Methods: The present study was conducted in collaboration with the Michigan Capital Area Community Services Head Start Early Childhood Programs (60 Head Start classrooms across 4 counties). Out of 1,562 Head Start children who enrolled in Head Start from 2007-2008, 814 children who entered Head Start at age 4 were selected for the final sample (n = 498, children enrolled in Head Start for 1 year; n = 316, children stayed for 2 years). Children's academic outcomes were language, literacy, math, and science. Baseline characteristic variables were obtained upon each child's enrollment: child (gender, ethnicity) and number of family risk factors (15 items: [indicated by the Michigan Department of Education]). Specific questions were:(1) Do Head Start children's baseline characteristics, particularly the number of risk factors, differ between those who enrolled in Head Start for 1 year or for 2 years? (2) At the time of exit from the program, do academic outcomes differ between those who enrolled in Head Start for 1 year or for 2 years? and (3) Do these effects of duration of enrollment differ depending on the number of risk factors?
Results: Several steps of regression analyses were conducted to examine whether children's outcomes differed depending on the duration of Head Start enrollment. Results indicated that baseline characteristics did not differ significantly except ethnicity and county. Children who enrolled in Head Start for 2 years showed significantly higher scores in most academic outcomes than those who enrolled in Head Start for 1 year. Children who had higher number of family risk factors tended to have lower scores on academic outcomes. However, among children with more risk factors, those who enrolled in Head Start for 2 years did obtain more positive benefits than those who enrolled for only 1 year.
Implications: Implications are that Head Start should accept younger children and have them stay longer (2 years rather 1 year). When funding is limited, priority should be given to children with more risk factors. The current trend to combine state preschool programs and Head Start should be avoided. Head Start makes unique contributions in enhancing children's outcomes, especially those with many at-risk factors, by providing comprehensive (health, dental, academic, parental intervention, etc.) early intervention programs.