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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:
Office of Planning and Evaluation
Strengthening Head Start: What the Evidence Shows
The period from birth through age 5 is a critical time for children to develop the physical, emotional, social, and cognitive skills they will need to be successful in school and the rest of their lives. Children from poor families, on average, enter school behind children from more privileged families. Targeting preschoolers in low-income families, the Head Start program was created in 1965 to promote school readiness to enable each child to develop to his or her fullest potential. Research shows that acquiring specific pre-reading, language, and social skills strongly predict future success in school.
As our knowledge about the importance of high quality early education has advanced dramatically since 1965, so have data on the outcomes for children and families served by Head Start. The knowledge and skill levels of low-income children are far below national averages upon entering the program. When the school readiness of the nation’s poor children is assessed, it becomes clear that Head Start is not eliminating the gap in educational skills and knowledge needed for school. Head Start is not fully achieving its stated purpose of “promot[ing] school readiness by enhancing the social and cognitive development of low-income children.”(1) Head Start children show some progress in cognitive skills and social and emotional development. However, these low-income children continue to perform significantly below their more advantaged peers once they enter school in areas essential to school readiness, such as reading and mathematics.
States and the federal government fund a wide variety of programs that are either intended to enhance children’s educational development or that could, with some adjustments, do a better job of preparing children for school. Head Start is one of many federal and state programs that together provide approximately $23 billion in funding for child-care and preschool education (see Appendix A). Because these programs have developed independently, they are not easily coordinated to best serve the children and families who need them. In programs other than Head Start, states have the responsibility and the authority through planning, training, and the regulatory process to have a substantial impact on the type and quality of services provided, and are held accountable for the delivery of high quality programs. However, Head Start funding goes directly from the federal level to local organizations, and thus states do not have the authority to integrate or align Head Start programs with other early childhood programs provided by the states.
The single most important goal of the Head Start reauthorization should be to improve Head Start and other preschool programs to ensure children are prepared to succeed in school. This paper describes the limited educational progress for children in Head Start and the problems resulting from a fragmented approach to early childhood programs and services. The paper also presents evidence from early childhood research and documents state efforts that have successfully addressed these problems. Finally, the paper explains the President’s proposal for Head Start reauthorization, which builds on the evidence to strengthen the program and, through coordination, improve preschool programs in general to help ensure that children are prepared to succeed in school.
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Certain knowledge, skills, and experiences are strong markers of school readiness. For example, we know that children who recognize their letters, who are read to at least three times a week, who recognize basic numbers and shapes, and who demonstrate an understanding of the mathematical concept of relative size as they entered kindergarten have significantly higher reading skills in the spring of first grade than children who do not have this background. In fact, the difference between children who do and do not have this knowledge upon entering kindergarten is approximately one year’s worth of reading development at the end of first grade. This is true regardless of family income and race or ethnicity.(2)
Head Start is a comprehensive early childhood development program designed to provide education, health, and social services to low-income children, ages 3 to 5, and their families.(3) Last reauthorized in FY 1998, Head Start is scheduled for reauthorization in FY 2003. Federal grants to operate Head Start programs are awarded directly to the local organizations that implement the program, including public agencies, private non-profit and for-profit organizations, Indian Tribes, and school systems. Since it began in 1965, Head Start has enrolled over 20 million children.
However, while making some progress, Head Start is not doing enough to enhance the language, pre-reading, and pre-mathematics knowledge and skills that we know are important for school readiness. The knowledge and skill levels of young children entering Head Start are far below national averages. Children graduating from Head Start remain far behind the typical U.S. child. We know also that all disadvantaged children who need high quality early educational instruction are not in Head Start. Some are in pre-kindergarten programs, others are in child-care settings, and still others are at home with parents.
