oversight

Education and Care: Head Start Key Among Array of Early Childhood Programs, but National Research on Effectiveness Not Completed

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2003-07-22.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                             United States General Accounting Office

GAO                          Testimony
                             Before the Committee on Health,
                             Education, Labor, and Pensions
                             U.S. Senate

For Release on Delivery
Expected at 10:00 a.m. EDT
Tuesday, July 22, 2003       EDUCATION AND CARE
                             Head Start Key Among
                             Array of Early Childhood
                             Programs, but National
                             Research on Effectiveness
                             Not Completed
                             Statement of Marnie S. Shaul, Director
                             Education, Workforce, and Income Security Issues




GAO-03-840T
                                                July 2003


                                                EDUCATION AND CARE

                                                Head Start Key Among Array of Early
Highlights of GAO-03-840T, a report to          Childhood Programs, But National
Senate Committee on Health, Education,
Labor, and Pensions                             Research on Effectiveness Not
                                                Completed


                                                Head Start, created in 1965, is the largest funded program among an array of
The federal government invests                  federal early childhood education and care programs, most of which did not
over $11 billion in early childhood             exist until decades later. The early education and child care demands of
education and care programs.                    families have changed significantly since Head Start’s inception. More
These programs exist to ensure                  women are working, the number of single parents has been increasing, and
that children from low-income
                                                welfare reform has resulted in more families, including those with young
families are better prepared to
enter school and that their parents             children, entering the workforce. To help meet families’ demands for early
have access to early childhood                  childhood education and care services, an array of federal programs, such as
education and care that allow them              the child care block grant, have been added over time. Program legislation
to obtain and maintain                          requires some of these programs to coordinate the delivery of early
employment. The federal                         childhood education and care services for low-income families with young
government invests more in Head                 children. For example, to provide parents with full day coverage, Head
Start, which was funded at $6.5                 Start, a predominately part day program, may coordinate with child care
billion in fiscal year 2002, than any           programs for the other part of the day. However, barriers--such as differing
other early childhood education                 program eligibility requirements--sometimes make it difficult to blend
and care program. Head Start has                services across the different programs.
served over 21 million children at a
total cost of $66 billion since it
began. The Chairman, Senate                     Although extensive research exists that provides important information
Committee on Health, Education,                 about Head Start, no recent, definitive, national-level research exists about
Labor, and Pensions asked GAO to                Head Start’s effectiveness on the lives of the children and families it serves.
discuss Head Start--how it fits                 In its last reauthorization, Congress mandated a Head Start effectiveness
within the array of early childhood             study and specified that it be completed this year. According to HHS, the
education and care programs                     study will be completed in 2006.
available to low-income children
and their families and what is
known about its effectiveness.




www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO--03-840T.
To view the full product, including the scope
and methodology, click on the link above.
For more information, contact Marnie S.
Shaul at (202) 512-7215 or shaulm@gao.gov.
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee:

I am pleased to be here today to discuss our work on early childhood
education and care programs, and in particular, Head Start, which many
view as one of the most successful social programs. Nationwide attention
has been focused on ensuring that children from low-income families are
better prepared to enter school and that parents have access to early
childhood services that allow them to obtain and maintain employment. In
response, the federal government has increased funding for early
childhood education and care programs to over $11 billion. Head Start—
the federal government’s single largest investment in early childhood
education and care for low-income children—has served over 21 million
children and their families at a total cost of $66 billion since its inception
in 1965; its funding for fiscal year 2002 was $6.5 billion.

The reauthorization of the Head Start program offers a timely occasion for
considering the two major issues my statement will address today: How
Head Start fits into the array of early childhood education and care
programs available to low-income children and their families and what is
known about Head Start’s effectiveness. My statement is based primarily
on recent studies that we have conducted on early childhood education
and care programs.

In summary, much has changed in society since Head Start was
established nearly 40 years ago, including an increase in the availability of
federal early childhood programs for low-income families. Changes in
women’s employment, family structure, and public assistance have
dramatically increased the demand for early education and child care for
low-income families. To help meet the increased demand brought about by
societal changes, an array of federal education and care programs, as well
as many state and local community programs, has been created for
children from low-income families. The largest sources of additional
federal funding for child care services come from the Child Care and
Development Fund (CCDF) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
(TANF). To meet the demands of families, some federal programs require
coordination of services among early childhood education and care
programs. To illustrate, most Head Start programs are predominately part
day, part year programs, and they cannot meet the demands of working
families who need full-day, full-year education and care services. In
response to this requirement, some Head Start programs collaborate with
other programs to provide families full day coverage. However, differing
program eligibility requirements and other coordination barriers
sometimes impede coordination efforts.

