Head Start policy

How important is it?

Synthesis of experts' texts - Published online February 8, 2008

Head Start is an American preschool program for disadvantaged children. Established in 1965, this federally funded program is now the largest educational provider in the United States for preschoolers living in poverty, with some 900,000 three- and four-year-olds enrolled in 2005-2006.

The initial goal of the program was to bring poor children up to the level of more advantaged children by the time they reached school entry. Because the designers of Head Start recognized that young children living in poverty need much more than preschool education to prepare for elementary school, the program takes a comprehensive approach, offering a mix of educational, social, nutritional and health services to three- to five-year-olds and their low-income families. More specifically, these services include early childhood education, medical screenings, nutritious meals and parent training.

A companion initiative called Early Head Start offers services to over 60,000 children under age three. This program was created in 1994.


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