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The Benefits and Costs of Head Start

  • Jens Ludwig
  • Deborah A. Phillips
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    In this essay we review what is known about Head Start and argue that the program is likely to generate benefits to participants and society as a whole that are large enough to justify the program's costs. Our conclusions differ importantly from those offered in some previous reviews because we use a more appropriate standard to judge the success of Head Start (namely, benefit-cost analysis), draw on new accumulating evidence for Head Start's long-term effects on early cohorts of program participants, and discuss why common interpretations of a recent randomized experimental evaluation of Head Start's short-term impacts may be overly pessimistic. While in principle there could be more beneficial ways of deploying Head Start resources, the benefits of such changes remain uncertain and there is some downside risk.

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    Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 12973.

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    Date of creation: Mar 2007
    Date of revision:
    Publication status: published as Ludwig, Jens and Deborah A. Phillips (2007) “The Benefits and Costs of Head Start.” Society for Research on Child Development, Social Policy Report. Volume XXI, Number 3.
    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:12973
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    1. Eliana Garces & Duncan Thomas & Janet Currie, 2000. "Longer Term Effects of Head Start," NBER Working Papers 8054, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Janet Currie & Duncan Thomas, 1993. "Does Head Start Make a Difference?," NBER Working Papers 4406, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Jonathan Gruber & Botond Koszegi, 2002. "A Theory of Government Regulation of Addictive Bads: Optimal Tax Levels and Tax Incidence for Cigarette Excise Taxation," NBER Working Papers 8777, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Eric I. Knudsen & James J. Heckman & Judy L. Cameron & Jack P. Shonkoff, 2006. "Economic, Neurobiological and Behavioral Perspectives on Building America's Future Workforce," NBER Working Papers 12298, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Jens Ludwig & Douglas L Miller, 2007. "Does Head Start Improve Children's Life Chances? Evidence from a Regression Discontinuity Design," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 122(1), pages 159-208, 02.
    6. Gruber Jonathan H & Mullainathan Sendhil, 2005. "Do Cigarette Taxes Make Smokers Happier," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 5(1), pages 1-45, July.
    7. Alan B. Krueger, 2002. "Economic Considerations and Class Size," NBER Working Papers 8875, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Janet Currie & Matthew Neidell, 2003. "Getting Inside the "Black Box" of Head Start Quality: What Matters and What Doesn't?," NBER Working Papers 10091, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. James Heckman & Pedro Carneiro, 2003. "Human Capital Policy," NBER Working Papers 9495, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    10. Philip J. Cook & Jens Ludwig, 2006. "Aiming for evidence-based gun policy," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 25(3), pages 691-735.
    11. Murnane, Richard J & Willett, John B & Levy, Frank, 1995. "The Growing Importance of Cognitive Skills in Wage Determination," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 77(2), pages 251-66, May.
    12. Card, David, 2001. "Estimating the Return to Schooling: Progress on Some Persistent Econometric Problems," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 69(5), pages 1127-60, September.
    13. Katherine A. Magnuson & Christopher J. Ruhm & Jane Waldfogel, 2004. "Does Prekindergarten Improve School Preparation and Performance?," NBER Working Papers 10452, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    14. William T. Gormley, Jr. & Ted Gayer, 2005. "Promoting School Readiness in Oklahoma: An Evaluation of Tulsa's Pre-K Program," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 40(3).
    15. Clive R Belfield & Milagros Nores & Steve Barnett & Lawrence Schweinhart, 2006. "The High/Scope Perry Preschool Program: Cost–Benefit Analysis Using Data from the Age-40 Followup," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 41(1).
    16. Janet Currie, 2001. "Early Childhood Education Programs," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 15(2), pages 213-238, Spring.
    17. Janet Currie & Duncan Thomas, 1999. "Early Test Scores, Socioeconomic Status and Future Outcomes," NBER Working Papers 6943, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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