Building Futures: The Head Start Impact Study Research Design Plan Updated

Published: March 31, 2001
Head Start
Head Start Impact Study and Follow-up, 2000-2015 | Learn more about this project
Research Design Documents: First Year Findings

Head Start provides comprehensive early childhood development services to low-income children, their families, and the communities in which they reside. Over the last decade the program has experienced significant growth, particularly as greater attention has been paid to the need for early intervention in the lives of low-income children. In fact, the recent FY2001 budget agreement included an increase of $933 million for Head Start, for a total annual funding of $6.2 billion. Along with this growth have come initiatives calling for improved outcomes and accountability. Head Start is not, however, alone in this—in an era of fiscal constraints, all Federal agencies are being challenged to demonstrate program results, not simply report on program staffing and processes.

During this rapid expansion of Head Start, the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) released two reports underlining the lack of rigorous research on Head Start’s effectiveness noting in the 1997 report that “...the body of research on current Head Start is insufficient to draw conclusions about the impact of the national program.”1 The 1998 report added, “...the Federal government’s significant financial investment in the Head Start program, including plans to increase the number of children served and enhance the quality of the program, warrants definitive research studies, even though they may be costly.”

Based upon the GAO recommendation, and the testimony of research methodologists and early childhood experts, Congress mandated through the 1998 reauthorization of Head Start that the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) determine, on a national level, the impact of Head Start on the children it serves. In October 2000, DHHS awarded a contract to Westat, Inc. in collaboration with The Urban Institute, the American Institutes for Research, and Decision Information Resources to conduct this research study.