How Does Head Start Compare? Evidence from Three Contemporary Datasets
RaeHyuck Lee, Columbia University
Wen-Jui Han, New York University (NYU)
Fuhua Zhai, Stony Brook University, State University of New York (SUNY)
Head Start was founded at a time when few alternative arrangements existed for low-income children, but that is no longer the case today. Thus, the focus of this paper is to understand how Head Start compares to other types of early education and care. Using data from three contemporary datasets (ECLS-B, ECLS-K, and FFCWS) and propensity score weighted regressions to address selection bias, this study examines a wide set of school readiness outcomes at kindergarten entry for Head Start participants compared to children in parental care, informal care with relatives or non-relatives, other center-based care, or prekindergarten. We find that Head Start is associated with improved reading and math skills compared to parental or informal care, but with reduced reading skills compared to prekindergarten. With regard to behavior, Head Start is associated with worse behavior compared to parental care, but improved behavior and social skills compared to other center-based care.