Will FY2016 be the year for children? Or déjà vu?

February 4, 2015

In January’s State of the Union address, President Obama highlighted several initiatives meant to simplify child care for America families. The White House’s budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2016, released on Monday, provides further insight into the costs and details of these programs as well as additional areas of focus within the early childhood world.

FY2016 budget table

Early childhood education is often referred to as a “patchwork” system in reference to the number of public and private stakeholders–with varying program requirements and goals–who are involved, and the federal budget is no exception. Several departments have larger programs that operate projects in early childhood education. The Department of Education oversees Special Education Preschool Grants and houses the current Preschool Development Grants program, as well as the President’s proposed Preschool for All program. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) also collaborates on the Preschool Development Grants program. HHS oversees Head Start, child care, and the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV). The President has also proposed expanding the current tax benefits for families paying for child care–a complex change to tax policy which would not be covered by either department as it is not itself a program.

Much of what the White House is proposing in this budget has been seen before. The Preschool for All program is similar to the version proposed in the FY 2014 budget, and the Preschool Development Grants seek to distribute funds to more states than those already awarded grants in FY 2015. A review of budget documents from the Education and HHS departments does reveal some suggested changes:

  • Special Education Preschool Grants would include appropriations language that would allow LEAs to expand the age range of eligible children to include children ages 3 through 5, as well as requesting a waiver of some reporting requirements for LEAs that exercise this flexibility.
  • Head Start requested an additional $1.1 billion to expand service to full-day and school-year calendars. There is also $150 million for Early Head Start and EHS-Child Care partnerships as well as $284 to help existing programs offset rising costs.
  • Child Care: In the requested increase, there is a proposed $266 million to implement the reauthorized Child Care and Development Block Grant Act. There’s also a requested $100 million for Child Care Pilots for Working Families, which would test and evaluate models for working families, including those who work nontraditional hours. The administration has also introduced a 10-year, $82 billion plan for mandatory funding for the Child Care and Development Fund, to ensure that all low-income working families with children ages three or younger have access to quality, affordable child care.
  • An expansion of the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit (CDCTC) up to $3,000 per child would triple the maximum credit for families with children under age five and makes the full CDCTC available to families with incomes of up to $120,000. While this credit is largely discussed as a way to help parents pay for the care of their young children, it can also be used for older children and dependents who are elderly or have disabilities.

The Obama administration has touted this budget as crucial to progress for the middle class. These proposals focused on the early years on life would fill major gaps in service for many of America’s children–children in low-income families who do not have quality care while their parents work; children whose families feel the “middle class squeeze” and could greatly benefit from the increased CDCTC; children with special needs for whom quality early intervention services can make a world of difference. However, two essential questions should be asked about each element of the proposal. First, is it designed in such a way that it will significantly improve the quality of children’s early educational experiences? Much of the potential benefit to children and society depends on the answer. Second, what is the potential for passage?  Without support across the aisle, as well as at the state level, these proposals will remain just proposals. Recent experience suggests that, at least for education, proposals designed to help every child will be better received than those that exclude the families expected to pay for them.

– Megan Carolan, Policy Research Coordinator


Early Education Has Its Day

December 11, 2014

Yesterday, the White House hosted its first Summit on Early Childhood Education. The Summit brought together a wide variety of stakeholders, including local government officials; private philanthropy; researchers; federal government officials; and business leaders. The President’s remarks can be seen here. The event also launched the InvestInUs campaign, administered by the First Five Years Fund to encourage private-public investment in a range of early childhood activities. The campaign released a profile of major private commitments, as well as highlighting notable “early learning communities” that may serve as models for other communities. The White House Council of Economic Advisers released a new report, The Economics of Early Childhood Investments, which examined the benefits of a wide range of early childhood education programs, from home visiting to kindergarten. A recap of the ongoing Twitter conversation can be seen here.

The Departments of Education and Health and Human Services also made major announcements aligned with the Summit. Eighteen states were announced as winners of competitive federal Preschool Development and Expansion Grants. Grant winners are displayed in Figure 1, with amounts in Figure 2.

