Tag Archives: Head Start

The New Head Start Performance Standards are 621 Pages Long — Here’s What You Need to Know

Last week, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released the final version of new Head Start Performance Standards, the rules that govern the operation of Head Start programs. The final standards are in many ways similar to draft standards issued last June, but they also incorporate key changes in response to over 1,000 comments that the Department received from stakeholders.

Here are the key things you need to know: Continue reading

Three More Ways to Address Silicon Valley’s Preschool Problem

Silicon Valley has a preschool problem. According to reports released this morning from the Urban Institute, low-income children in the region, particularly children of immigrants, are far less likely to enroll in high-quality preschool programs than their higher income peers. In San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, only 26 percent of low-income 3-year-olds and 61 percent of low-income 4-year-olds attend preschool, compared to, respectively, 52 percent and 74 percent of higher income children of the same age.

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Given the extensive research on the positive effects of high-quality early education on low-income and low-income immigrant children, the low enrollment in Silicon Valley is concerning. Through interviews with dozens of stakeholders, the reports’ authors examine the barriers to preschool enrollment, and parse out the barriers that affect all low-income families, and those that are unique to low-income immigrant families. The authors then make recommendations for addressing each barrier.

The research is comprehensive, and the recommendations are solid. But I’m proposing three more ways to to increase low-income immigrant families’ preschool enrollment. Continue reading

Don’t Ask if Head Start “Works” – That’s Not the Right Question

Head Start is an $8.5 billion federal program, which means everyone loves asking if it “works.” But that’s a useless question.

We know Head Start produces positive outcomes. There’s a substantial body of evidence showing that Head Start improves children’s learning at school entry. Other research shows that Head Start children are more likely to graduate high school and have better adult outcomes than children who did not. And a growing body of research shows that high-quality preschool programs can produce long-lasting gains in children’s school and life outcomes.

But critics of Head Start cite the same studies I just did to make the opposite argument. They have valid points. Not every Head Start program is high quality, for example, so some programs don’t produce these positive gains for students. And the Head Start Impact Study showed that Head Start’s positive effect on test scores fades as children enter the elementary grades.

Both critics and proponents of Head Start are right – which is why the “Does it work?” question is so useless. We already know the answer, and it’s not a clean yes or no. Taken all together, the available evidence shows that Head Start is a valuable program that can get better. Given, instead of asking if Head Start works, we should be asking a better question: How can policymakers and practitioners make Head Start better for children and families?

That’s the question Sara Mead and I – along with Results for America, the Volcker Alliance, and the National Head Start Association – try to answer in our new report, Moneyball for Head Start. We worked with these organizations to develop a vision for improving Head Start outcomes through data, evidence, and evaluation.

Specifically, we call on local grantees, federal policymakers, the research community, and the philanthropic sector to reimagine Head Start’s continuous improvement efforts.

Local grantees: All Head Start grantees need systems of data collection and analysis that support data-informed, evidence-based continuous improvement, leading to better results for children and families.

Federal oversight: The Office of Head Start (OHS), within the Administration for Children and Families of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, needs a stronger accountability and performance measurement system. This would allows federal officials to identify and disseminate effective practices of high-performing grantees, identify and intervene in low-performing grantees, and support continuous improvement across Head Start as a whole.

Research and evaluation: Federal policymakers and the philanthropic sector need to support research that builds the knowledge base of what works in Head Start and informs changes in program design and policies. This will require increasing funding for Head Start research, demonstration, and evaluation from less than 0.25 percent of total federal appropriations to 1 percent, and those funds should focus on research that builds knowledge to help grantees improve their quality and outcomes.

Philanthropy and the private sector: The philanthropic sector, universities and other research institutions, and the private sector should help build grantee capacity and support the development, evaluation, and dissemination of promising practices.

Fully realizing this vision will require a multi-year commitment. There are steps, however, that Congress and the administration can take to make progress towards these goals. In the paper, we propose several recommendations for federal policy. Taken together, these actions can support Head Start grantees in using data, evidence, and evaluation to improve results for children and families.

In Some States, Pre-K Providers That Have the Money, Keep the Money, and That’s a Problem

Charter schools should offer pre-k. Sometimes they can, and sometimes they can’t. One reason they can’t: Policies in ten states privilege existing pre-k providers. When these states allocate pre-k funding, they allocate funding first to providers that are currently serving children, leaving little — if any — funding for charter schools that aren’t existing providers, which many aren’t. So the providers that have the money, keep the money. Continue reading

New Proposed Head Start Performance Standards Released Today

Today the Department of Health and Human Standards released a notice of proposed rulemaking for revised Head Start Performance Standards. This may seem bureaucratic and wonky, but it’s a big deal. The performance standards are the regulations that govern the operation of Head Start programs–from governance, educational programming, to comprehensive and family services, to finances–and they haven’t been revised since 1998.

Because the standards are exceptionally comprehensive (the existing standards, which the proposed new ones seek to replace, include 1400 distinct provisions, and the NPRM document runs to more than 400 pages, including both the proposed new standards and a narrative explanation of the changes), I haven’t had a chance to fully review them yet, but here are a few quick highlights and takeaways:

Dosage matters: The big news item in the new proposed performance standards is an increase in the minimum required hours for Head Start programs. Currently, Head Start preschool programs are required to operate at least 128 days a year and offer at least a 3.5 hour day. Under the new proposed standards, that minimum would rise to 6 hours  of programming 180 days a year (a full school-day and school-year)–more than double the minimum number of hours of Head Start programming that most preschool-aged kids would receive. Currently, only 43% of Head Start preschool programs offer at least this much service to children. Under the proposed standards, grantees would still have the ability to propose a “locally-designed program option variation,” which could include partial day programs if that would best meet the needs of their community, but these options would require approval by an HHS official at least once every two years. This is important because one clear takeaway from the research on both Head Start and other early childhood programs is that dosage matters. Shockingly, kids who spend more time in preschool programs learn more. And dosage is particularly important for the most at risk kids who start out further behind (and are less likely to get great support for learning in the time they’re not in Head Start or preschool). Shifting resources from lower-dosage to higher-dosage Head Start program options is a research-based choice that also reflects the realities of today’s working families. Other provisions in the new standards–such as an increased focus on tracking attendance and intervening when children are chronically absent–would also work to increase dosage. But while these policies are a good idea, they raise a lot of questions: Since most Head Start preschool programs don’t currently meet the new requirements, transitioning to them would be complicated and take time. Offering longer days and years also costs more–which means Head Start will either need more funding or to serve fewer kids. (The Obama administration’s FY2016 budget proposal included increased resources to expand the Head Start day, but those proposals have not been enacted by Congress.

Curriculum matters: As I and others have written, curriculum is a major weakness in many early childhood programs today, and the current Head Start performance standards may encourage programs to use broad, developmental curricula without the depth of content or structured supports for teachers to promote learning goals for young children. The proposed performance standards include significant changes to requirements for Head Start curricula, including a requirement that curricula be based on scientifically valid research, include an organized scope and sequence that is sufficiently content-rich to promote measurable progress towards development goals in the Head Start early learning framework, and that programs provide professional development, support for staff to effectively implement the program, and ongoing monitoring of how staff implement the curriculum.  The proposed revisions also explicitly mention additional curricular enhancements to existing commonly used developmental curricula. I’ll have more to say about these requirements–what they accomplish and what they don’t–in the coming days and weeks, but for now let’s just say they’re very different from the language about curriculum in the current performance standards. Continue reading