Granite State Rumblings – What’s new with Head Start?

Head Start programs are undergoing major requirement revisions for the first time since 1975. Announced on September 1st, the Obama administration’s proposals include expanding Head Start to a full day for everyone, raising professional development and curriculum standards, and beefing up services for children with disabilities or who still need to learn English.

“Today we’re unveiling some of the most significant improvements we’ve ever made to Head Start,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell, who herself attended the early childhood education program as a child in West Virginia. “The new standards strengthen educational practices and are based on the best research about how children learn and develop.”

Head Start, which targets low-income families, enrolls nearly 1 million children every year, and has served more than 33 million children since its inception in 1965. These new standards are the largest revision of the program since 1975 according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

One of the biggest changes included in the overhaul is the requirement that Head Start centers offer childcare for a full day over the course of a full school year, which will be phased in over the next five years. Currently Head Start preschool programs are required to operate at least 128 days a year and offer at least a 3.5 hour day.

A second major focus of the new standards is to solidify the critical role of parents in the program, which has been a long-standing cornerstone of the Head Start program.

The new Head Start Program Performance Standards are effective as of November 7, 2016. However, in order to afford grantees a reasonable period of time to implement certain provisions that have changed significantly from previous standards, the final rule allows programs additional time to comply with some specific provisions.

Here are some of the highlights of the new requirements from the Administration for Children and Families at HHS:

  • Education services which focus on effective teaching practices and key areas of child development, using stronger curriculum requirements and child assessment data, to ensure effective teaching in Head Start, so that children are academically and socially competent.
  • Reduce bureaucratic burden on programs by cutting the current 1,400 Head Start regulatory standards by approximately 30 percent. This will improve regulatory clarity and transparency by eliminating unnecessary and duplicative rules while setting high standards that will drive program performance. This will allow programs to focus on outcomes over process and plans.
  • Over time, programs will serve Head Start preschoolers for a full school day and a full school year, which is based on research and evidence that shows that students who spend more time in high quality early learning programs learn more and are better prepared for kindergarten.
  • Programs will create a system of evidence-based, individualized professional development that builds teacher skills and core competencies which includes the use of targeted intensive mentoring and coaching.
  • Produce higher returns on taxpayer investment. When children start school ready to succeed, they benefit and the entire nation benefits. High quality Head Start programs have demonstrated outcomes that are just as strong as, if not stronger than, the best public pre-k programs in the country. Research has shown that comprehensive services – physical and mental health and family engagement – are critical to promoting children’s school readiness and to reaping the economic return on investment in early childhood.

The release is especially timely, since the findings of two research reports published in August found long-term gains for Head Start graduates. For example, a study from the Hamilton Project says Head Start participation increased the probability that children would later graduate from high school and attend college. What’s more, there was evidence for social-emotional growth in such areas as self-control and self-esteem. You can download the full report from the website for The Hamilton Project, an economic policy initiative of the Brookings Institution.

Did You Know?

In addition to early learning opportunities, Head Start and Early Head Start’s comprehensive early childhood development programs provide children and families with access to a range of services such as health screenings, referrals and follow-up support, parenting resources, and social services. Programs emphasize the importance of parental involvement and staff work to cultivate parents’ abilities as their children’s first teachers.