Image Source: Department and Health and Human Services & Department of Education. (2014). What are preschool development grants? http://www2.ed.gov/programs/preschooldevelopmentgrants/pdgfactsheet.pdf

Image Source: Department and Health and Human Services & Department of Education. (2014). What are preschool development grants? http://www2.ed.gov/programs/preschooldevelopmentgrants/pdgfactsheet.pdf

Development grants are for states with no or small state-funded pre-K programs, while expansion grants are for those states with established programs to improve quality and increase access. More information on the current preschool offerings of these states is available here. The Departments estimate that this $226 million investment will expand services to more than 33,000 additional children in the first year alone and ensure that children are experiencing preschool of high quality. The Department has released score sheets and applications for winners and for those who did not receive funding.

The Department of Health and Human Services also announced preliminary grantees for their Early Head Start-Child Care partnerships. The program, which works with existing child care settings to expand access for infants and toddlers to high-quality care, will provide $435 million in funding to 234 grantees. The Department noted that it is still in negotiation with the agencies they’ve announced, and that the award amounts may be subject to change. The full allocation of $500 million will be awarded by the end of March 2015.

All told, this week’s announcements are adding new federal funds for early childhood education to 49 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Mariana Islands, and will serve an estimated 63,000 additional children. While state education departments and others who have worked hard on these applications are surely enjoying well-deserved celebrations, the greatest challenge may be on the horizon: implementing the plans and working toward the goal of expanding quality early education.

– Megan Carolan, Policy Research Coordinator, NIEER/CEELO


2013 State Preschool Yearbook Finds Need for Renewed Investment

May 13, 2014

Today NIEER released its 2013 State Preschool Yearbookat CentroNía/DC Bilingual Public Charter School in D.C. This newest installment of the Yearbook series covers policies, enrollment, and funding for state-funded pre-K programs in the 2012-2013 school year. Joining NIEER Director Steve Barnett at the event were Myrna Peralta, President/CEO of CentroNía; Roberto Rodriguez of the White House Domestic Policy Council; and Rob Dugger of ReadyNation/America’s Edge

Yearbook 2013

Click for the full report.

This year’s report found states still struggling to recover from the economic downturn that did so much damage to preschool programs in the previous year. As Barnett noted, “Our nation has emerged from the recession, but preschool-age children are being left to suffer its effects. A year ago, our data showed a half-billion-dollar cut in funding for state pre-K and stalled enrollment. For 2012-2013, we find that enrollment is down and funding per child, while up slightly, remains stalled at near-historic lows.”

Particularly of concern, the report found that:

  • In 2012-2013, enrollment decreased by about 9,000 4-year-olds from the prior year across the 40 states plus D.C.[1] that offer pre-K. This is the first enrollment decrease nationally NIEER has observed.
  • Slightly more than 1.3 million children attended state-funded pre-K, 1.1 million of them at age 4, accounting for four percent of 3-year-olds and 28 percent of 4-year-olds.
  • On the plus side, 20 states increased enrollment while 11 states reduced enrollment.
  • One program improved against NIEER’s Quality Standards Benchmarks, while two fell back.
  • Also good news, for the first time, every state-funded pre-K program had comprehensive early learning standards. This is first of the quality standards benchmarks to be met by all.
  • Four states, plus one of Louisiana’s three programs, met all 10 benchmarks for state pre-K quality standards, the same as in the previous year. This remains down from the peak of five states in 2010-11. Weak program standards persist in too many states, including lax standards for teacher qualifications in 23 programs and no limits on class size and/or teacher child ratio in a few large states–California, Florida and Texas.
  • Total state funding for pre-K programs increased by $30 million in real dollars, about a 1 percent increase.
  • State pre-K funding per child increased by $36 (inflation-adjusted) from the previous year, to $4,026.
  • Only 15 states could be verified as providing enough per-child funding to meet all 10 benchmarks for quality standards. As only 19 percent of the children enrolled in state-funded pre-K attend those programs, it seems likely that most children served by state pre-K attend programs where funding per child is inadequate to provide a quality education.

