Despite increasing demands for evidence-based early childhood services, the evaluations of interventions such as Head Start or home-visiting programs frequently contribute more heat than light to the policy-making process. This dilemma is illustrated by the intense debate that often ensues among dueling experts who reach different conclusions from the same data about whether a program is effective or whether its impacts are large enough to warrant a significant investment of public and/or private funds.
Because the interpretation of program evaluation research is so often highly politicized, it is essential that policymakers and civic leaders have the independent knowledge needed to be able to evaluate the quality and relevance of the evidence provided in reports. This guide helps prepare decision-makers to be better consumers of evaluation information. It is organized around five key questions that address both the substance and the practical utility of rigorous evaluation research. The principles we discuss are relevant and applicable to the evaluation of programs for individuals of any age, but in our examples and discussion we focus specifically on early childhood.