Moving Ahead from Head Start
Early childhood education refers to the teaching that goes on amongst children before they enter elementary school. The educational and social values that the students gain from this schooling are very beneficial as they enter elementary school. Early childhood education is not just based off of the curriculum and how the class is taught, it is also based off of the social structure of the classroom. Even the way that the furniture is aligned in the classroom has an impact on how successful the quality of the education is. Young children in these classes are not just there to be taught math, reading, writing, etc.; they are there to learn how to be social and creative — skills that they will use later in life. Head Start is a publicly funded early childhood education program that was started in the 1960s. The main purpose of the Head Start program was to encourage students that were living in poverty to become accustomed to life as a student at as young as an age as possible. Unfortunately, Head Start aimed almost only to students in poverty and excluded everyone else from the program. In the early 1990s, a new program was started called Universal Pre-K. This program has had more of a popularity streak because it aims at more people than just the lower class. Because of the vast amount of people that this program targets, there are now more students enrolled in Universal Pre-K than Head Start even though Head Start has been around for over thirty more years than UPK.
A main purpose to both of these programs is to narrow to achievement gap. There is a very close correlation between the opportunity gap and the achievement gap. Unfortunately, a child’s future is planned out when they enter this world because of the opportunities that are given to them by their parents. This claim is completely unfair because every child should be able to succeed just like the next one. The problem is, that most children are not given the chance. In order to close the achievement gap, we have to narrow the opportunity gap as well. Publicly funded early education is needed everywhere with quality teachers. Quality instructors are key to actually reforming the gaps. Ravitch believes that these gaps will be hard and costly to close but it will be worth it. She states, “Early intervention can make a lasting difference in children’s lives. It’s expensive to do it right. Its even more expensive to do half measures or not to do it at all (Ravitch, 233).” I completely agree with what she has to say here. The price is going to make a dent in the country, but will make an even bigger dent if we keep all of these kids that have potential hidden. Heckman explained that, “Early intervention not only enhances the life prospects of children but also has a high benefit-cost ratio and rate of return for society’s investment (Ravitch, 231).” If students that would be set up to fail have the chance to succeed, what they give back to the country will be more beneficial and cost less than what the country puts into them to make them succeed. If students of low in come families are encouraged to start schooling at a younger age, the opportunity gap is immediately narrowed. A lot of children that come from poverty do not think about education until it is mandatory. Even when it is mandatory, it is dreaded and not cared about. Gaps are caused by so many reasons and these differences between students affect children’s readiness to learn. All children have the capability to be able to learn, but some have a head start because of the background that they come from. That is why the program Head Start came into play in the 1960s. Early childhood education cannot completely close the gap, but it has proven to shrink the gap. Head Start and Universal Pre-K both have the same goal when it comes to narrowing the achievement gap (Ravitch, 230-233). Closing the achievement gap was a goal that Head Start started with when the program began and still sticks with. This is the same for Universal Pre-K. Even though these two programs might compete because they are so similar, they both have very similar goals for what they want to happen with the young children. There have been projects done to prove that this gap can be narrowed with the right qualifications in early education.
Early education has been proven to work through many projects like the Nurse Family Partnership program, the Perry Preschool Project, and the Abecedarian Project. The Perry Preschool project enrolled fifty-eight poor African Americans children into a school starting at the age of three. These students would attend preschool for three hours a day for two years. This school was unlike other preschools; the curriculum was made so the children were encouraged to plan their own days. The teachers were very qualified and they were paid similar to public school teachers. They made weekly home visits to the students parents, teaching them how to turn every day activities into learning exercises. After the students had completed the two years of schooling, they were tracked until they were adults. These students were, “less likely than students in the control group to skip school, be assigned to a special education class or have to repeat a grade. By age 19, 66 percent of them had graduated from high school, as compared to 45 percent of those who hadn’t gone to Perry (Ravitch, 232).” This is solid evidence that early education is useful. It makes it hard for almost anyone to fight against it.