Currently, the primary source of information on outcomes for children and families served by Head Start comes from the Family and Child Experiences Survey (FACES).(4) Data from FACES are displayed in the figures below. Figure 1 shows the low scores and limited progress of Head Start children in the key areas of language, pre-reading, and pre-mathematics. These data are from the class of children who entered the program in 1997. The percentile scores show how Head Start children perform compared with the average performer. On a percentile scale, an average performer would be at the 50th percentile, meaning that half of children who take the test score above the average performer and half score below the 50% mark.(5) Head Start children as a group fall far below the 50th percentile in all areas of achievement. Though children are making some progress, clearly few children perform as poorly as children who enter and leave the Head Start program.(6)
Figure 2 shows a similar picture for children who entered the program in 2000. Though children in Head Start programs performed somewhat better in 2000 than in 1997 in some areas, scores remain far below the average level in all areas of competency.(7)
Both higher achieving and lower achieving Head Start children have low scores overall and show limited progress. Children who were in the upper 25% of their Head Start class when they entered Head Start in 1997 showed no gains on any measure of cognitive ability over the course of the Head Start program year, and actually experienced losses on some measures in comparison to national norms. Gains over the Head Start year were limited to children who were in the bottom 25% of their class.(8) However, even these gains fell far short of bringing children to levels of skill necessary for school success. For example, children in the bottom 25% of their Head Start class left Head Start with language skill scores at the 5th percentile, meaning that only 5% of all children who take the test score lower than these Head Start children do. Findings for mathematics showed a similar pattern.
The more recent 2000 FACES data show modest improvement in results for children, but overall progress is still too limited. Children continue to lag behind national norms when they exit Head Start. Data from Head Start FACES 2000 shows that:
Head Start program and teacher characteristics show some positive relationships to educational and social outcomes for children. Examples include:
Head Start has other positive qualities:
How do eligible children fare when they do not receive Head Start services? The FACES study is not designed to answer this question; there is no control group. Eligible children who do not receive services could be falling further behind or could be making gains similar to or greater than those for children in the program. The national Head Start Impact Study was launched in 2002 and is using a randomized design to answer this question. Additional experimental studies are being conducted to assess the effectiveness of specific quality improvement strategies.(15)
A national study of Early Head Start, which is part of the Head Start program serving low-income pregnant women and children from birth through three, was recently conducted using a randomized experimental design. Results show that children receiving Early Head Start have scores that are statistically higher than their peers who did not receive Early Head Start on measures of cognitive, language, and social and emotional competency. Fewer Early Head Start children scored in the “at-risk” range of functioning in both language and cognitive functioning. However, Early Head Start children continue to perform below the national average.
In summary, there is more work to do. Despite the positive qualities of Head Start programs, children in Head Start are making only very modest progress in only some areas of knowledge and skill, and children in Head Start are leaving the program far behind their peers. More progress must be made and can be made to put Head Start children on par with others by the time they enter kindergarten.
Effective early childhood intervention is important because disadvantaged children are at great risk for poor educational outcomes throughout the school years. Data from theNational Center for Education Statistics’ (NCES) Early Childhood Longitudinal Study — Kindergarten Cohort (ECLS-K) and National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) are reviewed below.(16)
Achievement differences in school are greatest for children who suffer the greatest disadvantage, in particular for children whose families have multiple risk factors or receive welfare. While many of the children we are trying to reach in early childhood are in Head Start and federal and state pre-kindergarten programs, others are in child-care and home-settings.
A key set of risk factors has been repeatedly associated with educational outcomes, such as low achievement test scores, grade repetition, suspension or expulsion, and dropping out of high school. These risk factors include: (a) having parents who have not completed high school, (b) coming from a low-income or welfare-dependent family, (c) living in a single-parent family, and (d) having parents who speak a language other than English in the home. Children who have one or more of these characteristics are more likely to be educationally disadvantaged or have difficulty in school.
These same risk factors are linked to achievement disparities in reading and mathematics skills at the point of kindergarten entry.(17) Research emphasizes that achievement difficulties children experience in school “cannot be attributed solely to bad schools; many children are already behind when they open the classroom door.”(18)
Children are at risk for poor educational outcomes when their families receive welfare (defined as receiving welfare or having received welfare in the past). These children were significantly less competent in reading, mathematics, and social skills compared to children who had never received welfare.(19)
Children who start behind are likely to stay behind and get further behind. Research shows that the achievement gap between advantaged and disadvantaged groups of children widens from Fall to Spring.(20) Global reading and mathematics scores show gains for all children in reading and mathematics scores during the kindergarten year. But a closer look shows that achievement disparities between disadvantaged and more advantaged children depend on the particular knowledge and skills assessed.
