Policy Documents

Where Do Head Start Attendees End Up? One Reason Why Preschool Effects Fade Out

Valerie E Lee and Susanna Loeb –
May 5, 1995

This study investigates the relationship between preschool experience and the quality of schools subsequently attended as young adolescents. In particular, we differentiate the characteristics of middle-grade schools attended by eighth graders who earlier experienced Head Start, other preschool programs, or did not attend preschool. School quality is defined in terms of social composition, academic rigor, safety, and social relations. After accounting for family background and demographics, we find that former Head Start attendees are educated in middle-grade schools of significantly lower quality than their counterparts who did not attend preschool, and particularly compared to peers who attended other preschools. No matter how beneficial Head Start was initially for its young participants, such benefits are structurally undermined if students are subsequently exposed to schooling of systematically lower quality. The low quality of middle-grade schools attended by former Head Start participants explains, in part, why Head Start effects fade over time.