Accountability comes to Head Start

Head Start, Meet Accountability, writes Sophie Quinton in The Atlantic. After years of debate about Head Start’s value — are there any lasting benefits? — federal lawmakers want proof the program prepares children for kindergarten. For the first time, providers will have to meet quality and effectiveness measures to retain funding.

Many Head Start and state-run prekindergarten programs aren’t high quality, writes Quinton.

National studies of public pre-K programs have found that children spend most of their time playing, eating, and waiting around, and that instructional quality is generally low. A federal impact study, released in 2012, found that while Head Start children experience initial gains in health, language, and reading skills, those gains usually disappear by third grade. House Republicans use that study to argue that Head Start is a failure and not worth the $8.6 billion taxpayers will spend on the program this year.

Head Start providers that perform poorly on federal audits will have to compete for funding against other preschool providers.

“Providers must abide by some 2,400 federal standards that dictate everything from how toilets are cleaned to the size of facilities,” writes Quinton. But few programs have lost funding, no matter how poorly they perform.

In the future Head Start providers will have to set goals for preparing children for kindergarten and show they’re taking steps to achieve them.

. . . Programs(must) meet minimum thresholds on the Classroom Assessment Scoring System, a privately developed tool that assesses how teachers and staff interact with children. CLASS doesn’t measure learning outcomes, per se, but high scores are correlated with better learning.

. . . Monitors use the CLASS tool to rate emotional support, classroom organization, and instructional support. Teachers get high scores for instruction if they seize on teachable moments all day long: asking children questions, responding with more than one-word answers, and introducing new vocabulary words even in casual conversation.

Evaluating preschool quality isn’t easy, reports Education Week. A commonly used preschool evaluation tool doesn’t correlate with better outcomes, according to a study published in the spring 2014 edition of  Education Finance and Quality. The Early Childhood Environmental Rating Scale-Revised, which is used by many states to evaluate quality has little connection to the academic, language, and social functioning of children evaluated at age 5, researchers found.

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  1. Genevieve says:

    I’m not surprised that on average the children spend the majority of their time eating, playing and waiting. When you try and fit two meals and toothbrushing into a three hour class day, its hard to have time for much else.

  2. Roger Sweeny says:

    Here’s a radical thought. Rate preschool programs by how well the CHILDREN do a few years into elementary school.

    And to be fair, make it a value-added score: how much better do they do than similar kids without preschool do?

    If you find they do better, you can then work backwards and see what the preschool did differently. If they don’t do better, you have some evidence that whatever the preschool did didn’t work.

  3. Part of me asks, “Why wasn’t this done a long time ago?”

    The skeptic in me says, “Accountability won’t make a difference, because the true purpose of Head Start essentially is daycare for the poor.” See Joanne’s next piece 😉

    • Don’t forget jobs for the adults and more dues money for the union; both translating into more political power – as does the free daycaare.

    • Just curious Lee how you know what the “true” purpose of Head Start is? Is there a fact you could cite? The majority of Head Start programs enroll children part day, i.e. 4 hours or less. I guess that’s daycare if you work part time……