By Spring, children from homes with at least one risk factor begin to close gaps in basic skills, such as recognizing letters, counting beyond 10, or comparing the size of objects. But because their more advantaged classmates move on to acquire more complex skills, these children are even further behind by Spring in reading and mathematics skills, such as reading words or solving simple addition and subtraction problems. Moreover, despite improvements in basic reading and mathematics skills during the kindergarten year, the disparity between advantaged and disadvantaged children was not eliminated.
Poor children eligible for the National School Lunch Program do not perform as well as more advantaged children who are ineligible for the program. Average scores for reading, mathematics and writing achievement are statistically lower for children who are eligible for the school lunch program compared to ineligible children.(21) This achievement gap continues throughout the school years.
Figures 3 and 4 below show specific competency levels in reading, mathematics, and writing for children in Grades 4 and 12.(22) Achievement disparities exist at each grade level and for each area of competency. Figure 3 shows that poorer children are not achieving at even a “basic” level (defined as partial mastery of material for that grade level). The percentage of children who scored below a “basic” level of achievement was statistically higher for children who were eligible for the school lunch program compared to ineligible children.
Equally important, poorer children are not well represented among the higher performing students. Figure 4 shows that, compared to children who were ineligible for the school lunch program, many fewer eligible children scored at or above the “proficient” level (combines children who scored at either the proficient or advanced level). Attaining achievement at the “proficient” level (defined as solid academic performance and competency over challenging material) is the target for instruction agreed upon by the National Assessment Governing Board.
In sum, the achievement gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged children that are evident in kindergarten and throughout the school years begin long before children enter preschool and kindergarten.(23) There is a tremendous amount of work for early childhood programs to do, and we must ensure that those programs work for all children. Head Start is doing a good job, but more progress must be made. Now is the time to strive for excellence and to utilize all our knowledge about how best to promote children’s competencies. Ensuring that Head Start and other early childhood programs serving disadvantaged children are state-of-the-art is the challenge at both federal and state levels.
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Coordinating early care and education at the state level is vitally important. Historically, the system of early care and education in the United States has been fragmented. Child-care programs and early education programs have existed separately and have separate goals. This incoherent approach to service delivery has created challenges for states trying to build comprehensive early childhood systems for young children that include a challenging educational focus. Greater collaboration and coordination is needed among state and federal programs serving children ages 0-5 to ensure that all children entering kindergarten are ready to learn.
The creation of an integrated, well-coordinated early care and education system has broad support from members of the early childhood field, the business community, and policymakers across the political spectrum. The National Governors’ Association (NGA), for example, has strongly supported developing partnerships and increasing coordination of services as a means of creating a seamless system of care and increasing parents’ access to such a system. According to NGA’s policy position paper, “The Governors believe it is important for all involved parties to promote the coordination of programs serving children through links at all levels of the child care, health care, and education systems.”(24) Lack of coordination of early childhood programs at the state level can result in:
Despite the agreement among many major stakeholders about the value of a coordinated system, the reality is much different in most states. While many states have demonstrated significant interest in, and commitment to, building strong early childhood systems in recent years, no state has a comprehensive system of early care and education that makes high quality services available to all families of young children who want help. Education Week(25) notes that the overlapping and often confusing mix of funding sources forces programs to respond to multiple and sometimes conflicting requirements.
In one study, the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO)(26) found sixty-nine federal programs, administered by nine different federal agencies and departments, provided or supported education and care for children under age 5 in 1999. GAO noted that when multiple agencies manage multiple early childhood education and care programs, mission fragmentation and program overlap can occur. This in turn creates the potential for duplication and service gaps. Although GAO pointed out that duplication can sometimes be necessary, fragmentation and overlap can also create an environment in which programs do not serve participants as efficiently and effectively as possible.
In order to fully understand the problems that can result from a lack of coordination, it can help to illustrate the perspective of a parent, a provider, and a state administrator:
Several specific obstacles exacerbate lack of coordination of early childhood programs at the state level. For example:
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Before children can read, write or calculate, research shows that children must acquire foundational knowledge, skills, and behaviors that are stepping stones toward mastery of more advanced and complex skills.
