revisiting a Historical Psychoeducational Intervention: A Revisionist Perspective
Irving E. Sigel

Poverty Warriors versus Child Developmentalists

5. Three Core Concepts of the War on Poverty: Their Origins and Significance in Head Start
Polly Greenberg

6. Was Head Start a Community Action Program? Another Look at an Old Debate
Carolyn Harmon

7. An Early Administrator's Perspective
Julius B. Richmond (with Jule M. Sugarman)

Debate II: Does Head Start Work?

Impact on School Readiness and Success

8. The Head Start Classroom as an Oral Language Environment: What Should the Performance Standards Be?
Catherine Snow and Mariela Páez

9. A Community-Based Approach to School Readiness in Head Start
Chaya S. Piotrkowski

10. Head Start and Evidence-Based Educational Models
David P. Weikart

Impact on Health

11. Head Start's Efforts to Improve Child Health
Robert W. O'Brien, David B. Connell,and James Griffin

12. The Challenge of Mental Health in Head Start: Making the Vision Real
Jane Knitzer

Impact on Families

13. A Persistent Pattern of Progress: Parent Outcomes in Longitudinal Studies of Head Start Children and Families
Peggy Daly Pizzo and Elizabeth Edwards Tufankjian

14. A Parent's Views on Head Start
Delores Baynes

15. A Former Head Start Student's Views
U.S. Representative Loretta Sanchez

Research Must Be Better

16. Does Head Start Have Lasting Cognitive Effects? The Myth of Fade-Out
W. Steven Barnett
17. How Well Does Head Start Prepare Children to Learn to Read?
Grover J. Whitehurst and Greta M. Massetti

18. New Possibilities for Research on Head Start
Deborah A. Phillips and Sheldon H. White

Debate III: The Future of Head Start


19. Head Start in the 1990s: Striving for Quality Through a Decade of Improvement
Joan Lombardi and Amy Stephens Cubbage

20. Quality in Head Start: A Dream within Reach
Gregg Powell

21. Head Start: A Decade of Challenge and Change
Judith A. Chafel and Heather L. Sugioka

22. Professional Social Work Involvement in Head Start
Arthur J. Frankel

Child Care

23. Head Start and Child Care: Programs Adapt to Meet the Needs of Working Families
Helen Blank and Nicole Oxendine Poersch

24. Are There Better Ways to Spend Federal Child Care Funds to Improve Child Outcomes?
Douglas J. Besharov

Universal Access

25. The "Failure" of Head Start
John Merrow

26. A Head Start for All Children
Gwen Morgan

Timing of Intervention

27. Dosage-Response Effects and Mechanisms of Change in Public and Model Programs
Arthur J. Reynolds

28. The Transition to School: Building on Preschool Foundations and Preparing for Lifelong Learning
Sharon Landesman Ramey, Craig T. Ramey, and Robin Gaines Lanzi

29. Early Head Start, Child Care, Family Support, and Family Policy
Sheila B. Kamerman and Alfred J. Kahn

(A Sub-Debate) Early Brain Development

30. The Brain and Child Development: Time for Some Critical Thinking
John T. Bruer

31. Critical Periods of Central Nervous System Development
Paul J. Lombroso and Kyle D. Pruett

32. The Environmental Mystique: Training the Intellect versus Development of the Child
Edward Zigler

33. Coordinating Head Start with the States
Wade F. Horn

34. Maintaining Federal to Local Management of Head Start
Sarah M. Greene

35. What Can Be Learned from State-Funded Prekindergarten Initiatives: A Data-Based Approach to the Head Start Devolution Debate
Walter S. Gilliam and Carol H. Ripple

36. Caveat Emptor: The Head Start Scam
John Hood

37. The Wisdom of a Federal Effort on Behalf of Impoverished Children and Their Families
Edward Zigler and Sally J. Styfco

Models for the Future

38. Head Start as a National Laboratory
Christopher C. Henrich

39. The Future of Head Start
Barbara T. Bowman

Excerpted from Chapter 1 of The Head Start Debates, edited by Edward Zigler, Ph.D., & Sally J. Styfco

Copyright © 2004 by Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Early Educational Interventions and Intelligence: Implications for Head Start

Intelligence is a complex, undeniably important, and controversial topic, especially within the arena of the Head Start policy and practice. Considering intelligence from an historical perspective and in light of emerging scientific evidence is informative for future deliberations about the direction of Head Start programs, their performance standards, and evaluation of their success. To what extent can Head Start programs contribute positively to the development of intelligence in young children and increase the likelihood of their academic and social success in school?

