When Congress reauthorized the Head Start Program in 1998 they asked the Advisory Committee on Head Start Research and Evaluation to submit a report, the Head Start Impact Study (HSIS), to keep track of the progress of Head Start. The reports have been made periodically over the past 10 years and submitted to the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health, and Human Services. The aim of the reports is to maximize the benefit of the Head start Program and the Early Head start Program (EHP).
The latest report, submitted in August of 2012, had four recommendations with various actions for each recommendation:
Recommendation 1: Data Driven Focus on School Readiness: With school readiness and other key outcomes as beacons, strengthen Head Start as a Learning Organization that:
- is characterized by a commitment to using data for continuous improvement to strengthen outcomes
- develops appropriate assessments and helps programs use their results to guide practice; and
- integrates and aligns all practices, policies, and supports toward achieving these outcomes within local programs, across federal components of the program, and from federal to local levels.
Toward achieving Recommendation 1, the Committee further recommends that the Secretary:
Develop federal guidance for local programs on how to define and measure:
- children’s progress toward school readiness in all five domains required by the DRS
- other key outcomes that contribute to readiness, including program quality, family health and well being.
- Following the provision of federal guidance on readiness, help programs build assessment and data systems to track children’s progress toward school readiness and other key program outcomes and use these data t guide and motivate continuous program improvement.
- Support and guide each program, considering its own unique population, in selecting effective practices to strengthen children’s school readiness and family well-being .
- Strengthen and streamline the focus of all components of the national Head Start Program – Performance Standards, TA systems, monitoring, and program data collections – to jointly drive toward the goals of improving children’s school readiness and other key outcomes.
- The Committee recommends a federal cross-agency panel be established to develop a framework for identifying critical components of early childhood workforce preparation aimed at both higher education and non-credit bearing professional development for early education teachers, home visitors, and administrators. The interested agencies should provide funding for implementing and evaluating competency based models in institutions of higher learning.
Recommendation II: Use of Evidence-Based Practices: Implement the strongest and most current evidence-based practices that either:
- benefit all children; or
- are tailored for population subgroups. Continue to develop and test new refinements, particularly for specific subgroups, thereby further building the evidence.
Toward achieving Recommendation II, the Committee further recommends that the Secretary:
- Working with other federal agencies, continually review, disseminate, and update the existing and emerging evidence related to effective practice, using a transparent system of evidence standards and review processes that recognizes the diversity of populations and settings within Head Start and translates the current evidence base in a way that is accessible to practitioners.
Recommendation III: Continuity of Services: Further improve continuity and coordination of early childhood services beginning during the prenatal period and continuing to age 8.
To achieve this Recommendation, the Committee further recommends that the Secretary:
- Provide guidance to local programs to help them optimize Head Start resources in communities to most efficiently and effectively provide services to children across ages prenatal to 8, including expanding EHS.
- Guide and support local EHS and Head Start programs to coordinate with each other (e.g., so children do not experience gaps in services), with other early childhood providers (e.g., to minimize and make smooth transitions across the ECE day and over time), and with schools (e.g., coordinating with early grades in schools on curricula, assessments, and family engagement).
- Improve alignment and linkages between Head Start and other early childhood standards, child assessments, program monitoring, data, professional development, and TA initiatives, including efforts to include Head Start children in state data systems. Steps toward improve alignment may include federal collaboration with States as well as federal encouragement for Head Start programs to collaborate with States.
Conduct research studies to
- better describe family, cultural, and demographic factors related to continuity in quality early care and education for children prenatal to age 8
- determine effects of multiple years of high-quality service on children’s school readiness and continued school performance; and
- learn what conditions following EHS, Head Start, or other early childhood care and education – including quantity and types of service and types of instruction, in combination with contextual variables – best support children’s continued achievement and adjustment. Working across the government, increase funding for continuity studies and particularly including the less-studied prenatal to age 3 program sector.
- Conduct follow-up and further analyses of the HSIS and Early Head Start Research and Evaluation Project (EHSREP) with low-cost high-yield efforts that will illuminate how children and families have fared in the long run after participating in Head Start.