Page 1                                                            GAO-03-840T
                      Although a substantial body of Head Start research exists that provides
                      important information about the program, little is known about its
                      effectiveness on the lives of the children and families it serves. Although
                      the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) currently has studies
                      that show that the skills of children who participate in Head Start have
                      improved, the studies do not provide definitive evidence that this
                      improvement is a result of program participation and not other
                      experiences children may have had. HHS has a study underway, however,
                      that is expected to provide more definitive information on Head Start’s
                      effectiveness in preparing young children for school. The study, mandated
                      by Congress to have been completed this year, is expected to be
                      completed in 2006, according to HHS. Currently, no preliminary results are
                      available.


                      Head Start was created in 1965 as part of the “War on Poverty.” The
Background            program was built on the premise that effective intervention in the lives of
                      children could be best accomplished through family and community
                      involvement. Fundamental to this notion was that communities should be
                      given considerable latitude to develop their own Head Start programs.
                      Head Start’s primary goal is to prepare young children to enter school. In
                      support of its school readiness goal, the program offers children a broad
                      range of services, which include educational, as well as medical, dental,
                      mental health, nutritional, and social services. Children enrolled in Head
                      Start are primarily 3 and 4 years old and come from varying ethnic and
                      racial backgrounds. Most children receive part day, part year program
                      services in center-based settings.

                      Head Start is administered by HHS. Unlike most other federal early
                      childhood education and care programs that are funded through the states,
                      HHS awards Head Start grants directly to local grantees. Grantees may
                      contract with organizations—called delegate agencies—in the community
                      to run all or part of their local Head Start programs.


                      Families’ needs for early childhood education and care have changed
Array of Early        dramatically since Head Start’s inception, and to meet the increased
Childhood Education   demand, the federal government has created an array of federal early
                      education and care programs. Many of these programs are required to
and Care Programs     coordinate the delivery of services to low-income families with children.
Exists to Help Meet   However, barriers sometimes exist, making it difficult to blend the
                      services offered across programs to meet the demands of families.
Increased Demand

                      Page 2                                                          GAO-03-840T
Increased Demand for         Since Head Start was created in 1965, it has provided a wide range of
Early Childhood Education    services, through part day, part-year programs, to improve outcomes for
and Care Services Has Led    children from low-income families. However, the demographics of families
                             have changed considerably over the past several decades and increasingly,
To An Increase in the Size   families need full-day, full-year services for their children. More parents
and Number of Programs       are working full time, either by choice or necessity, and the proportion of
                             children under age 6 who live with only one parent has increased.
                             Moreover, welfare reform has meant that more families, including those
                             with very young children, are expected to seek and keep jobs than ever
                             before.

                             To help meet the demand for early education and care, the federal
                             government has increased the number of, and funding for, programs
                             providing early education and care services. For example, Head Start
                             program funding has tripled over the past decade. Moreover, the federal
                             government invests over $11 billion in early education and care programs
                             for children under age 5, primarily through six major programs, including
                             Head Start (see table 1). These programs are funded through HHS and the
                             Department of Education. While these six programs receive most of the
                             federal funding for early childhood education and care, many other
                             smaller programs also fund services for low-income families with
                             children.1 Funding under these six programs can generally be used to
                             provide a range of services: early education and care; health, dental,
                             mental health, social, parental, and nutritional services; speech and
                             hearing assessments; and disability screening.




                             1
                              GAO analysis of Department of Education and HHS data using proportions based on
                             analysis in U.S. General Accounting Office, Early Education and Care: Overlap Indicates
                             Need to Assess Crosscutting Programs, GAO/HEHS-00-78 (Washington, D.C.: Apr. 28,
                             2000).



