Study: Tulsa's Head Start Program Shows Measurable Results

Wednesday, October 12th 2016, 4:38 pm
By: News On 6

Tanner Jordan loves baseball, his dream is to play in the Big Leagues. He enjoys his English classes here at Memorial High School.
Math comes easy to him. 

Today, he's prepping for an Earth Sciences test. Such is the life of a 16-year old sophomore at Memorial High School. And when you're 16, you're looking forward, not back. So those carefree days of 2004, when Tanner was 4 years old, in a Head Start classroom at the Disney Early Childhood Center, are a distant memory.

"I mean all we did was play, listen to the teacher talk and sleep and go outside," he said.

But what seemed like days filled with play and sleep were actually the foundation for more successful school careers for a great many Tulsa kids like Tanner.

That's the finding of a trio of professors whose research has just been published by Georgetown University.

Do the Positive Effects of Tulsa’s Head Start Program Persist Through Middle School?

Tracking students who first enrolled in 2004 in Head Start programs run by Tulsa's Community Action Project, and comparing them to classmates who didn't attend an early-childhood program, the research shows the CAP children scored significantly higher on state math achievement tests in middle school, were much less likely to repeat a grade and were much less likely to be chronically absent.

"Because the children are starting off school better prepared, they have a better experience," said Steven Dow, the director of the Community Action Project. He's heartened by this latest round of research.

"That we're seeing long-term benefits to Tulsa children as a result of the very smart investment that taxpayers have decided to support during the early years," Dow said.

But what remains a challenging puzzle to Dow and others in the field is that other measurements of early childhood gains disappear by middle school, and most troubling, African-American students and boys of all ethnicities who attended CAP Head Start saw no long-term gains at all.

Because he's a boy, that would seem to cover Tanner. But don't try telling his mother that.

"He knew the ABC's, his colors and counting and all that before he needed to," said Tina Jordan, Tanner's mother.

She credits CAP Head Start with giving Tanner the boost that has him breezing through high school AP courses today, and she shudders to think of where his school career would have been without it.

"'Cause he would be home by himself with me or he'd go to my sister's and play with her baby and he just needed the structured life, the school life."

Spreading the gains of Pre-K education to more children of varying races and family incomes remains the on-going role of these CAP classrooms.

They are living laboratories that at once can inspire, and just as easily frustrate, in the long and often lonely slog of improving lives.

"One of the challenges that we face when we're the national leader is that there aren't a whole lot of other places we can learn from," said Steve Dow.