Reviews of the research evidence agree that when children from low-income, multirisk families and communities participate in intensive, high-quality, preschool programs, the children show benefits. These benefits are apparent in their developmental competence, most notably in the areas of general intelligence and language development (Burnett, 1995; Bryant & Maxwell, 1997; Guralnick, 1997; Haskins, 1989, Karoly et al., 1998; S.L. Ramey & Ramey, 1999a, 2000; Yoshikawa, 1995). In studies that have followed children's development through the primary grades — and sometimes far beyond — continued benefits often are documented. These include improved test scores on standardized assessments of reading and mathematics, markedly reduced rates of grade retention (grade repetition), and lowered rates of placement in special education (Barnett, 1995; C.T. Ramey & Ramey, 1998).

In this chapter, we first make the case that improving children's intelligence is an important program goal for early intervention programs, especially for Head Start in the 21st century. Second, we present a review of the key findings from evaluations of the Abecedarian Project conducted since the 1970s, which has provided evidence of multiple, practical developmental benefits that last into adulthood. The Abecedarian Project is the first randomized, controlled trial of early educational intervention that started when children were infants and provided continuous supports to children and families for at least the first 5 years of life. Thus, this project provides and exceptional opportunity to understand the extent to which an intensive, multiyear, educational, and health support program can make a lasting difference in children's intelligence and overall well-being. Third we summarize the principles of effective early intervention programs — that is, the factors that appear to be essential in order for children to benefit from their participation. Fourth and finally, we discuss key issues for policy and decision making in the arenas of Head Start, education, child care, and parent and family support programs.


When Head Start began in 1965, its national vision was to improve children's everyday or real-world intelligence prior to entering kindergarten or first grade. The method for achieving this goal was to offer children from economically impoverished homes some of the wealth of learning opportunities that their more advantaged peers had prior to entering public school. Educators and developmental psychologists who had worked with low-income children in preschool settings knew how quickly and eagerly children from all walks of life learn when they are in a safe and supportive setting with adults they can trust. They also saw firsthand the tremendous inequities in the lives of many economically poor children compared with economically advantaged children in terms of home-based learning and developmental encouragement. These inequities led to later developmental delays in those who had restricted learning opportunities and were readily noticed in children's speech and vocabulary, their everyday problem-solving abilities, and their tested intelligence (IQ scores). For many children who lived in extreme poverty, their most apparent delays related to their knowledge about the larger world and were pronounced in the areas of language and reading readiness (preliteracy skills), numbers and numeracy, and reasoning abilities. Without a doubt, the founders and leaders of Head Start in the 1960s, along with many middle-class volunteers who eagerly helped with Head Start programs throughout the country, believed that Project Head Start would increase children's everyday intelligence and their subsequent academic success in school.

Intelligence Defined: Everyday versus Academic Definitions

In the everyday sense, intelligence is widely accepted to be an indicator of a person's broad array of skills and knowledge. More (rather than less) intelligence is viewed quite positively — with only slight skepticism from some segments of society about the value of having extremely high levels (that is, genius-range intelligence). Intelligence is not considered a hidden trait but rather something that shows itself actively. Examples include how well a person handles real-life issues, such as planning, analyzing, information gathering, decision making, and generating new ideas and solutions.

In the academic and scientific world, however, the definition of intelligence is far from resolved. There are numerous competing theories and many hotly debated issues about how best to measure intelligence and whether intelligence itself is a stable lifelong trait versus something that can be modified by experience or affected by the testing situation itself (Ceci, 1991; Zigler & Butterfield, 1968). May of the superb academic treatises about the nature of intelligence are laden with terminology from statistics, learning, theory, genetics, and developmental and evolutionary biology. Some of the most celebrated new theories promote an exciting vision of intelligence as a multifaceted representation of diverse human talents. Howard Gardner (1993) proposed a theory that there are "multiple intelligences," including interpersonal, linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, spatial, musical, and intrapersonal. Robert Sternberg (1995), in his "triarchic theory of intelligence," posited three distinct types of intelligence: creative, practical, academic. Academic intelligence, of course, is the one primarily measured by traditional standardized tests of intelligence. Critics complain that such all-encompassing ideas about intelligence are not testable or refutable, whereas fans appreciate the recognition of multiple pathways in life that cannot be reduced to just what is taught and tested in traditional school settings.