                             Page 3                                                                    GAO-03-840T
Table 1: Characteristics of the Six Major Federal Programs Supporting Early Childhood Education and Care

                                                                                                                            Estimated              Estimated
                                                                                                                           number of       amount spent for
                                                                                                                      children served       children under 5
 Program                             Agency      Program goals                                                            under age 5            (in billions)
 Head Starta                         HHS         Promote school readiness                                                      912,000                    $6.5
 CCDF                                HHS         Increase the availability, affordability and quality of child               1,260,000                    $2.2
                                                 care services
 TANF                                HHS         Provide assistance for needy families; end dependence                          350,000                   $1.3b
                                                 of needy parents by promoting job preparation, work
                                                 and marriage; prevent and reduce out-of-wedlock
                                                 pregnancies; and encourage the formation and
                                                 maintenance of two-parent families
 Special Education—                  Education   Ensure that children with disabilities have access to a                        316,000                  $0.206
 Preschool Grants                                free and appropriate public education
 (IDEA)
 Title I (preschool                  Education   Ensure that all children have a fair, equal, and                               313,000                  $0.407
 programs)                                       significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education
                                                 and reach proficiency on challenging state standards
                                                 and academic assessments
                                                                                                                                                              c
 Even Start                          Education   Improve the educational opportunities of low-income                             25,500
                                                 families by integrating early childhood education, adult
                                                 literacy or adult basic education, and parenting
                                                 education into a unified family literacy program
Sources: Programs’ legislation and regulation.

                                                        Note: Unless otherwise indicated, number of children and funding for them are fiscal year 1999
                                                        estimates as determined through our survey. With the exception of Head Start, these are the most
                                                        recent data available estimating the number of children under age 5 served.
                                                        a
                                                            Number of children based on fiscal year 2002 data and funding reflects 2002 appropriation.
                                                        b
                                                            May include funds expended directly on child care and transferred to CCDF.
                                                        c
                                                            Estimate of the amount spent on children under age 5 is not available.


                                                        All of the programs—with the exception of IDEA—specifically target low-
                                                        income children and their families, though they may actually serve
                                                        different populations and age ranges of children. For example, Even Start
                                                        programs serve a larger percentage of Hispanic children and a broader age
                                                        range of children than Head Start.2 Moreover, some programs differ in
                                                        their goals. The primary goal of early childhood education programs such
                                                        as Head Start, Even Start, and Title I, is to prepare young children to enter
                                                        school. In contrast, a primary goal of child care programs, such as CCDF is



                                                        2
                                                          U.S. General Accounting Office, Head Start and Even Start: Greater Collaboration
                                                        Needed on Measures of Adult Education and Literacy, GAO-02-348 (Washington, D.C.:
                                                        Mar. 29, 2002).



                                                        Page 4                                                                                  GAO-03-840T
                             to subsidize the cost of care for low-income parents who are working or
                             engaged in education and training activities. In addition, states have the
                             flexibility to use block grant funds to subsidize child care as states pursue
                             one of the key TANF goals—promoting employment for low-income adults
                             with families.

                             In addition to federal programs that support services for poor children,
                             many state and local community programs also offer education and care
                             services for low-income families.3 The majority of states, 39, fund
                             preschool programs. Moreover, some states provide funding to
                             supplement Head Start and fund child care programs.


Head Start and Other Early   To better ensure that low-income families and their children can access
Childhood Programs           the services provided through the myriad federal programs, Congress
Report Service               mandated that some programs coordinate with one another to deliver
                             services to low-income families and their children. As a result, program
Coordination, but Barriers   officials have reported collaborative efforts with one another to deliver
to Coordination Exist        services; however, barriers still remain.

                             Head Start programs are required by law to coordinate and collaborate
                             with programs serving the same children and families, including CCDF,
                             Even Start, IDEA, and other early childhood programs. Similarly, CCDF
                             agencies are required to coordinate funding with other federal, state, and
                             local early childhood education and care programs. To promote more
                             integrated service delivery systems and to encourage collaboration
                             between Head Start and other programs that fund early childhood
                             services, HHS began awarding collaboration grants to states in 1990. In
                             fiscal year 2002, Head Start provided $8 million to states to support
                             collaborative activities. Moreover, in awarding program expansion funds,
                             Head Start has given priority to funding first those Head Start programs
                             that coordinate with other child care and early childhood funding sources
                             to increase the number of hours children receive early education and care.

                             Positive outcomes have occurred as a result of early childhood education
                             and care program collaboration, enabling some states to expand the
                             options for low-income families with children. For example, Head Start
                             and CCDF officials reported pooling resources by sharing staff to add full-



                             3
                              U.S. General Accounting Office, Education and Care: Early Childhood Programs and
                             Services for Low-Income Families, GAO/HEHS-00-11 (Washington, D.C.: Nov. 15, 1999).