Dugger, whose organization supports the business case for early childhood education, put the report’s findings in context to America’s economic future. “The most important product the American economy produces are ready-for-life 18-year-olds,” he said. “The US cannot retain organic growth….unless it invests in its children in the early years.”

NIEER Director Steve Barnett & Roberto Rodriguez of the White House Domestic Policy Council read to children at CentroNía/DC Bilingual Public Charter School .

NIEER Director Steve Barnett & Roberto Rodriguez of the White House Domestic Policy Council read to children at CentroNía/DC Bilingual Public Charter School .

Rodriguez, of the Domestic Policy Council, highlighted federal/state partnership efforts underway, including $250 million for preschool development grants as well as $500 million to build Early Head Start/Child Care partnerships. He called increased investment in early childhood education “one of the most important things we can do as a country,” and called on governors, mayors, philanthropists, and policymakers to work together to prioritize this investment.

The report covers the most recently completed school year, 2012-2013. Trends may be looking up since then. Many states have recently made pre-K a priority in the time since that school year ended, with new initiatives passing in Connecticut, Maine, and Vermont, just this month and a doubling of state pre-K investment in Alabama over the last two years. New York provides a particular model for state-local collaboration, as leaders at all levels of government came together to prioritize early learning. These stories are a cause for optimism, and action: “If ever there were a time for leaders at the local, state, and national levels to unite in their efforts to provide high-quality preschool education to our next generation, this is it,” Barnett said.

Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education, called for just such participation on a media call discussing the Yearbook. “We just need Congress to catch up and pay attention to what is happening in the real world,” he said. Duncan added:

“Today, nationally, as the NIEER Yearbook shows, fewer than 30 percent of 4-year-olds are enrolled in state-funded preschool programs, and 10 states still do not offer it at all. Sadly, we’re 25th among industrialized countries in enrollment of 4-year-olds in early learning. If we’re going to lead in the global economy, we must do better – in countries like Germany and Japan, more than 95 percent of 4-year olds are enrolled in early childhood education. Quality early education can be a game-changer for the kids who need the most support.  It’s good for them and their families, and for our country’s long-term economic success.  Ultimately, it’s an investment in our collective future.”

The full Yearbook report can be found at here, along with state-specific information pages. Join the conversation on Twitter by tweeting @PreschoolToday and using the hashtag #YB2013.

 

[1] For the sake of comparison, the District of Columbia will be referred to as a “state” throughout this report. Hence, a total of 41 states provide state-funded pre-K.


(Almost) Everything You Wanted to Know about Pre-K in the Federal Budget

April 12, 2013

Since President Obama announced his goal of quality early education for 4-year-olds in his State of the Union address, the education world has been buzzing for more information. Details provided earlier this month indicated that the president’s plan would call for funding the program through an increase in the tobacco tax from $1.01 per pack to $1.95. The release of the president’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2014 provides significantly more insight into the administration’s Preschool for All initiative.

The Department of Education budget clarifies that the proposal is for a federal-state partnership to provide all low- and moderate-income 4-year-old children with high-quality preschool with added incentives to expand these programs to reach children from all income levels.  The plan is part of a larger approach to expanding and sustaining middle-class opportunity. Education Department documents laid out key elements of the Preschool for All proposal; many are similar from the bills introduced in both the House and Senate since the State of the Union, including:

  • high staff qualifications, including a BA degree for teachers;
  • professional development for teachers and staff;
  • low staff-child ratios and small class sizes;
  • a full-day program;
  • developmentally appropriate, evidence-based curricula aligned with state early learning standards;
  • salaries comparable to those in K-12 education;
  • on-going program evaluation to ensure continuous improvement; and
  • on-site comprehensive services for children.

