Head Start

Program basics

  • Federally funded preschool program serving predominantly low-income families
  • Local implementation allows for flexibility in service design, leading to a wide variety of program models
  • Services generally include education, health, nutrition, family engagement, and social services

Strength of evidence

Evidence level: Strong (second-highest tier)

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Strong (second-highest tier)

Ranked as having the second-highest level of evidence by the U.S. Department of Education What Works Clearinghouse


Target population

Preschool-aged children

Program cost

Federally funded with 20 percent local match

Implementation locations

  • Nationwide

Dates active

1965-present

Outcomes and impact

  • Positive effects on reading achievement
  • Reading improved by an average of 13 percentile points

Keys to successful implementation

  • Note: This section is under review
  • Define developmental goals and structure programming to help children develop age-appropriate skills
  • Use classroom and teacher evaluations to maintain accountability and plan staff training
  • Engage in a cyclical planning process built around Head Start’s five-year grant application, using program and community data to inform long and short term goals
  • Implement learning assessment and observation data practices to produce and track children’s progress
  • Collect program-level metrics, such as staff turnover, student participation, and student attendance rates
  • Plan career advancement and training for educators. Regular teacher surveys can facilitate this
  • Partner with community groups to provide a continuum of services for children and parents

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