Children who bring certain knowledge and skills with them to kindergarten are likely to be at an advantage in classroom learning compared to their peers who do not possess these resources. A Department of Education report described the predictive power of having specific cognitive and health “resources” on children’s reading and mathematics achievement.(29) These resources included:
Each of these was a key predictor of children’s reading and mathematics achievement in the Spring of kindergarten and in first grade, even after controlling for children’s race, ethnicity and poverty status. These data confirm that we must ensure that all children, regardless of background, are physically healthy and have the same basic literacy, mathematics, and cognitive experiences and skills needed to succeed in school.
Research experts and practitioners in fields relating to early childhood recommend that children make progress in each of the following areas to help ensure they are developing school readiness knowledge and skills.(30)
Research, though limited, clearly demonstrates the value of providing comprehensive interventions with strong language and pre-academic components that develop the knowledge and skills necessary for kindergarten and the early grades and for closing the achievement gap. Though more research is needed, a few approaches that have been evaluated using rigorous designs show that comprehensive and language and literacy-rich early childhood programs can reduce achievement gaps for disadvantaged children. Here are highlights of major studies.(35)
This program for low-income minority children in high-poverty neighborhoods in inner-city Chicago, funded in part by the Department of Education, includes half-day preschool for one or two years, full or part-day kindergarten, continuing support services in linked elementary schools, and a parent education program. The Chicago CPC program provides educational and health and nutrition services, such as hearing screening, speech therapy and nursing services, to children ages 3 to 9 years. The intervention emphasizes the acquisition of basic knowledge and skills in language arts and mathematics through relatively structured but diverse learning experiences. An intensive parent program includes volunteering in the classroom, attending school events and field trips, and completing high school. Teachers are required to have bachelor’s degrees, are paid at the level of teachers in public school, and participate in regular staff development activities. Child-to-staff ratios are low (17:2).
A longitudinal study funded by the National Institutes of Health and other funders compared participant children to a non-experimental comparison group of children with similar demographics. Findings include:
Reading and Mathematics Achievement. At the end of the program in third grade, CPC graduates surpassed their comparison group counterparts by 4 to 6 points in reading and mathematics achievement, as measured by the Iowa Test of Basic Skills.(36)
Preschool participation. One or two years of CPC preschool participation was associated with statistically significant advantages of 5.5 and 4.2 points in standard scores for reading achievements for ages 14 and 15. This corresponds to about a 4- to 5-month change. Likewise, preschool participation was significantly associated with a 4.4-point increase in standard scores in math achievement at age 14 and a 3.3-point advantage at age 15, above and beyond gender, environmental risk factors, and participation in follow-on interventions. This translates into a 3- to 4-month performance advantage over the comparison group. These effect sizes are considered moderate; however the effects persist up to 10 years after children leave the program, which is unique among early interventions and almost all social programs.(37)
Follow-on participation. Because the early childhood program is linked to the kindergarten and elementary schools, children may participate in the program from 1 to 6 years. Each year of participation was associated with an increase of 1.3 to 1.6 points in the standard score for reading. Years in the follow-on intervention were significantly associated with reading achievement at ages 14 and 15 and went beyond that attributable to preschool participation. The most dramatic effect occurring after 4 years of intervention: Five or six years of participation resulted in the best performance, with children performing at or above the Chicago averages in reading and mathematics. (Even 6 years of participation, however, did not elevate the performance of the maximum intervention group to the national average.) A similar pattern occurred for mathematics achievement, though the size of the effect was smaller.(38) The findings showed that the relationship between years of participation and school achievement is not strictly linear — greater advantages accrue as the length of the intervention increases.
Other Outcomes. Preschool participation was associated with lower rates of grade retention (23% vs. 38.4%) and special education placement (14.4% vs. 24.6%). Preschoolers who participated in the intervention spent an average of 0.7 years in special education compared with 1.4 years for non-participants.(39) Children who participated in the preschool intervention for 1 or 2 years had a higher rate of high school completion (49.7% vs. 38.5%), more years of completed education (10.6 vs. 10.2), and lower rates of juvenile arrests (16.9% vs. 25.1%).(40) Boys benefited from preschool participation more than girls, especially in reducing the school dropout rate.(41)
Cost-benefit Analyses. With an average cost per child of $6,692 for 1.5 years of participation, the preschool program generates a total return to society at large of $47,759 per participant. These benefits are the result of participants’ increased earnings capacity due to educational attainment, criminal justice system savings, reduced school remedial services, and averted tangible costs to crime victims. Benefits realized in each of these areas exceed the cost of just one year of the preschool program, which is $4,400. Overall, every dollar invested in the preschool program returns $7.14 in individual, educational, social welfare and socioeconomic benefits.(42)
The Abecedarian Project was a carefully controlled study in which 57 infants from low-income families living in a small North Carolina town were randomly assigned to receive early intervention in a high quality child care setting and 54 were in a non-treated control group. The treated children received full-time educational intervention in a high quality child care setting from infancy through age five, which included cognitive development activities with a particular emphasis on language, and activities focusing on social and emotional development. Teachers were required to have bachelor’s degrees and were paid at the level of teachers in public school.
