This study provides the first comprehensive analysis of the distributional effects of Head Start, using the first national randomized experiment of the Head Start program (the Head Start Impact Study).
The authors find that (the experimentally manipulated) Head Start attendance leads to large and statistically significant gains in cognitive achievement during the pre-school period and that the gains are largest at the bottom of the distribution. Once the children enter elementary school, the cognitive gains fade out for the full population, but importantly, cognitive gains persist through 1st grade for some Spanish speakers. These results provide strong evidence in favor of a compensatory model of the educational process. Additionally, the findings of large effects at the bottom are consistent with an interpretation that the relatively large gains in the well-studied Perry Preschool Program are in part due to the low baseline skills in the Perry study population.