Heckman on Head Start
From James Heckman: In early childhood education, ‘Quality really matters.’ by Dylan Matthews
James Heckman: … I think you were going to say something about Head Start having a mixed effect, as the most recent evaluation found. That shouldn’t be taken too seriously for two reasons. There’s a real problem with the way the evaluation study was conducted, and it’s a very low quality program. If the quality of the program goes down, then you’d really have to be careful. I couldn’t give you a monetary threshold, but they can do harm. Parents can put them in mediocre child care environments, away from the stimulation they might get at home.
Dylan Matthews: We touched on Charles Murray, so here’s another critique from the symposium you did at Boston Review. The Harvard Graduate School of Education’s David Deming has argued, and has a study on this, that Head Start gets 80 percent of the gains of Perry. And it’s much less expensive. I’m guessing you’re skeptical of that finding.
James Heckman: Well, the reason why I’m skeptical is that the most salient work on Head Start is this new evaluation which came out last October. It actually came out later than I responded to Deming. I am skeptical for the following reason. It’s really heterogeneous, and I’m sure there are some very high quality programs and some very weak ones. The latest study showed very weak effects. That was a short-term followup. Head Start has never had a long-term followup.
… I’m skeptical that you can get by on the cheap, really cheap, with Head Start. Head Start doesn’t have one curriculum. Some Head Start programs are really using a version of Perry, maybe a diluted version. But others are using other curricula. So you wouldn’t expect to see the same effects across these programs. The quality of inputs is lower.