We endorse the view that children benefit immensely when they have school readiness skills related to reading, writing, and arithmetic, as well as a solid language foundation and general knowledge about many things in the world. We know that standardized tests of intelligence and school achievement are important indicators of children's developmental progress but are woefully inadequate to tap the full range of their skills and learning. Ideally, there will be major advances in how to assess children's skills and knowledge more fully and fairly. Improved assessment techniques should also help educators realize their goals of providing the best individualized instruction to each child at each stage of development and increasing the opportunities for children's multiple types of intelligence to shine in the school setting.

The Heated Controversies Surrounding the Use of Standardized Intelligence Tests in Head Start

To understand why the Head Start community has been so strongly divided about whether intelligence should remain an important outcome goal for Head Start programs, or whether it even be measured at all, it is informative to consider the use and misuse of intelligence tests in our country. (See Gould, 1996, for a highly readable and far more extensive history.) In the early 20th century, formal intelligence tests were developed as a way to help predict which children would do better (or worse) in a formal school setting. These standardized tests evaluated children's skills in many different areas that were closely associated with the kinds of tasks encountered in school, such as following a sequence of instructions, listening to stories and retaining key details, performing basic number operations and detecting similarities and differences among objects. These "intelligence tests" were never intended to measure the full range of human range of talents and skills.

Further, any careful historical or current analysis of the content of the items on the most widely used intelligence test reveals that children with an increased fund of knowledge and more learning experiences were more likely to earn higher scores. Indeed, this is why these tests have been so good at predicting how well groups of children would perform in school. The predictive power of the tests eventually was treated as much stronger than ever intended.

All too often, the scores a child "earned" based on his or her responses to the items on a standardized intelligence test, known as an intelligence quotient or IQ score, were considered to be a true and valid indicator of the child's real intelligence — both current and future. As a result, educators often used children's IQ scores to decide many matters related to what, where, and how children were taught. Many teachers trusted that the IQ test could accurately measure a child's "true potential" and "innate ability" for learning and later school success. Further, the test manuals that provided guidelines for professionals about how to interpret the IQ score implied that a child's intellectual potential could not be fundamentally challenged. Thus, until the passage and enactment of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 (PL 94-142), many children were doomed to a label of "less intelligent" and were excluded from many of many interesting and important academic learning opportunities, all because of their performance on a single standardized test of intelligence.

Regardless of the fact that the IQ test scores of large groups of school-age children can predict their general school performance, many educators, psychologists, and parents have realized that there are so many individual exceptions. Some children with low or average IQ scores seem to soar academically; such children have often been labeled as "overachievers." Children with high IQ scores who do not do well in school have been called "underachievers." Other children with very low scores, below 70 or 75, are labeled as having mental retardation, even though some of these children seem to function reasonably well in their everyday worlds. These seeming mistakes in judging a child's intellectual competence may be rare, but the consequences for individual children and their families are unfortunately, severe and often lifelong.

Another seriously disturbing aspect of intellectual assessment is that children from lower socioeconomic classes consistently perform below children from middle- and upper-income families. Further, there almost always have been significant ethnic and racial differences in test scores. These differences among groups of children have been interpreted by many scientists, policy makers, and the general public as representing genetic or inherited qualities, thereby constituting evidence that some children are destined, by their genes, to be either inferior or superior. A simplistic and once widely held view was that these qualities were inherently unalterable.

In the 1970s, McCall, Appelbaum, and Hogarty (1973) provided compelling evidence that IQ scores of individual children do fluctuate dramatically over the preschool and school-age years: ages3 to 17. Individual children typically have IQ scores that differ, on average, by 28 points — more than the amount needed to place a child in the gifted versus average IQ range or the average versus mental retardation range. Although this important longitudinal study could not pinpoint all of the reasons for these fluctuations in IQ scores at different test occasions, the investigators did show that parenting practices were likely to be a significant influence on the children's intelligence growth patterns.

