Head Start Revealed

January 14, 2013

Despite the obvious effort to delay and conceal the disappointing results from the official and high quality evaluation of Head Start, the Wall Street Journal shines the light on the issue in today’s editorial.  DC’s manipulating scumbags might want to take note that efforts to hide negative research might just draw more attention.  It’s comforting to see that the world may sometimes look more like Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment than Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors.

The Journal reveals that Head Start supporters have not only ignored the latest study, but they are trying to sneak an extra $100 million for Head Start into the relief package for victims of Hurricane Sandy.  They also note that the most recent disappointing Head Start result is just the latest in a string of studies failing to find benefits from the program despite a cumulative expenditure of more than $180 billion.

And then the Journal finishes with this:

The Department of Health and Human Services released the results of the most recent Head Start evaluation on the Friday before Christmas. Once again, the research showed that cognitive gains didn’t last. By third grade, you can’t tell Head Start alumni from their non-Head Start peers.

President Obama has said that education policy should be driven not by ideology but by “what works,” though we have to wonder given his Administration’s history of slow-walking the release of information that doesn’t align with its agenda.

In 2009, the Administration sat on a positive performance review of the Washington, D.C., school voucher program, which it opposes. The Congressionally mandated Head Start evaluation put out last month was more than a year late, is dated October 2012 and was released only after Republican Senator Tom Coburn and Congressman John Kline sent a letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius requesting its release along with an explanation for the delay. Now we know what was taking so long.

Like so many programs directed at the poor, Head Start is well-intentioned, and that’s enough for self-congratulatory progressives to keep throwing money at it despite the outcomes. But misleading low-income parents about the efficacy of a program is cruel and wastes taxpayer dollars at a time when the country is running trillion-dollar deficits.

A government that cared about results would change or end Head Start, but instead Congress will use the political cover of disaster relief to throw more good money after proven bad policy.

[UPDATE: And here is a good follow-up op-ed on the study by Lindsey Burke on the Fox News web site.]

Head Start Manipulating Scumbags

December 20, 2012

I’ve heard that the latest round of results from the federal evaluation of Head Start is due to be released tomorrow afternoon.  And my psychic powers tell me that the results will show no lasting benefit from Head Start, just like the two previous rounds of results.

You heard that right — the federal government is releasing results that the administration dislikes on a Friday afternoon just before Christmas.  They might as well put the results on display in a locked filing cabinet in a disused lavatory behind the sign that says “beware of the leopard.”

Why is the Department of Health and Human Services burying this study just like they delayed, buried, or distorted the previous ones?  Well, because the study is an extremely rigorous and comprehensive evaluation, involving random assignment of a representative sample of all Head Start students nationwide, that I expect will find no enduring benefits from this program that politicians, pundits, and other dimwits constantly want to expand and fund.  Anyone who casts doubt on think tank research should cast a critical eye toward gross manipulations and abuse of research that are perpetrated by the federal government.

I should repeat that the researchers have done an excellent job evaluating Head Start in this case.  It is the bureaucratic class at the Department of Health and Human Services who have cynically manipulated, delayed, and misreported this research.  The pending report is already delayed several years and has been around for a long time.  The decision to release it on the Friday afternoon before Christmas is completely calculated.

I don’t know your names, but I’m going to invest a little energy in tracking down who is responsible for this cynical abuse of research.  If there were any reporters worth their salt left out there, they would bother to expose you but I guess that job has now been passed to bloggers and enterprising individuals.  When I do find your names I will post them so folks can know who the scumbags are who think they can manipulate the policy community by delaying, burying, or misreporting research.  And then when you get hired by that DC think tank, advocacy organization, or other waste of space we’ll be able to remember who you are and assign no credibility to what you have to say.  These kinds of dastardly acts by public servants should not be cost free and if I have any say in the matter they will not be in this case.

Head Start, A Case Study in the Unreliability of Government Research

March 13, 2012

The Department of Health and Human Resources is up to its old tricks of delaying research whose results are likely to undermine their darling program, Head Start.  A group of five U.S. Senators sent a letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius last week demanding an explanation for why the latest round of results of the congressionally-mandated study have not been released four years after data collection was complete and one year after the report was scheduled to be released.

In 2010 I told you about how the Department of Health and Human Services delayed the release of the previous round of disappointing research results about the lasting effects of Head Start.  When the extremely high quality study, involving a random-assignment design on a representative sample of all Head Start programs nationwide, was finally released three years after the data collection was complete, it found that students randomly assigned to Head Start performed no better on cognitive measures by the end of kindergarten and first grade.

Despite these null results, HHS issued a statement that in typical Orwellian fashion declared the program a huge success.  Assistant Secretary for Children and Families Carmen Nazario was quoted in the statement concluding that “Head Start has been changing lives for the better since its inception.” And Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was quoted declaring that “research clearly shows that Head Start positively impacts the school readiness of low-income children”

If the government’s proclivity to delay the release of politically undesirable results and to manipulate — actually, completely distort — the findings is not enough to engender skepticism among reporters, researchers, and policymakers, I have no idea what will.  But I continue to see reporters, researchers, and policymakers invoke government research as authoritative without the least bit of critical scrutiny.