                             Page 5                                                                  GAO-03-840T
                      day care to the half-day Head Start program and to add Head Start
                      services, such as nutrition and medical care, to day care programs. At the
                      local level, about 74 percent of Even Start grantees reported that they
                      collaborated with Head Start in some way, including cash funding,
                      instructional or administrative support, technical assistance, and space or
                      job training support.4

                      However, collaboration does not eliminate all gaps in care, and sometimes
                      barriers, such as differing eligibility requirements, program standards, and
                      different locations of programs, hinder collaboration. For example,
                      program officials in 1 state said that the differing eligibility requirements
                      between CCDF and Head Start made collaboration difficult. CCDF funds
                      may be used for families with incomes up to 85 percent of state median
                      income, which generally allows the states to give subsidies to families
                      whose income is higher than the federal poverty level.5 Head Start’s
                      income eligibility standard requires that 90 percent of enrollments be from
                      families at or below the federal poverty level or from families eligible for
                      public assistance. Thus, collaboration between these programs to achieve
                      objectives might be difficult because some children may be eligible only
                      for CCDF.


                      Although an extensive body of Head Start research exists that provides
Effectiveness Study   important information about the program, no definitive, national-level
Underway to           research exists on the effectiveness of Head Start for the families and
                      children it serves, prompting Congress to mandate such a study when it
Determine Whether     reauthorized the program in 1998. HHS has other studies underway that
Head Start Makes a    provide important information about the progress of children enrolled in
                      the program; however, these studies were not designed to separate the
Difference            effects of children’s participation in Head Start from other experiences
                      these children may have had. Although obtaining information about Head
                      Start’s effectiveness is difficult, the significance of Head Start and the
                      sizeable investment in it warrant conducting studies that will provide
                      answers to questions about whether the program is making a difference.




                      4
                          GAO-02-348.
                      5
                       In fiscal year 2000, the federal poverty guideline was $17,050 for a family of four while the
                      state median income ranged from a low of $24,694 for West Virginia households to a high of
                      $43,941 in Maryland in 2000. States have the flexibility to set income eligibility limits up to
                      85 percent, but generally set them lower.



                      Page 6                                                                          GAO-03-840T
In 1998, we testified that the body of research on Head Start though
extensive, was insufficient for drawing conclusions about the program as a
whole and recommended that HHS undertake a study of Head Start’s
effectiveness.6 In reauthorizing Head Start in 1998, Congress mandated
such a study. The law mandated that the study be completed in 2003 and
was very specific in detailing the kind of study HHS was to undertake.
Specifically, Congress required that the study use rigorous methodological
designs and techniques to determine if Head Start programs are having an
impact on children’s readiness for school. The mandated study addresses
two questions: (1) what difference does Head Start make to key outcomes
of development and learning for low-income children and (2) under which
conditions does Head Start work best and for which children?

The study is using a rigorous methodology that many researchers consider
to be the most definitive method of determining a program’s effect on its
participants when factors other than the program are known to affect
outcomes.7 This methodology is referred to as an “experimental design” in
which groups of children are randomly assigned either to a group that will
receive program services or to a group that will not receive program
services. This approach produces information that is more likely to show
the effect of the program being studied, rather than the effects of other
developmental influences on young children (see fig. 1).




6
  U.S General Accounting Office, Head Start: Challenges Faced in Demonstrating Program
Results and Responding to Societal Changes, GAO/T-HEHS-98-183. (Washington, D.C.:
June 9, 1998).
7
U.S. General Accounting Office, Early Childhood Programs: The Use of Impact
Evaluations to Assess Program Effects, GAO-01-542 (Washington, D.C.: Apr. 16, 2001.



Page 7                                                                    GAO-03-840T
Figure 1: Experimental Design for Early Childhood Program Impact Evaluations


                                                              Other                            Socioeconomic                             Physical/
          Factors affecting                                                     Parenting                               Health care
                                                            learning                               status   Parents’                   psychological
                                                                                practices
          children's development                          experiences                                       education                   maturation
                                                                                            Nutrition                      Community




          Children are randomly
          assigned to either a
          group that receives
          program services or a
          group that does not
          receive program services.
          Therefore, the groups are
          fundamentally the same.

