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Head Start preschool program praised, criticized as it commemorates 50th anniversary
As Head Start commemorates its 50th anniversary, participants and politicians look back on its successful impact on the U.S. and the future they see for the program. - photo by Sarah Mikati
As Head Start commemorates its 50th anniversary this week, the news coverage has been dominated by participants and alumni of the preschool program for low-income families praising its effectiveness and value.

"I love Head Start, Martha Dixson told Red Bluff Daily News. They have had a great impact on our family. They have encouraged me to go back to school. In one year my son, who didnt know how to write his name, can not only write Monty, but Montgomery Dixson.

Monty Dixson, who attends Happy Trails in Tehama County, California, is one of 32 million children who have been provided with Head Starts services since its creation in 1965.

Head Start inspired by President Lyndon B. Johnsons declared War on Poverty is a preschool program that supports emotional, social, health and psychological needs of children from low-income families, according to a press release from the White House.

Head Start provides services that foster childrens growth in social, emotional, cognitive and physical development, and monitor their progress in these areas to ensure that they are well prepared for kindergarten, the release said.

But the program has had plenty of critics over the years, questioning its effectiveness.

Last year, The Atlantic's Sophie Quinton reported that too many Head Start programs are not truly impacting students. According to a 2014 Head Start impact study, slightly over one-fourth of Head Start children are not in classrooms that meet federal standards in resources and interactions. The study also found about three-fourths of Head Start children experience low-quality academic activities.

However, even more concerning to taxpayers than the quality of Head Start classrooms is the lasting impact of the program, which many researchers argue does not extend beyond the second or third grade.

"There is no indication that either high quality Head Start or low quality Head Start in any dimension leads to program impacts lasting into third grade," the impact study said.

On the other hand, others including President Barack Obama argue that preschool is an important foundation to a lifetime of success, and Head Start provides that opportunity that low-income students would not otherwise have. A Stanford University study validated the importance of early education, discovering that achievement gaps begin as early as 18 months and only increase with age, therefore never allowing poor children a chance to catch up in education.

Another study from Harvard found that students in Head Start were less likely to repeat grades and more likely to graduate from high school and attend college.

According to Head Starts website, the programs former students have gone on to become business people, professors, politicians, Grammy-winning musicians and more.

In a presidential proclamation Monday morning, Obama reminded the public of the future he sees for early education programs in the U.S. with his early learning proposals.

This year, I unveiled a plan that would make quality child care available to every middle-class and low-income family with young children under the age of three. I have also called on the Congress to expand access to high-quality preschool and full-day kindergarten for every child in America, he said. The history of Head Start has taught us that if our nation invests in the future of all our children we can strengthen our economy, bolster our communities and give every young person the chance to build a better life.
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