The Department of Education is requesting $75 billion over 10 years in budget authority for this plan with $1.3 billion requested for FY 2014.  This is mandatory federal spending that is not dependent on an annual or periodic appropriation bill.

State funding allocations would be based on the number of 4-year-olds in families at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Table 1, based on the Education Department’s School Readiness budget justification, shows how state and federal shares vary over time for both regular and reduced rate states.  The “regular” rate applies to states not yet serving half of the children below 200 percent of poverty; the “reduced” rate incentivizes pre-K for all children when at least half the children above 200 percent FPL are served.

Table 1.  State/Federal Share of Pre-K Program at Regular and Reduced Rates

Program Year

Regular Rate

Reduced Rate

State Share

Federal Share

State Share

Federal Share

Year 1

9%

91%

5%

95%

Year 2

9%

91%

5%

95%

Year 3

17%

83%

9%

91%

Year 4

23%

77%

17%

83%

Year 5

29%

71%

23%

77%

Year 6

33%

67%

29%

71%

Year 7

43%

57%

33%

67%

Year 8

50%

50%

43%

57%

Year 9

60%

40%

50%

50%

Year 10

75%

25%

71%

29%

The budget also requested $750 million in discretionary funds for FY 2014 for Preschool Development Grants. These funds would provide competitive grants to states “most willing to commit to creating or expanding a high-quality preschool system that can serve all of their 4-year-olds from low- and moderate-income families.” At an Education Department press conference on Wednesday, these grants were characterized as helping states address systemic issues in preparation for expanding preschool, which would include building facilities and workforce development. Eligible states would include “low capacity” states with small or non-existent state-funded pre-K programs as well as states with “more robust” programs looking to support quality improvement and expand access.

How many 4-year-olds children stand to benefit from the president’s plan? Back of the envelope calculations based on data from the ECLS-B study indicate that as many as 1.67 million 4-year-olds who live below 200 percent FPL could benefit because they do not now have access to a quality pre-K program (based on the numbers who attend no program or a program that is not high quality). This includes 365,000 African-American children and 565,000 Hispanic children. Rather than a “federal takeover” of early education as feared by some, the president’s plan would build on state efforts that work and improve those that fall short.  With its added incentives to offer quality preschool for all, this plan could increase the number of children attending high-quality pre-K programs at age 4 from less than 1 million to around 4 million nationally.

The federal budget also makes provision for younger children.  The Department of Health and Human Services budget has $1.4 billion in new Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships; an additional $200 million to support high-quality child care; and $15 billion over 10 years to support home-visiting programs.

At the state level, a so-called “sin tax,” such as the proposed tobacco tax, is not an uncommon way to fund programs for children. NIEER has written before about the pros and cons of this approach as well as a more comprehensive look at various state funding structures for early education. In fact, tobacco taxes fund early education through  First Five California and First Things First in Arizona while Kansas and Maine both report using tobacco settlement funds for various components of early childhood education.

children in sandbox

Several other noteworthy initiatives were included in the Education Department’s budget, as noted by Education Week:

  • $300 million for Promise Neighborhoods;
  • $112 million to help schools develop emergency plans, collect school safety data, and improve school climate;
  • $1 billion for a Race to the Top competition focusing on improving student outcomes in college without increasing tuition; and
  •  $215 million for competitive School Improvement Grant program focused on school turnarounds and district capacity.

It’s heartening to see early childhood education at the top of the agenda for new investments in education. The proposed federal investment in pre-K together with the other proposed measures can increase the number of children ready for the early elementary grades, expanding the opportunity for all children to achieve long-term academic, social and economic success.

– Megan Carolan, Policy Research Coordinator, NIEER

– Steve Barnett, Director, NIEER


State Support for Head Start Over the Years

March 27, 2012

In addition to offering state pre-K and child care subsidies some states support pre-K by adding on to the federal Head Start program. Supplementing Head Start programs with state funding allows states to build upon the federal Head Start program–funding more children, providing extended-day and/or extended-year services, or making quality improvements. This is especially important for several states that don’t otherwise fund pre-K at the state level. In 2009-2010 this included Idaho and New Hampshire.  Delaware, Minnesota, and Oregonserved enough additional children through their Head Start state supplements for these to qualify as de facto state pre-K programs by NIEER’s definition.

