Two heavy hitters in public policy used an op-ed in The Washington Post today to applaud the proposed changes to the grant system behind Head Start. The writers -- Ron Haskins, a senior fellow at and co-director of the Brookings Institution's Center on Children and Families, and W. Steven Barnett, co-director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University -- are known in early childhood circles for pressing hard for better quality in Head Start programs. In today's piece, they sound surprised and pleased with the new direction Head Start might take.
For almost half a century, Head Start has led a charmed existence. Through Republican and Democratic administrations, through numerous federal budget crises that led to cuts in many programs, and despite growing indications that too many of its local programs were failing, Head Start has never been subjected to the kind of scrutiny that the Obama evaluation promises. Now it seems likely that within a few years, the worst Head Start programs will be shut down, replaced by energetic programs built on the realization that they must perform or lose their funding.
The comment period for the "recompetition" proposal (which Early Ed Watch also commends and explains here) is now in full swing. As the depth of this reform sinks in, here are a few more questions for consideration:
- Under the proposed system, Head Start teachers would be scored on a scale of 1 to 7 for the quality of their interactions with children. Head Start programs are already using this scoring system, which is based on evaluations of observed behavior in the classroom, to provide professional development to teachers so that they can improve. Can we assume that the proposed changes would require the continuation of such programs of professional development? And in what other ways can we support teacher growth?
- Given that Head Start grantees must already provide documentation for hundreds of regulations, how will this new Designation Renewal System, as it is called, add to the load? Is there a way to streamline reporting and documentation to avoid more paperwork burdens?
- The proposal writers say they are considering whether to make data on quality more accessible to parents so they have the opportunity to see how their local Head Start program rates. If done responsibly, this could be a win for parents. But what would they be comparing this data to, exactly? Without similarly accessible information on the quality of other local options available to impoverished families, parents may still remain in the dark.
We'd love to hear your thoughts. What is your take on the re-competition proposal?
CORRECTION made on 10/19/10: W. Steven Barnett is co-director -- not director -- of the National Institute for Early Education Research. He shares the job with fellow co-director Ellen Frede.