Educational achievement as evidenced by graduation rates, test scores, and educational attainment is one area in which disparities emerge early in life for minority populations in the US; they are observed by the time children enter kindergarten and are related to gaps in both cognitive and academic as well as social and emotional skills at school entry.
The American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) population in the US is among the most heavily impacted by disparities in health, health care, and social and economic indicators. For AI/AN children high rates of poverty, trauma and violence, morbidity and mortality, and inadequate health services present difficult obstacles to overcome in development.
As one of the leading efforts to address these early gaps, Head Start (HS) programs seek to meet the educational, social, emotional, and health needs of low-income preschool children through education and early childhood development, medical, dental and mental health services, and parent involvement. Research has shown that early child intervention can make a difference in the lives of children, in both the short- and longer-term, and results from the Head Start Impact Study, the Family and Child Experiences Study, and the National Evaluation of Early Head Start have pointed to the ways in which existing HS services can make a difference and might be further improved to make even more significant changes. Unfortunately, however, none of these studies have spoken to the experiences of AI/AN children, families, and programs, which is even more significant given that HS represents a particularly important type of early childhood intervention in tribal communities, serving AI/AN children across the country who make up 3.1% of all children served by HS programs.