Title: Do Early Academic Achievement and Behavior Problems Predict Long-Term Effects Among Head Start Children?
PURPOSE: This study examines the effects of Head Start children's early achievement and behavioral scores on their long-term effects. The Head Start program was established in 1965 to provide a comprehensive educational program for children living in poverty. Despite the overall consensus that there are proximal Head Start program benefits, it has been debated whether or not these effects still exist after children exit the Head Start program. The purpose of the current study is to examine the persistence of Head Start's impact on children's learning. Additionally, the study examines whether maternal education moderates the effects of Head Start over time.
METHOD: The study used the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY) data. Out of 8,100 children born to NLSY women, a sample of 603 children who participated in Head Start from 1988 to 1994 and who had longitudinal measured outcomes from ages 5-6 to 11-12 were selected. Head Start children's reading, math, and behavioral scores, as measured at ages 5-6, were examined to determine whether these early scores affect outcomes measured at ages 11-12. . The research questions addressed are (1) Do Head Start children's reading, math, and behavioral scores at ages 5-6 affect those scores measured at ages 11-12? (2) Do these associations differ depending on maternal education? I conducted regression and path analyses to examine how long-term achievement or behavioral outcomes are associated with the short-term outcomes, accounting for the effects of all short- and long-term outcomes in one model.
RESULTS: Not surprisingly, these findings indicate a strong relationship between children's early and later educational and behavioral scores. Maternal education moderated these associations on reading and behavioral outcomes. The associations between the short- and long-term achievement and behavioral outcomes were less significant for children whose mothers had less education. Children's reading, math, and behavioral outcomes at ages 5-6 were significantly inter-correlated, as were those measured at ages 11-12.
IMPLICATION: First, children's early achievement and behavioral outcomes affected outcomes later. Therefore, early intervention programs such as Head Start should continue to be provided to eligible populations to enhance early developmental skills. Second, children's early outcomes do not endure for children whose mothers have less than a high school education. If Head Start provides concurrent services for Head Start families, the positive impacts of Head Start on children's early outcomes can be sustained in their later lives. Third, Head Start should provide comprehensive curriculum that reflects the inter-correlations among all outcomes. In summary, this study suggests that the positive benefits of the Head Start program do not dissipate in the long term, and that maternal education matters for the long-term success of children in the program. Due to the significant impacts of early outcomes on later outcomes, Head Start should serve as a continuous early compensatory educational program for eligible populations.