                                                                           Receives                                      Does not receive
                                                                       program services                               program services but
                                                                                                                       can receive services
                                                                                                                     through other programs

                                                                                                   At 3-years old

          Children are tested at                                                                   At 4-years old
          various ages to plot
          their progress...
                                                                                                   At 5-years old

                                                                                                    In first grade




          The differences in test
          results between the two
          groups are assessed
          Any differences found
          can be attributed to the
          program

Source: GAO visual rendition based on requirements of experimental impact evaluations




                                                                 Page 8                                                                        GAO-03-840T
The Head Start study is a $28.3 million national impact evaluation that
follows participants over time. The study has two phases. The first phase,
a pilot study designed to test various procedures and methods, was
conducted in 2001. The second phase began in the fall of 2002 and entails
data collection on 5,000 to 6,000 3- and 4- year olds from 75 programs and
communities across the country. The study will track subjects through the
spring of their first grade year. An interim report, scheduled to be released
in September of this year, will describe the study’s design and
methodology and the status of the data collection; it will not contain
findings. Although Congress required that the study be completed in 2003,
HHS reports that the study will be completed in 2006. This study is a
complex, multiyear, longitudinal study and considerable attention had to
be given to both study planning and execution. According to HHS, many
aspects of the study needed to be pilot tested before the larger study could
begin.

In another effort, Head Start is collecting outcome data on a nationally
representative sample of Head Start children and families as part of its
Family and Child Experiences Survey (FACES). FACES is an ongoing,
longitudinal study of Head Start programs that uses a national sample of
3,200 children. FACES provides national data on Head Start child
outcomes, family involvement, and key aspects of program quality and
teaching practices. New findings from FACES research published in 2003
show that children enrolled in Head Start demonstrated progress in early
literacy and social skills; however, their overall performance levels when
they left Head Start was below that of children nationally in terms of
school readiness.8 This study, however, was not designed to provide
definitive data about whether the initial gains children made in early
literacy and social skills resulted from their participation in Head Start or
some other experiences children may have had.


Mr. Chairman, this concludes my prepared statement. I will be happy to
respond to any questions you or other Committee Members may have.




8
 Department of Health and Human Services, Head Start FACES 2000: A Whole-Child
Perspective on Program Performance, 2003.



Page 9                                                                GAO-03-840T
                  For further information regarding this testimony, please call Marnie S.
GAO Contact and   Shaul, Director, at (202) 512-7215. Individuals making key contributions to
Staff             this testimony include Sherri Doughty and Harriet Ganson.
Acknowledgments




                  Page 10                                                        GAO-03-840T
Related GAO Products


             Child Care: Recent State Policy Changes Affecting the Availability of
             Assistance for Low-Income Families. GAO-03-588. Washington, D.C.: May
             5, 2003.

             Head Start and Even Start: Greater Collaboration Needed on Measures of
             Adult Education and Literacy. GAO-02-348. Washington, D.C.: March 29,
             2002.

             Title I Preschool Education: More Children Served but Gauging Effect on
             School Readiness Difficult. GAO/HEHS-00-171. Washington, D.C.:
             September 20, 2000.

             Early Childhood Programs: Characteristics Affect the Availability of
             School Readiness Information. GAO/HEHS-00-38. Washington, D.C.:
             February 28, 2000.

             Early Childhood Programs: The Use of Impact Evaluations to Assess
             Program Effects, GAO-01-542. Washington, D.C.: April 16, 2001.

             Education and Care: Early Childhood Programs and Services for Low-
             Income Families. GAO/HEHS-00-11. Washington, D.C: Nov. 15, 1999.

             Early Education and Care: Overlap Indicates Need to Assess
             Crosscutting Programs. GAO/HEHS-00-78. Washington, D.C.: April 28,
             2000.

             Head Start: Challenges Faced In Demonstrating Program Results and
             Responding to Societal Changes. GAO/T-HEHS-98-183. Washington, D.C.:
             Jun. 9, 1988.

             Head Start: Challenges in Monitoring Program Quality and
             Demonstrating Results. GAO/HEHS-98-186. Washington, D.C.: June 30,
             1998.

             U.S. General Accounting Office, Head Start Programs: Participant
             Characteristics, Services, and Funding. GAO/HEHS-98-65. Washington,
             D.C.: March 31, 1998.

             Head Start: Research Provides Little Information on Impact of Current
             Program. GAO/HEHS-97-59. Washington, D.C.: April 15, 1997.




(130276)
             Page 11                                                      GAO-03-840T