Have you ever driven through an inner city neighborhood? If so, the images left on your mind were probably those of dilapidated houses, trash-littered sidewalks, and gang-filled bus stops. In all likelihood, those startling images caused you to miss a major indicator of poverty: a small, red stop sign hung in the front window of many houses. The message that these innocuous signs declare is that a member of the household is enrolled in “Head Start.”
Head Start was inaugurated in 1965 as a federal program to provide disadvantaged children with a variety of health and educational services that they otherwise might not have access to. Although Head Start is primarily viewed as a preschool program which prepares children for kindergarten, it also seeks to provide disadvantaged families with tips on nutrition, health care, and parenting skills.
While many agree that the goals of Head Start are admirable, many also question the government’s role and abilities in handling the matter. Recent research shows that Head Start provides little, if any, help in giving disadvantaged children a boost in their education. This fact causes conservatives to bemoan the wasteful use of taxpayer money and suggest that preschool for disadvantaged children would be better off in the hands of the private sector. Liberals, on the other hand, valiantly defend Head Start through personal anecdotes, believing that the government’s involvement in rescuing the poor from their poverty is a worthwhile cause.
In light of these issues, this library section presents a history, research, and information on the Head Start program. Knowing these facts will hopefully give you a "head start" on the debate over the government’s role in preschool education.