In 1964, the Federal Government created a panel of child development experts to design a program to help overcome barriers that children face when they are living in poverty. The program that was created was called Head Start. Head Start started as a summer program that was designed to break the cycle of poverty by providing early childhood education for low-income families. Educators, child development specialists, community leaders and parents positively looked at Head Start across the nation (History & Facts). The original goal of Head Start was to create a summer program that was funded by the government for young children in need of an early childhood education. Because the program was over the summer, it gave the children an opportunity to do something useful with their summers rather than just have three months to waste time. This program was obviously successful because within a year, the enrollment increased so much. President Lydon B. Johnson was in office at the time that the program was kicking off. Fortunately, Head Start had enough support that the new program was granted $96,400,000. With this money, 561,000 students were enrolled in just the first year. This turn out was unexpected, but pointed the program into a very upward turn. The next year, in 1966, Head Start became a 9-month, part day program for children of low in come families. The enrollment climbed its way up to 733,000 students in just one year. In 1969, Head Start moved from the Office of Economic Opportunity to the newly established Office of Child Development. President Nixon was now in office; the funding was still increasing, but the enrollment was starting to decrease. In 1972, Head Start started to serve children with disabilities, but unfortunately, the enrollment number was continually dropping. In 1978, President Carter was in office and the first actual expansion took place and the enrollment started to rise again. In 1986, the goals started to change and children were only accepted into the program for one year (Head Start History). The purpose of the program changed from development of social competence to the promotion of school readiness. The original goals of Head Start in the 1960s was the prepare children that were living in poverty for elementary school. Head Start has made their process somewhat difficult because the early education does not lead right into an elementary education. Universal Pre-K has learned from these goals because Head Start was not as successful.
Universal Pre-K varies from state to state. The main goal of Universal Pre-K is to ensure that all children, including children with disabilities, and English Language Learners have rich and varied learning experiences that prepare them for success in school and lay the foundation for college and career readiness (Engage NY). The South has taken the rein for implementing Universal Pre-K into their education. So far, Georgia, Oklahoma, Texas, Tennessee, Arkansas, Florida, West Virginia, New York, Illinois, Iowa, and Massachusetts are the only starts that have started or finished the process of having UPK (Wong, 110). UPK goal is to provide a government funded highly qualified education to students in need. The reason why this differs from Head Start so much is because Head Start was only aiming towards children in poverty. There are five domains in which the UPK hopes to structure its program. The first is the approach to learning. The program hopes to set a standard for how children become involved in learning and acquiring knowledge. If this is done before they enter elementary school, they are already headed in the right track and can automatically start learning rather than have to be taught how to learn first. The next is physical development and health. UPK hopes that children learn the ability to engage in daily activities while being cautious of their health. The next goal is social and emotional development. In this domain, it is hoped that, children gain the emotional competence and ability to form positive relationships that give meaning to children’s experiences when they are at home, at school, or in a larger community. The fourth domain is communication, language and literacy. It is hoped that children can understand, create, and communicate meaning. The last domain is cognition and knowledge of the world. UPK hopes that what children need to know and understand about their world and how they apply what they know to the real world. These domains are very similar Head Start’s goals, but UPK is more structured and organized. Rather than just aiming for the poor, UPK makes an approach to have, “Preschool for all (Wong, 114).” UPK is also adjacent to preexisting schools, unlike Head Start. When being part of the UPK program, once Kindergarten rolls around, the student does not have to look for a new school, they are already enrolled.
Universal Pre-K has learned from Head Start’s mistakes. Head Start as a program had very good intentions in the 1960s that have lead on until today. The program just has some blimps in its structure that causes it to not be as successful as Universal Pre-K. Since the program is only aimed at the poor students in the country, they lose a lot of support that they could gain from the students in the middle class that aren’t necessarily poor, but still need schooling to be publicly funded. Universal Pre-K had the advantage of being able to see why Head Start was having difficulties and that is why they were able to make their program universally popular because it engages everyone that is in need of an education. Both of these programs had very similar educational goals. They both wanted to teach their students in an educational prospect as well as social. Universal Pre-K just had a better plan for aiming their program for everyone, rather than just the lower class. There is more public funding that goes towards UPK because there are more supporters. The goals of early education have not changed much through time, but the people that are gaining a public early educational experience are increasing.
“History & Facts.” Head Start. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 May 2014.
Haxton, B. “A Brief History of Changes in the Head Start Program.” Head Start History. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Apr. 2014.
Ravitch, Diane. Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools. New York: Knopf, 2013. Print.
“New York State Prekindergarten Foundation to the Common Core.” Engage NY. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Apr. 2014.
Wong, Kenneth K., and Robert Rothman. “Learning from Head Start.” Clio at the Table: Using History to Inform and Improve Education Policy. New York: Peter Lang, 2009. 109-24. Print.