Credit: Lillian Mongeau/EdSource Today

New performance standards proposed for Head Start, the federally funded preschool program for low-income families, would more than double the required minimum program hours that centers must stay open.

The standards would also streamline regulations to “reduce bureaucratic burdens,” support local innovation and require teachers to be trained in the latest research on developing the cognitive and social skills that children need to succeed in school. The proposed standards were released on June 16.

The program serves nearly 1 million low-income children across the country from birth to age 5. About 115,000 California children attend a Head Start program.

“These performance standards are the direction we have been advocating the program needs to go,” said Rick Mockler, executive director of the California Head Start Association. “It’s a major overhaul that is overdue.”

“These performance standards are the direction we have been advocating the program needs to go,” said Rick Mockler, executive director of the California Head Start Association. “It’s a major overhaul that is overdue.”

The most recent revision of the performance standards for the 50-year-old program was done in 1998. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources has been working on the revision for the past eight years. Beginning June 19, the public can comment on the new standards through the Federal Registry. The deadline for posting comments is Aug. 18.

After the comment period, the Administration for Children and Families, which oversees Head Start for the department, will review the comments. That could take a year or longer, Mockler said. Then the final regulations are issued, he said, most likely in the fall of 2016.

Currently, Head Start centers must be open for a minimum of 3-1/2 hours a day for 128 days a year. If the new standards are approved, centers would have to be open for six hours a day, 180 days a year – a typical K-12 school day and year in California. Keeping children in preschool is also a focus of the new standards, which emphasize reducing chronic absenteeism, limiting suspensions and eliminating expulsions.

Under the proposed standards, students would be tracked for attendance, said Giannina Perez, senior director of Early Childhood Policy with the Oakland-based advocacy organization Children Now. If they are an hour late, someone would text or call the parent asking if the child was coming that day. If a child is absent for four days, someone from the program would visit the child’s home. The program would then work with the parents to help them overcome any obstacles that are preventing the child from attending. 

“They are setting the stage early with that focus on attendance, working with parents,” Perez said. “That’s taking a more positive approach on the front end rather than later on when they are missing elementary school.”

The recommendation for longer days is partly based on research studies that indicate that having more time for high-quality interactions between adults and children leads to greater gains in children’s cognitive skills and increased school readiness.

Infants and toddlers, who are in Early Head Start, are already in six-hour programs, Mockler said. Preschool children, ages 3 and 4, in Head Start are often the ones with the shorter days, he said.

However, keeping the centers open for a full school day and year is costly – an estimated $1.1 billion per year. The current Head Start budget is about $9 billion, Mockler said.

“Moving to a full day is huge,” Perez said. “But is there money to pay for it? Or will programs have to cut back?”

If the longer day is approved, programs would have a year to transition to the longer day and year, which would also give Congress time to appropriate the money, Mockler said. If the funds were not approved by Congress, then the programs would have to reduce the number of children they served, he said, similar to what happened during the federal sequester in 2013. But Mockler is hopeful.

“We do know there is bipartisan support for Head Start,” he said. “Even while the House was rejecting the president’s universal preschool initiative, they increased funding to Head Start.”

Besides the longer day, other parts of the standards, such as new curriculum and teacher training, may also have a price tag.

Perez said she is excited about the requirement that Head Start use a curriculum that is based on research about what works best for children, particularly children who are dual language learners. A program’s curriculum “is a tell-tale sign of its quality,” she said.

She also supports the emphasis on individualized professional development, such as coaching, to help teachers improve.

While some expenses may increase, some of the proposed standards are likely to cut costs, Mockler said. He said the new standards reduce regulations by one-third, giving more latitude to local administrators. For example, under current regulations, programs must have a parent council at each of their centers to support parent involvement. Under the proposed standards, the parent council could be a regional body if that worked better locally, he said.

The bottom line, Mockler said, is that “we are accountable based on the data and outcomes of the children more than procedural and administrative tasks.”

 


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  1. Britte Martinez 1 year ago1 year ago

    I'm in Carbon County Utah. Our Head Start went to full days last year and my son attended . With half or full day I think children need to be in separate class rooms depending on age . This way curriculum can be more targeted to that age group. I realize this increases the number of adults needed in the 3yr. old class but, I don't think 3yr. olds should be going full day. This … Read More

    I’m in Carbon County Utah. Our Head Start went to full days last year and my son attended . With half or full day I think children need to be in separate class rooms depending on age . This way curriculum can be more targeted to that age group. I realize this increases the number of adults needed in the 3yr. old class but, I don’t think 3yr. olds should be going full day. This would also decrease the child/adult ratio by splitting the class into morning/afternoon sessions. Also nap time needs to be allowed.

  2. Gary Ravani 1 year ago1 year ago

    Of course there is considerable research to support the idea that what disadvantaged kids, the target demographic for Headstart, need more of an emphasis in non-cognitve skills than cognitive. But, it’s a start with increased time.

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