The purpose of this essay is to offer a concise description of the Head Start program, discuss the historical background of the policy, and analyze the economic and political forces that have influenced the development of the program. The essay also seeks to evaluate both the manifest and latent functions of the policy, consider the current debate around Head Start, describe the ideologies and values that have framed the debate around Head Start, and offer recommendations regarding the program.
Head Start Program
Overview of the Policy
The Head Start Program, typically referred to solely as Head Start, is offered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The program was inaugurated in 1964 as a means of preparing children from low-income families to enter kindergarten with a higher level of preparation (Gillette, 2010). Head Start is funded through the Head Start Act of 1981, which was reauthorized in 2007. Head Start has a budget of over $7 billion and has its own teachers and aides (Banner, 2011).
In fiscal year 2009, the latest year for which data is available from the Administration for Children and Families (2010), the home to the Office of Head Start within the Department of Health and Human Services had an enrollment of 904,153, of which 3% were five-year-olds or older, 51% were four-year-olds, 46% were three-year-olds, and 10% were under three years of age. Children three and under are part of what is known as Early Head Start, an extension of the program that serves the youngest children. The Administration for Children and Families further disclosed that, in fiscal year 2010, 39.9% of children enrolled in Head Start were white, 30% were African-American or Black, and 35.9% were Latino. The sum of these three categories is over 100% because enrollees can specify more than one race. There are 49,200 Head Start classrooms, 212,000 paid Head Start staff, and 1,274,000 volunteers throughout the United States (Administration for Children and Families, 2010). The average cost per child per year is $7,600 (Administration for Children and Families, 2010).
According to the Administration for Children and Families (2010), “Head Start is a national program that promotes school readiness by enhancing the social and cognitive development of children through the provision of educational, health, nutritional, social and other services to enrolled children and families” (para. 3). Based on this mission subject, it is possible to subject Head Start to a program evaluation based on the following questions: (a) Is Head Start provisioning educational, health, nutritional, social and other services to enrolled children and families? (b) Is the provisioning of educational, health, nutritional, social and other services leading to an enhancement of the social and cognitive development of children? (c) Is the social and cognitive development of children a social good for which taxpayers should pay $7 billion a year? These questions will...