The big randomized Head Start Impact Study that the federal government released earlier this year may be good news or bad news, depending on your point of view. The one thing it was not, to many: news at all.
In January the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released the study, which found that the previously documented edge Head Start children had in kindergarten readiness largely disappeared by the end of first grade. (Maybe it should have been called a Kindergarten Impact Study?) Head Start supporters may take the results as proof that public kindergarten is so inferior to the quality of Head Start that it dilutes its effects; opponents likely interpret the news as proof that the program wastes money.
Whatever your take, chances are you did not even hear about the study if you don’t pay close attention to preschool issues. Every researcher I asked about it said it seemed a sound piece of work, if not the best-designed Head Start study ever. The report was addressed online, for example by Lisa Guernsey at New America Foundation, and Steve Barnett at NIEER. But the only journalism Nexis turns up is a brief by Mary Ann Zehr in Education Week and an article by Dan Berrett of the Pocono Record.
Surely at the Heritage Foundation event on this topic next week, conspiracy-theory suspicions will be aired about why the study got so little coverage. I do not suspect nefarious motives. Rather, I would say from experience that getting reporters to cover preschool is always a challenge. I wish I knew why. Journalism is already skewed to the older end of the student population, and most reporters see themselves as covering local school systems that, logistically, don’t assume responsibility for most preschool programs. But why did even national reporters not write about the study? Was it simply not well-publicized? Not, in their mind, news?
I would love to hear from journalists, privately or here, explaining why they don’t write much about preschool and why they did not write about this report specifically. Because absent sound explanations, I am sure Heritage will come up with some of their own.