It’s been a long time since we’ve looked longitudinally at states’ supplements to the federal Head Start program. Unfortunately, we haven’t had good news to report. Data from The State of Preschool 2010 indicate that states have cut funding and serve fewer children since we started tracking these numbers in The State of Preschool: 2003 State Preschool Yearbook.

Between fiscal years 2002 and 2010, the total number of states supplementing Head Start dipped only from 17 to 16, with Indiana and Ohio halting state funding of Head Start programs while Idaho began providing a state supplement.  In addition, Hawaii began funding a state supplement to Head Start in the 2003-2004 school year, but then stopped this funding in the 2007-2008 school year. Overall, as indicated in Table 1, adjusted and nominal spending, as well as enrollment, have all declined in this time period; adjusted spending was nearly cut in half.

Table 1: Changes in Head Start Supplements, 2001-2002 to 2009-2010

 

 Changes, 2001-2002 to 2009-2010

 Spending (2010 $)

-$122,028,988

-45%

 Nominal Spending

-$48,221,791

-25%

 Enrollment, 3s and 4s

-10,968

-39%

As shown in Table 2, the decreases took place at the beginning of the last decade, followed by an uptick until the 2009-2010 school year when it is likely that the recession started taking its toll.

Table 2: Longitudinal Changes in Head Start State Supplements

As we prepare for the release of the 2011 edition of the State Preschool Yearbook, we are seeing more of this downward trend. States are reporting less support for the 2010-2011 school year and are indicating that the 2011-2012 school year will fare even worse. Some states are completely eliminating their supplement to the federal program as a budget closing measure. This could present a double-whammy as stimulus money that benefitted federal Head Start is simultaneously disappearing at a time when the high child poverty rate makes clear how much young learners need these services. Stay tuned for when The State of Preschool 2011 is released on April 10th.

– Jen Fitzgerald, Public Information Officer, NIEER

– Megan Carolan, Policy Research Coordinator, NIEER


Investing for Today and Tomorrow: Early Learning in the Federal FY 2013 Budget Proposal

February 15, 2012

Starting the week on an exciting note for elected officials, advocates, and policy wonks, President Obama released his proposed budget for fiscal year 2013 on Monday morning. Education was a clear priority throughout the press conference at Northern Virginia Community College in Annandale, Virginia, particularly on preparing students for 21st century jobs by focusing on career and technical skills. As readers of this blog can attest, early education is an important building block in preparing students for a life of learning and earning.

Details of the budget are still being fleshed out, but there seems to be good news for early education in the White House’s proposal, as outlined below.

Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) proposed budget:

  • Department-wide discretionary budget of $76.4 billion, a $0.3 billion increase over the FY2012 level.
  • Head Start and Early Head Start: Set to receive more than $8 billion to serve about 962,000 children and families, which would maintain the enrollment expansion seen in the 2009-2010 program year. The proposal acknowledges that it will support the implementation of the new Head Start re-competition regulations.
  • Child care subsidies:  Additional $7 billion over 10 years to support child care subsidies for low-income children.
  • Child Care Development Block Grant: Additional $300 million to improve the quality of child care facilities.