One of the most controversial and highly publicized scientific papers on intelligence appeared in the same decade that Head Start was launched. In a 1969 monograph in the Harvard Educational Review, Arthur Jensen reported that African Americans had average IQ scores about 15 points lower than Caucasians and strongly implied that this difference was a trait that could not be altered. This paper appeared in the midst of our country's vigorous Civil Rights Movement, which drew attention to the extreme disparity in how African Americans were treated in all areas of life, including education, housing, employment, health care, recreation, and citizenship rights. The reality of long-term, systematic racial discrimination was undeniable — and its consequences were far-reaching. In academic and political circles, there was an outcry against Jensen and the potential harm that was likely to result from his monograph.

Scholarly analysis and criticism of Jensen's position continue. The essence of his early ideas was reenacted and expanded in a highly popular book in 1994, The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structures in American Life, by Richard Hernstein and Charles Murray. They claimed that they were academic mavericks, unfairly rejected and criticized by liberal colleagues who refused to face up to the "true facts" that confirmed that some peopleare fundamentally and unalterably less capable than others. Their book had the aura of a scholarly tome, with hundreds of pages and numerous, highly detailed scientific tables and graphic displays of data. Despite the fact that the scientific community, once again, found serious flaws with statistical analyses and the reasoning in this book, as well as the facts that the authors systematically excluded published evidence contrary to their thesis, their central ideas received tremendous public attention. To a large extent, Hernstein and Murray affirmed the belief of many laypeople, politicians, scholars — namely, that differences in intelligence are real, and in line with the social order of the world. That is, people on the top of the ladder earn this right largely because of their natural superiority, whereas those at the bottom are truly inferior and their performance cannot be much raised.

Not surprisingly, such a nativist position is at odds with the Head Start program's intent to give children early opportunities to learn, which in turn are expected to increase their readiness for school and their later life achievements. About two thirds of the children served by Head Start are from ethnic minorities, and almost all are economically impoverished. Thus, the position of unalterable innate abilities places the majority of Head Start children and families in a negative light as being permanently less capable. At best, proponents of the nativist view of intelligence see the Head Start program as a "token effort" that is doomed to achieve only minimal and short-term benefits. Needless to add, these groups consider efforts to improve the quality or intensity of Head Start a waste of tax dollars.

The old Westinghouse Report (Cicirelli, 1969), which presented the findings from an evaluation of Head Start programs conducted when most were only offered for a few weeks during the summer, also had a devastating effect that many still remember to this day. The report's authors argued that Head Start did not succeed in boosting children's intelligence for very long — with the "fade-out" of benefits apparent after a few years in elementary school. The Consortium for Longitudinal Studies later reported similar findings (Lazar, Darlington, Murray, Royce, & Snipper, 1982), a group that pooled data from 11 experiments designed to test efficacy of early education programs for impoverished children. The Consortium reported that the IQ score benefits observed in the preschool years were much reduced in magnitude by about third grade. Interestingly, this same group found significant positive benefits in terms of children's actual school performance on a variety of real-world measures (multiple school performance indicators) that lasted beyond elementary school.

Over the decades, as the Head Start program broadened to include more health and nutrition initiatives, social services, and parent involvement activities, it was reasonable that increases in the children's tested intelligence nor be used as the program's central outcome measure. Indeed, given the strong controversies and racial overtones surrounding the use of intelligence tests (which have been criticized as being culturally biased in what they measure), the Head Start Bureau's decision to de-emphasize the development of children's intelligence and academic skills seemed politically and socially understandable.

Along with the broadening of services provided by Head Start programs, children's social and emotional skills were identified as important goals. It is noteworthy, however, that there was not strong evidence that long-income children were noticeably lagging or delayed in these areas. In contrast, literally hundreds of studies continued to document that there were large disparities between children from low- and middle-income families in their academic readiness for school, their IQ scores, and their subsequent academic achievement in school (C.T. Ramey & Ramey, 1998; S.L. Ramey & Ramey, 2000).