Almost two decades after the program’s inception, research shows that Oklahoma is reaping the benefits of its Head Start programs.
The Head Start program was implemented federally by the US Department of Health and Human Services to provide accessible preschool education to low-income families and has since expanded to meet the needs of a growing number of families. The program is funded by the U.S. federal government, but implemented through states and local communities.
In 1998, Tulsa adopted a locally and federally funded Head Start program. This program integrates a variety of approaches in order to provide better early childhood care to low-income families, offering low-cost nutritional awareness, medical assistance, disability services and preschool education. It is funded and run by the nonprofit Community Action Project (CAP) Tulsa. Educare, an offshoot of CAP Tulsa’s programs, began an Early Head Start program in 2006, serving children from birth to five years old.
Because Oklahoma was the second state to adopt federal monies for such a program, Tulsa’s various Head Start programs have been closely studied by researchers across the nation. Tulsa’s programs also have some of the highest standards, ranging from high teacher pay to high employee starter qualifications. A combination of state and federal funds as well as local nonprofit investment in Oklahoma allows Tulsa programs to establish these higher standards and make it of further interest to researchers.
In August, Georgetown University professor Deborah Phillips published a decade’s worth of research on Tulsa’s largest-reaching Head Start program.
Phillips’ findings exhibited that children who had been through the program had clear benefits in their middle school years. Tulsa Public School students who had attended a Head Start program for early-education were more likely to attend school regularly and score higher on state tests. White and Hispanic students were more likely to score well on math tests. Overall, Phillips concluded that the program “produced significant positive effects” for middle schoolers.
“These programs are about helping children get ready for school, family engagement and breaking the intergenerational poverty cycle.” says Educare’s Chief Program Officer, Vicki Wolfe. “[Closing] the achievement gap for children that are entering kindergarten” is the ultimate goal. “Research shows that children who come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds don’t always come to school ready.”
Utilizing early childhood education programs in Tulsa allows a more comprehensive approach to education. “We look at the whole of the child, not just the child themselves; we see the child as a bigger entity within a family and a community.”
Thus, Tulsa Head Start programs attempt to engage not only the children themselves in the learning process, but also their parents through job skill matching and educating and enabling them on how to be “advocates for their child’s education.”
Tulsa’s programs have flourished also because they have unusually high performance standards. “We have teachers with at least Bachelor’s degrees in all classrooms.” Furthermore, Wolfe explains that their degrees “must be in early childhood education or an education-related field.”
Research from the National Assessment of Educational Progress shows that teacher qualification through secondary degrees is the strongest correlate for student achievement in the classroom and beyond. Yet the National Center for Education Statistics found that only about half of educators have a secondary degree in education.
Tulsa’s continuing dedication and high programmatic standards for early childhood education programs allows them to serve more families more effectively.
“People certainly don’t go into education to get rich, it’s about a servant mentality and really wanting to have an impact on someone’s life to make things better for whoever you come into contact with,” Wolfe concludes.
In a time when education always seems to be on the chopping-block for Oklahoma state funding, studies like these prove that programs and Oklahomans that value education really are providing an investment with a return.