This uncritical acceptance of government press releases as gospel by reporters is particularly disgraceful.  I understand that reporters are miserably paid and stretched beyond their limit as staffs are reduced, but the heart of a reporter’s responsibility is to challenge the powerful.  And there is no one more powerful than the government.  They are so powerful that they can delay the release of research and declare that up is down when the results do come out.

Op-Ed on Head Start and DC Vouchers

February 3, 2010

I have an op-ed in today’s Washington Examiner that will also be on City Journal’s web site on how the Obama administration has betrayed its pledge to do what the evidence says works in education.  It starts:

Anyone Remember March of 2009?

January 14, 2010

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

On March 10, Pres. Barack Obama gave a major education speech before the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. In that speech, he declared that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan “will use only one test when deciding what ideas to support with your precious tax dollars: It’s not whether an idea is liberal or conservative, but whether it works.”

On March 13, Senate majority whip Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) wrote of the D.C. scholarship program in the Chicago Tribune:

Allowing the program to continue through end of next school year (2009–2010) will give Congress a chance to examine all the evidence to determine whether or not this program works.

U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, chairman of the authorizing committee, has promised a timely hearing on reauthorization of this program.

Many benefiting from this program want no questions asked about its efficacy. I think the taxpayers deserve better.

Well, well, well- the results are in: The program works. In fact, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program is one of the few programs funded by the Department of Education about which we have supportive evidence of the highest possible scientific quality.

Head Start on the other hand sucks wind in producing results when subjected to a random assignment evaluation.

President Obama will surely be calling for the transfer of Head Start funding into the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program any second now.

Head Start Basically Has No Effect

January 13, 2010

As I described last week, the Department of Health and Human Services has been sitting on an evaluation of the Head Start government run pre-school program.  Well, today the study was released (and it’s not even a Friday!).

As the leaks suggested, the study found virtually no lasting effects to participation in Head Start.  The study used a gold-standard, random assignment design and had a very large nationally representative sample.  This was a well done study (even if it mysteriously took more than 3 years after data collection was complete to release the results).

For students who were randomly assigned to Head Start or not at the age of 4, the researchers collected 19 measures of cognitive impacts at the end of kindergarten and 22 measures when those students finished 1st grade.  Of those 41 measures only 1 was significant and positive.  The remaining 40 showed no statistically significant difference.  The one significant effect was for receptive vocabulary, which showed no significant advantage for Head Start students after kindergarten but somehow re-emerged at the end of 1st grade. 

The study used the more relaxed p< .1 standard for statistical significance, so we could have seen about 4 significant differences by chance alone and only saw 1.  That positive effect had an effect size of .09, which is relatively modest.

For students randomly assigned to Head Start or not at the age of 3, the researchers also collected 41 measures of lasting cognitive effects.  This time they found 2 statistically significant positive effects and 1 statistically significant negative effect.  For the students who began at age 3 they showed a .08 effect size benefit from Head Start in oral comprehension after first grade and a .26 effect size benefit in spanish vocabulary after kindergarten but a .19 effect size decline in math ability at the end of kindergarten.  Again, 38 of the 41 measures of lasting effects showed no difference and the few significant effects (which could be produced by chance) showed mixed results.

I think it is safe to say from this very rigorous evaluation that Head Start had no lasting effect on the academic preparation of students.

The study also measured lasting effects on student behavior and emotion as well as the skills of parents.  Again, the effects were largely null and the few significant differences were in mixed directions.  The few positive effects from these categories were from parent reports and the few negative tended to come from teacher reports. 

The long and short of it is that the government has a giant and enormously expensive pre-school program that has made basically no difference for the students who participate in it.  And folks are proposing that we expand government pre-school to include all students.  Those same folks have some bridges they’d like to sell.

(edited for clarity)

Government Manipulation of Education Research

January 7, 2010

We all remember how Arne Duncan and the Obama administration manipulated the official evaluation of the DC voucher program by burying the release of positive results on a Friday after Congress failed to reauthorize the program.

If you thought that government manipulation of education research was limited to school choice because of the union’s special hatred of vouchers, you’d be wrong.  The Tricky Dicks in Washington are at it again, this time by manipulating the release of a Head Start evaluation.

According to Dan Lips of the Heritage Foundation in a commentary on the Fox News web site, an evaluation of the long-term effects of Head Start was supposed to be released in March 2009.  Data collection for the evaluation was completed in the spring of 2006. Yet the study remains unreleased.

The delay may have something to do with the fact that the Obama Administration and congressional Democrats are huge supporters of expanding government-subsidized or provided pre-school.  And according to Dan Lips’ sources in the Department of Health and Human Services, which is overseeing the Head Start evaluation, the results of the government study show no lasting benefits to Head Start, which is the largest government pre-school program.  Government officials seem to be burying or at least delaying the release of those results so as not to spoil plans for the expansion of government pre-school programs.

Let this be a lesson.  As the federal government’s role in evaluating education programs grows, so does the potential for political mischief with that research.

(edited for clarity)

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