Department of Education proposed budget:

  • Department-wide discretionary budget of $69.8 billion, a $1.7 billion increase over FY2012 level.
  • Race to the Top (RTT): $850 million for another round.  According to a Department of Education press release, a “significant portion” of these funds would be allocated for an expansion for the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge, which would continue under the joint tutelage of the Departments of Education and HHS.
  • Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA): $472.7 million in Grants for Infants and Families, to provide early intervention services to children birth through age 2 with disabilities and $372.6 million for IDEA Preschool Grants for children ages 3 through 5 with disabilities.
  • Promise Neighborhoods: Proposed increase of $100 million for this competitive grant program that seeks to help high-need communities develop cooperative strategies to improve outcomes for children through both educational reforms and life outside the classroom. Past winners have focused energies specifically on early education as a tool.
  • Investing in Innovation Fund (i3): Requests $150 million for the Investing in Innovation Fund (i3) to build on three previous i3 competitions. The Department’s budget summary only goes so far as to suggest that priority “could be given to projects proposing to improve early learning outcomes.”
  • Institute for Education Sciences (IES):  $30 million in new research and development grants for early learning and elementary, secondary, and postsecondary education.

In addition, the National Women’s Law Center has information on additional federal programs in the FY13 proposal that support families with young children, including the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit. Of course, not all child care funding goes to children under 5 (though most does) and early education will only be a modest fraction of such high-profile initiatives such as i3, Promise Neighborhoods, and RTT.

Laura Bornfreund, Maggie Severns, and Clare McCann at Early Ed Watch compiled the helpful table below to track changes since FY2011 in some key programs used for early education.

 

As noted by the New America Foundation’s Key Questions on the Obama Administration’s 2013 Education Budget Request, there are still a number of questions surrounding the place of early education in this budget, including whether the portion of RTT funds earmarked for early learning would be distributed at the state level or district level. They also note that the budget proposal encourages districts to redesign school schedules to better serve students through the 21st Century Community Learning program, though it is unclear so far whether states will be encouraged to apply this to the early grades, such as extending half-day kindergarten into full-day services.

It’s worth noting that a presidential budget proposal is, according to Birth to Thrive, just “the first move in a high-stakes game that will be complicated this year by presidential and congressional politics.” Considering the sharp partisan divisions seen in recent legislative battles, the pressure of the Budget Control Act to cut spending by $900 billion over 10 years, and the high-profile politics of an election year, it is hard to say exactly how much of this proposal will ever see funding. The great strength of the budget proposal, though, is to allow the president to lay out his priorities in greater detail than any speech or campaign ad could. Early education is clearly an administration priority, though perhaps not as high a priority as we would like.  All of us concerned about the future of America’s youngest learners must ensure that elected officials remember that high-quality early education programs are a good economic investment both short-term and in the future.

– Megan Carolan, Policy Research Coordinator, NIEER


Head Start: Mend It, Don’t End It

August 19, 2011

One of the most neglected questions in the ECE policy arena is “How should we respond to the failure to find lasting effects for Head Start and Early Head Start after investing years and many millions in nationwide randomized trials of those important programs?” I say neglected because there is far less awareness of what the research says than one might expect given the importance of the high-quality research effort that represents our best shot at unbiased estimates of program impacts. For instance, I find that few people even know that Early Head Start’s long-term effects have been evaluated through fifth grade.  I addressed this long-simmering question  in an article published today in the journal Science.  At the outset, I wish to make clear that the evidence does not lead me to the conclusion that we should end these programs, but that they need major reform.  Let’s start by quickly reviewing the evidence.

One randomized trial evaluated the impacts of a year of Head Start by following 4,667 children and their families from entry in Head Start through kindergarten and first grade. After one year of Head Start cognitive effects were positive, but fairly small, and the broader the domain the smaller the effects. In follow-up the effects were even smaller.  No cognitive or school progress effects were found in kindergarten or first grade, though one might argue that there is a persistent effect on IQ of about 1/10th of a standard deviation.  This would close about 10 percent of the gap between Head Start children and the average child on IQ.  No effects were found on any teacher-reported measure of social-emotional development or behavior.

Upward adjustments can be made to the findings because not every child followed the random assignment (some assigned to Head Start did not attend, some assigned to the control group found their way into Head Start).  Yet even after such adjustments, follow-up results remain weak.  Additional adjustments could be made for participation in other programs, but these would make little difference, particularly at age 3 when high-quality alternatives are scarce.

