As we reflect on how U.S. presidents have influenced the course of our national life, their consistent support for serving at-risk children exemplifies the true American spirit.
For more than 45 years, presidents have recognized the value of investing in our most vulnerable children by supporting the Head Start vision. Established by President Johnson in 1965 to tackle the achievement gap among low-income children, Head Start served 560,000 children in its first summer. Johnson said of Head Start’s first success that it was a symbol “of this nation’s commitment to the goal that no American Child shall be condemned to failure by accident of birth.” Since then, Head Start has launched more than 27 million young lives onto a pathway to success and now serves nearly one million children each year.
In past speeches on education, President Barack Obama addressed the importance of quality early education programs in preparing students for successful academic careers. Head Start, the federally-funded preschool program for low-income families, is a big part of that effort with 2,900 individual programs nationwide. But recent movement toward widespread spending cuts has Yasmina Vinci, executive director of the non-profit National Head Start Association, concerned for the program’s future.
On August 22, the Center on Children and Families at Brookings convened a group of experts and practitioners to discuss reforms of early education programs in the United States. A discussion with Dr. Steven Barnett of Rutgers on how preschool programs, including Head Start, should be reformed based on his article “Effectiveness of Early Educational Intervention” that appeared in the August 19 issue of the journal Science. Dr. Barnett’s presentation was followed by an overview of the Obama Administration’s Head Start reform agenda by Yvette Sanchez Fuentes of the Administration for Children and Families. The presentations were followed by brief reactions from Dr. Jerlean Daniel of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, Dr. Jens Ludwig of the University of Chicago and Yasmina Vinci of the National Head Start Association. A panel discussion moderated by Ron Haskins, co-director of the Center on Children & Families, followed.