Head Start de­signer Ed­ward Zigler


Ed­ward Zigler, a psy­chol­o­gist and chil­dren’s ad­vo­cate who was a prin­ci­pal ar­chi­tect of the Head Start pro­gram in the 1960s, called for schools to be neigh­bor­hood so­cial ser­vice cen­ters, and ad­vised ev­ery pres­i­dent from John F. Kennedy to Barack Obama, died Feb. 7 at his home in North Haven, Conn. He was 88.

His death was an­nounced by Yale Uni­ver­sity, where he was a long­time pro­fes­sor. The cause was not dis­closed.

Zigler grew up in poverty as the child of im­mi­grants and drew on those ex­pe­ri­ences in de­vel­op­ing ideas for im­prov­ing the lot of chil­dren, par­ents and schools.

He was a ma­jor scholar in the field of child­hood psy­chol­ogy, pub­lish­ing more than 800 pa­pers and dozens of books, and ad­vo­cated the con­cept of the “whole child.” He be­lieved that so­cial de­vel­op­ment was as cru­cial to a child’s well-be­ing as aca­demic achieve­ment and sought to fos­ter that no­tion with pro­grams, the best known be­ing Head Start.

He was among sev­eral so­cial sci­en­tists and pub­lic pol­icy ex­perts, in­clud­ing Bet­tye Cald­well, Robert Cooke and Jule Su­gar­man, who de­signed the frame­work for Head Start, which was launched in 1965 as part of Pres­i­dent Lyn­don B. John­son’s War on Poverty.

It be­gan as a sum­mer pro­gram for preschool chil­dren, and af­ter two years, it was ex­panded to serve fam­i­lies year-round. In 1970, un­der Pres­i­dent Richard M. Nixon, Zigler be­came the first full­time di­rec­tor of the Of­fice of Child De­vel­op­ment, which then ad­min­is­tered the Head Start pro­gram.

“I don’t think we have had the kind of ad­vo­cacy for chil­dren that they de­serve to get,” he said at the time. “I in­tend to be an out­spo­ken ad­vo­cate for chil­dren. We can do bet­ter by our chil­dren than we have been do­ing.”

Work­ing with Rep. John Brade­mas, D-Ind., and Sen. Wal­ter Mon­dale, D-Minn., Zigler helped draft the Child De­vel­op­ment Act of 1971, which was passed by both houses of Con­gress.

The bill, which would have pro­vided child care for work­ing moth­ers and poor fam­i­lies, was ve­toed by Nixon af­ter an out­cry from con­ser­va­tive op­po­nents.

“They didn’t want women to work,” Zigler said in 1989. “They said we were Sovi­etiz­ing Amer­ica’s chil­dren, that chil­dren would be raised in cen­ters rather than by their moth­ers.”

Zigler soon re­signed from the govern­ment and re­turned to Yale, where he taught psy­chol­ogy and di­rected a cen­ter for the study of child­hood de­vel­op­ment.

Head Start also faced sim­i­lar crit­i­cism, was con­demned as a Com­mu­nist plot to take chil­dren away from their fam­i­lies and was for years threat­ened with a loss of fund­ing. Zigler of­ten pointed out that the pro­gram was vol­un­tary and was ad­min­is­tered — with vary­ing de­grees of suc­cess — by lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties.

“In our na­tion to­day chil­dren and fam­i­lies all too of­ten come last, and the so­cial bar­ri­ers to pro­vid­ing a bet­ter qual­ity of life for our na­tion’s chil­dren have be­come al­most in­sur­mount­able,” he wrote in a 1976 New York Times es­say. “Too many Amer­i­cans ei­ther will not or do not want to hear the well-doc­u­mented facts con­cern­ing our na­tion’s mas­sive short­com­ings in re­gard to chil­dren.”

Zigler de­vel­oped per­for­mance stan­dards for mea­sur­ing the ef­fec­tive­ness of Head Start, and in­de­pen­dent stud­ies have gen­er­ally found that the pro­gram has had ben­e­fi­cial ef­fects on chil­dren, mak­ing them more pro­duc­tive in school and less likely to be­come bur­dens on so­ci­ety. More than 35 mil­lion have gone through Head Start pro­grams, which now serves more than 1 mil­lion chil­dren each year.

Ed­ward Frank Zigler was born March 1, 1930, in Kansas City, Mo. His par­ents were Jewish im­mi­grants from East­ern Europe who earned a mea­ger liv­ing sell­ing pro­duce and pluck­ing and sell­ing chick­ens.

By the time he was 8, Zigler was sell­ing fruit and veg­eta­bles from a horse-drawn wagon. His fam­ily re­ceived sup­port from a “set­tle­ment house,” an in­sti­tu­tion once com­mon in cities that helped im­mi­grant fam­i­lies with so­cial and med­i­cal needs, English-lan­guage skills and ac­cul­tur­a­tion into Amer­i­can life.

Years later, Zigler used the set­tle­ment house as a model for Head Start and other pro­grams for chil­dren and fam­i­lies.

“It was pred­i­cated on what he re­mem­bered of how he was treated as a child of im­mi­grants,” Wal­ter Gil­liam, a Yale col­league, said Satur­day in an in­ter­view.

Af­ter mil­i­tary ser­vice dur­ing the Korean War, Zigler grad­u­ated in 1954 from what is now the Uni­ver­sity of Mis­souri at Kansas City. He re­ceived a doc­tor­ate in psy­chol­ogy from the Uni­ver­sity of Texas at Austin in 1958, then joined the Yale fac­ulty a year later.

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