WASHINGTON, D.C. ‐‐ A long‐awaited study of Tulsa’s Community Action Project (CAP) Head Start program has found that the positive initial effects of this program persist through the 7th grade.
The study contrasts with earlier studies that reported many of the benefits of Head Start disappear as children move through their early school years – a phenomenon known as “fade out.”
Led by Deborah Phillips, professor in the university’s department of psychology, William Gormley of the university’s McCourt School of Public Policy and Sara Anderson of the University of West Virginia, , the new study concludes that some very consequential benefits last for years. Children participating in the CAP Head Start program scored higher on state math tests and were significantly less likely to repeat a grade or be chronically absent from school.
Professor Phillips singled out the study’s math findings as especially noteworthy: “In an age when STEM skills are in great demand, the edge that CAP Head Start gives to students in math is really important for their future success, in school and at work.”
Professor Gormley added that the grade retention findings are significant as well: “Studies show that grade retention reduces adult earnings and increases crime. A decline in grade retention is a big accomplishment for Tulsa’s Head Start program.”
The study, published in the latest issue of Developmental Psychology , comes as Congress and the next president are likely to consider proposals to expand the nation’s early education efforts. While the study does not dispute the presence of “fade out,” which is common for all forms of early intervention, it does point to ways to improve programs to minimize the effect both on individual children and school districts.
In explaining their findings, the researchers noted the “higher levels of instructional support” offered by the Tulsa program compared to national Head Start programs in 2005‐06. The Tulsa program, as with Head Start programs nationally, also requires that teachers have undergraduate degrees and that there be low teacher‐student ratios in each classroom. With upgraded teacher requirements and new performance standards, Head Start is moving in the direction of higher quality. However, in contrast to most Head Start programs, the Tulsa program also provides public school wages to its teachers, as part of its long‐standing partnership arrangement with the Tulsa Public Schools.
The CAP Head Start program serves a wide range of students including racial, ethnic and language groups, as well as those with special needs. All but the latter group live at or below the federal poverty line.
“With the nation’s attention now turned to early childhood, it is essential to make the investments necessary to ensure that the initial impacts of Head Start are sufficiently robust to launch children along a promising path into elementary school and beyond,” the authors write. They note that “sustained impacts also depend upon efforts at every grade level.”
The research was conducted by the Center for Research on Children in the U.S. (CROCUS), a joint endeavor by the McCourt School of Public Policy and the Psychology Department at Georgetown University (http://www.crocus.georgetown.edu). For further information, contact Prof. Deborah Phillips, firstname.lastname@example.org, at (202) 687‐4132; or Prof. William Gormley, email@example.com, at (202) 687‐6817.