LBJ Library photo by Robert Knudsen

On this day in 1965, President Lyndon Johnson stood in the White House Rose Garden to announce a new program that would change the lives of millions of America's children. At the time, he called it "Project Head Start." 

"I believe that this is one of the most constructive, and one of the most sensible, and also one of the most exciting programs that this nation has ever undertaken," Johnson said of Head Start that morning. 

In the half-century since the announcement, millions of kids, and families, have received services through Head Start. The current annual cost of the program is nearing $10 billion. And yet there's huge disagreement even today about what Head Start has accomplished, or even should accomplish as its mission.

Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

Head Start is one of the most important, and confusing, anti-poverty programs in existence. It serves nearly a million kids a year, at a cost of about $8.5 billion dollars this year to the federal government. It's been in place for a half century. And we have no solid idea if it really works. 

Which is not to say that there isn't research on Head Start. There's a pile of research on Head Start. But the findings of various studies are contradictory. And the biggest, most-widely cited study of Head Start's effectiveness is routinely misinterpreted

One of the problems with assessing Head Start is that Head Start isn't one thing. It's run as a grant program. That means the government sends a check to a local group to operate its own Head Start classrooms. There are rules for how those classrooms should be run – lots of rules – but each Head Start grantee does have flexibility in choosing a curriculum, offering certain services, and in hiring its own teachers (actually, Head Start parents get a big voice in choosing teachers, but that's another thing altogether). 

That creates a challenge for researchers, because there can be wide variation between different Head Start centers around the country. And some Head Start centers seem to provide much bigger benefits to kids than others. 


Today, we have a story about the time one of the most famous television characters in history re-enacted one of the most famous psychology experiments in history.

The character is Cookie Monster. And the experiment, well for Cookie Monster, it was called a game:

Logan Chadde

Over the past few weeks, amongst the holidays and the snowstorms, there has been a surprising amount of news about early education funding in the state.

Most recently, Governor Snyder signaled he's going to ask for more preschool funding in his budget this year. That money would be in addition to the $65 million in funding for preschool the state the legislature approved  last year.  

A "little nudge" from one listener's family to another

Dec 23, 2013

For the next few days we're featuring stories of ordinary listeners who read or heard a story on State of Opportunity and decided to give some of their resources or time as a result. We know many of you have done the same. If you've got a story to share or an idea of how people could help let us know here. If you need ideas of what you could do, check out the resources page. We'll update it with  listener suggestions as they come in.  

When Jennifer Guerra spoke with the Hood family of Hillsdale, MI, their oldest child Emma was enrolled in preschool. But, the family was having trouble finding a spot for two-year-old Gracie in Early Head Start.

There was a lot riding on Gracie being able to start school: her mom, Amanda, was ready to finish school and bring much needed income into the family. Amanda was frustrated, "It just annoys me that we want to do something with our lives and we want to better ourselves and we want to get ahead, but we don’t have a way to."

One listener's family, who asked to remain anonymous, felt compelled to help. The family contacted Jennifer and, through her, made contact with Amanda Hood to help pay for Gracie's preschool.

Head Start teachers are not federal employees, but Head Start is funded by the federal government. The Department of Health and Human Services pays for thousands of Head Start programs around the country by awarding thousands of grants. Most of the programs that depend on these grants will be fine during the shutdown; their funding is already in place for the year. But in 23 programs across 11 states, the funding is not in place. It was supposed to come through on Oct. 1st, the day the government shut down. NPR's Audie Cornish talked to the director of one of those 23 programs to find out how families have been affected.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Four-year-olds across Michigan are settling into their pre-school routine, with many programs starting up this week.

Some 16,000 of these kids might not have been able to find spots in a high-quality program if it weren’t for a major expansion, paid for by taxpayers.

At Golightly Education Center in Detroit, Principal Sherrell Hobbs, dressed in an ivory suit and matching four-inch high heels, was on her hands and knees, taping a “red carpet” to the tile floor.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

  Extra! Extra! High-quality preschool makes a difference. Actually, that's hardly breaking news. Study after study after study that has shown the benefits of high-quality preK, particularly for disadvantaged students. 

brina.head / Flickr CC / HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

The Washington Post is convening three governors (NM, DE, MS) and several State School Superintendents to talk  this morning about third grade reading scores. That indicator may get more attention in Michigan now that there is a plan for expanding early education.

High quality preschool is linked to better third grade reading scores. And third grade scores are very accurate predictors of high school graduation.

Now that the state budget seems to insure that more kids in Michigan will have access to high quality preschool, the state will need to focus on third grade outcomes to judge, in part, its investment. 

The Annie E. Casey Foundation, of Kids Count fame, is funding the panel as part of what is being called the Campaign for Third Grade Reading. The foundation also put out a special Kids Count data book on third grade reading scores.

All across the country, it's not pretty. A full 68 % of kids in fourth grade are below reading level nationwide. Michigan has 70% falling behind by fourth grade.

Hear what policy makers need to know about funding pre-k

May 29, 2013

The Mackinac Policy Conference started yesterday. With the statehouse passing a $65 million increase for early education funding, that means about 16,000 new pre-school places for kids in Michigan. What do policy makers need to know about providing high quality early education? State of Opportunity was asked to contribute a summary of our reporting. You can listen to it here.