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Letters to the Editor – Weekly Issue of September 19, 2011

Readers write in to defend Head Start as a good use of federal funds and to praise the 'People Making a Difference' profile of a public servant.

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In defense of Head Start

In his commentary "Are federal social programs working? No one knows." in the Aug. 15 & 22 issue, David Muhlhausen is correct to call for the federal government to conduct large-scale, multisite, experimental evaluations to ensure that social programs are benefiting the community. Where Mr. Muhlhausen goes wrong is in citing Head Start as a program that is not working and using the flawed 2010 Head Start Impact Study to make his case.

Long-term studies of Head Start reach a clear conclusion: It delivers children who are ready for school and who grow into successful adults. Head Start students graduate from high school, go to college, and get jobs at higher rates than their at-risk peers who do not experience early childhood education. Head Start graduates are also more likely to engage in healthy behaviors and less likely to commit crimes.

The cognitive test scores on which Muhlhausen's critique is focused represent less than half the equation for future success. As Nobel laureate economist James Heckman has demonstrated, social-emotional skills learned in the earliest years are more predictive of educational and employment outcomes. These "executive function" skills don't fade out and they allow children to be successful not only as third-graders and 11th-graders, but also as em-ployees and citizens. By design, these are the skills, along with learning their ABCs and 123s, that Head Start provides children.

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