Early Childhood Education

Even Start

 

The Even Start Family Literacy Program is a U.S. federally funded program serving low-income families with young children, birth through seven years of age. The long-term goal of the Even Start program is to break the cycle of poverty and illiteracy for eligible families by improving children’s academic achievement and parents’ literacy skills. The Even Start Family Literacy program consists of four key components: early childhood education, adult literacy, parenting education, and interactive literacy between parents and children (U.S. Department of Education, 2005). The Even Start Family Literacy Program originally initiated in 1988 as part of the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The program was then reauthorized by the Literacy Involves Families Together Act of 2000 and No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (U.S. Department of Education, 2005).

The purpose of the Even Start program is to promote family self-sufficiency and improve child outcomes for targeted families. Families served by Even Start are typically extremely high need families. Even Start families have lower incomes, lower employment rates, and lower education levels than other families served by U.S. federal antipoverty programs such as Head Start (U.S. Department of Education, 2005). Even Start programs serve English speaking families with low literacy levels as well as low-income families who are learning English as a second language.

Even Start services are provided throughout the United States. Federal grants are awarded to states and states then award local contracts to agencies serving high need children and families. In addition to the provision of state grants, Even Start programs are also operated specifically for Migrant and Native American populations. Even Start programs use a variety of service models including home visits for children and families, center-based early childhood education, and intergenerational parent-child literacy activities. In 2003, over 1,200 local Even Start programs were funded throughout the United States serving over 50,000 families (U.S. Department of Education, 2005).

Several national evaluations have been conducted on the effectiveness of the Even Start program. The most recent evaluation conducted in 2003 suggested that the impact of the program on children’s outcomes was related to the participation rates of families in the Even Start program. However, children’s literacy outcomes of randomly assigned Even Start families were no higher than those in the control group (St. Pierre et al., 2003). And yet, a previous national study and other small-scale studies have found improved literacy outcomes for young children (Ryan, 2005; Tao, Gamse, and Tarr, 1998). Current legislation in the United States requires that Even Start programs use scientifically based literacy practices. See also Literacy; National Even Start Association.

Further Readings: Ryan, A. M. (2005). The effectiveness of the Manchester Even Start Program in improving literacy outcomes for preschool Latino students. Journal of Research in Childhood Education 20(1), 15-26; St. Pierre, R. G., A. E. Ricuitti, F. Tao, C. Creps, J. Swartz, W. Lee, A. Parsad, and T. Rimdzuis (2003). Third national Even Start evaluation: Program impacts and implications for Improvement. Abt Associates; Tao, F., B. Gamse, and H. Tarr (1998). National evaluation of the Even Start Family Literacy Program. 1994-1997 Final report. Alexandria, VA: Fu Associates, Ltd.; U.S. Department of Education (2005). Available online at http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/oese/sasa/esfacts.html.

Rena Hallam