Head Start & ECE Research

As the nation’s longest running, most successful school readiness program, Head Start has been studied extensively throughout it’s history.  In general, the research consistently shows Head Start programs produce measurable, significant long term outcomes for children and families. Numerous studies have documented the program’s positive impact on children’s long term success by improving school readiness, academic achievement, health, and overall family stability.


If you have questions about Head Start research contact Blair Hyatt at the PHSA Office.  In the interest of simplicity we are listing the two primary resource sites on Head Start research and only highlighting one recent significant local research report on this page.


Head Start Research Websites

ACF Office of Planning, Research
& Evaluation (OPRE):

OPRE is the ACF Office that conducts research and policy analyses, and develops and oversees research and evaluation projects to assess program performance and inform policy and practice.  This website is a clearing house of current and past Head Start and EHS research.

A Significant Pennsylvania
Head Start Research Project

The Harrisburg Preschool Program Evaluation

The Harrisburg Preschool Program Evaluation report presents a longitudinal study that tracked students who participated in a preschool program which is a collaboration between the Harrisburg School District and Head Start. Students who began the program during 2002 and 2003 at the ages of 3 and 4 has been tracked through 4th grade and the older cohort through 5th grade. The researchers examined both the impact of the program in general, the relative impact from one or two years of service, the social-emotional impact of the program, and parents’ perceptions regarding the effects of the program. The major finding is impressive: “In 5th grade children who participated in the HPP program had higher mean scores than those without exposure to the program on all academic and executive function outcomes.” Among the students old enough to have taken the PA state tests for 5th graders, 35% scored proficient or advanced at reading, compared to 19% of the children who did not attend HPP, and 22% scored proficient or advanced at math, compared to 8% of the control group. Social-emotional benefits were smaller but present, and students who had had two years of preschool reported feeling more connected to school and teachers and communicating better with their parents.

The conclusions of this report are that the benefits of early childhood education do not wash out or fade out, and that there are significant benefits to having two years of Head Start instead of one. The authors are clear that both of these conclusions should be considered in any policy decision made about early childhood programs. Find information on how to read the full report here.