A randomized trial of Early Head Start with more than 3,000 infants and toddlers produced results similar to those for Head Start even though most children and families participated two or more years. Effects at ages 2 and 3 were quite small for cognition and social-emotional measures including aggression. By age 5 no effects were found for cognition and only one small socio-emotional effect was found. In the grade 5 follow-up no effects were found on any of 49 measures and the estimated effects were near zero for both cognitive and social-emotional development.

For some in the early childhood field the reaction to these long-term findings has been denial. One claim is that bad public schools offset Head Start’s positive effects.  The national Head Start study finds, to the contrary, that gains in literacy and math accelerate for both Head Start and control groups after they enter kindergarten.  Any wash-out in Head Start effects from the public schools occurs because control children quickly make up the small advantage from attending Head Start.  Others claim that non-experimental studies consistently find long-term effects despite a lack of short-term gains in achievement.  However, the non-experimental studies are not really consistent among one another in either their short- or long-term patterns of effects.  Their positive long-term results likely result from chance variation and methodological failings rather than real effects.  If effects are not evident at fifth grade, they won’t be later.

Once we accept these disappointing findings, why not just end the programs as Joe Klein recently argued in Time magazine?  I offer two reasons.  First, America cannot afford to let so many children fail academically and socially because they are poorly prepared.  Second, some other preschool programs have succeeded to a much greater extent, and Head Start can be reshaped to be similarly effective.

Table 1 compares the initial impacts of Head Start and some other large-scale programs.  Pre-K programs with above average standards and funding are found to produce larger effects than Head Start in rigorous studies including a recent randomized trial.  The Chicago Child Parent Centers, which are similar in key respects to the state pre-K programs in Table 1, have been found to produce effects on achievement and social development into adulthood as well.  Reshaping Head Start to more closely resemble these programs would enhance its effectiveness. A quantitative summary of research on early educational intervention over the past 50 years adds weight to this argument as the Head Start and Early Head Start comprehensive services approach is associated with weaker effects, possibly because it reduces the educational focus.

Table 1. Achievement Gains from Pre-K

My prescription for improving Head Start includes increasing the percentage of funds spent inside the classroom, building a stronger connection to public education, and eliminating much federal oversight and related paper work.  Early Head Start needs the same freedom from regulation, but should adopt home-based models that have a strong evidence base (Olds’ Nurse Family Partnership) as well as strengthen center-based options. Give programs a set amount of money, audit the books, and assess teaching and learning.  Teaching should be highly intentional and include direct instruction one-on-one and in small groups.  A new continuous improvement process should be put in place for learning and teaching.  The Obama administration’s plans for re-competition of low-performing Head Start agencies should be implemented as soon as possible based on both measures of teaching and broad measures of child progress.  Early Head Start should be regarded as an experimental program and subject to large-scale research for at least the next five years.

No doubt, these recommendations will be as controversial as is my longstanding recommendation to increase the amount and quality of education required of Head Start teachers and to increase their compensation accordingly.  Head Start teachers should be given the opportunity to return to school with tuition and fees paid by government loans that would be forgiven if they remain in Head Start five years later.  The quality and content of the programs they attend should be subject to an approval process to be eligible for these forgivable loans.

Even if they were not controversial, it would be foolhardy to reform Head Start based entirely on my recommendations given the limitations of current knowledge.  The evidence is just not that strong given what is at stake.  Fortunately, we have a better alternative.  Allow Head Start and Early Head Start agencies to innovate, experiment, and find their own way to strong results.  A systematic program of research should be launched in which Head Start and Early Head Start agencies propose new approaches to be tested in randomized trials. Experimental programs should be given a blanket waiver from Head Start and Early Head Start performance standards and most nonfinancial reporting requirements as long as they adhere to their own proposed plans (which will be monitored as part of the randomized trial).  This systematic program of research would provide much better guidance for early educational intervention than is now available.  In relatively short order Head Start and Early Head Start could fulfill their promise.

– Steve Barnett, Director, National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER)


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 226 other followers

%d bloggers like this: