The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will begin this month to implement changes to Head Start announced by President Obama. Over the next three years, HHS will review Head Start programs, and those that fail to meet quality benchmarks will have to compete for continued funding. All Head Start grants will be converted to five-year grants, with performance evaluated every five years to determine if the program must compete for continued funding.
“The new benchmarks mandate that any low-performing Head Start grantee will have to compete for funding if they have deficiencies discovered in their onsite review, fail to establish and use school-readiness goals for children, or demonstrate low performance in the classroom quality evaluation. In addition, grantees will also be required to compete for federal funding if their state and local licensing has been revoked, a Head Start grant has been suspended or if fiscal or management issues prevent them from properly manage federal funds,” the administration’s news release states.
The rules change “introduces in principle a healthy dose of accountability into the Head Start system,” William Gormley, co-director of Georgetown University’s Center for Research on Children in the United States, tells the Huffington Post. “Head Start has the potential to move disadvantaged children in a positive direction. It can’t inoculate them from challenges they face in the inner city and elsewhere, but it can point them in the right direction. Our public schools build on the success of the Head Start program.”
Writing on the Early Ed Watch blog, Maggie Severns of the New America Foundation’s Early Education Initiative describes the changes.
“The new funding system, called a designated renewal system, introduces a measure of accountability that Head Start has never seen,” Severns writes. “Head Start will use the Classroom Assessment and Scoring System, an observation tool that evaluates programs and teachers based on research-based observations of classrooms by a trained professional, to monitor the quality of Head Start classrooms. Programs with scores in the bottom 10 percent of any of the three CLASS ‘domains’ of quality (emotional climate, classroom organization and instructional support) will no longer be guaranteed a federal grant. In the jargon of federal early childhood policy, they will have to ‘re-compete’ for that grant.”
Severns’ colleague Lisa Guernsey tells the Huffington Post seeing the effects of the change will take time.
“For centers that are not holding up their end of the bargain, those centers will now be held accountable and will either need to quickly ramp up their quality or will find that others in this jurisdiction will take over their grants,” Guernsey says. “But it’s not something you’re going to see overnight.”