Starting at age 18 months, and through follow-ups at ages 12 and 15, the treatment children had significantly higher scores on cognitive assessments. Treated children scored significantly higher on tests of reading and math from the primary grades through age 21 (though scores did not reach national averages).
At age 21, those in the treatment group were significantly more likely to still be in school and more likely to have attended a four-year college. Employment rates were higher for the treatment group than for the control group, although the trend was not statistically significant.(43)
This pioneering study begun in the 1960s was one of the first to identify lasting effects of high quality preschool programs on children’s outcomes.(44) One hundred twenty-three poor African American 3- and 4-year-olds were randomly assigned either to attend a high quality preschool program or to no preschool. The two groups began the study with equivalent IQ scores and socioeconomic status. Children attended 2 ½ hour classes and teachers conducted weekly 1.5-hour home-visits.
Results showed positive impacts on several intellectual and language tests prior to school entry and up to age 7, showing that the program enhanced children’s school readiness. At age 14, participants outperformed non-participants on a school achievement test in reading, language, and mathematics. At age 19, participants’ general literacy skills were better than non-participants. At age 27, participants had higher earnings and economic status, higher education and achievement levels in adolescence and young adulthood, as well as fewer arrests.
Benefit-cost analyses show that by the time participants were 27 years old, the program showed a sound economic investment, with significant savings from settlement costs for victims of crimes never committed, reduced justice system costs, increased taxes paid due to higher earnings, reduced need for special education services, and reduced welfare costs.(45)
To some extent, the early childhood field has had difficulty moving forward with training in cognitive and pre-academic knowledge and skills because of a lack of understanding of how to teach this content without compromising social and emotional development. Professional development models that emphasize language and literacy development using an integrative approach to develop all areas essential to school success are effective in improving children’s school readiness.
Lessons learned from basic and intervention research are the building blocks for both federal and state programs, as we attempt to build stronger and more seamless early childhood systems across the nation. Very few rigorous research studies exist on the effectiveness of specific curricula and approaches to instruction. Therefore, as described in the President’s early childhood initiative, Good Start, Grow Smart, two large-scale federal efforts are underway to improve the data available on the effectiveness of early childhood curricula, early childhood interventions and programs in preparing children for school — the U.S. Department of Education’s Preschool Curriculum Evaluation Research Program (PCER) and the Interagency Early Childhood Research Initiative, a joint venture among the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) under the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS), and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) also within the DHHS. Additional experimental studies are being conducted by the Head Start Quality Research Consortium.
Some states have already experimented with providing coordinated early childhood programs, or with new approaches to enhancing school readiness. Over the past 20 years more than 40 states and the District of Columbia have begun to offer preschool programs for children under age 5.(49) States are also working to use new knowledge about children’s learning and development in the early years to improve programs and build better early childhood systems. Following are some examples of state-level innovations in working across the early childhood system to improve outcomes for children.
In early 2003, Colorado initiated a new school readiness program for children in neighborhoods with low-performing schools. The program allows counties, in partnership with the state’s Community Consolidated Child Care Pilot program, to apply for a 3-year supplemental subsidy for child care centers that feed into low-performing public schools. The program, which will serve 5,600 children in 468 classrooms, will fund equipment, supplies, curriculum, teacher training, and teacher bonuses for improved performance. Providers must demonstrate improvements within 18 months to remain in the program.(50)
The Connecticut School Readiness Initiative (CSRI), a partnership between the state departments of education and social services, seeks to increase the availability of high quality full-day, full-year child care programs for low-income families and to help bridge the school readiness gap between urban students (primarily minority) and their more affluent suburban peers. The program primarily targets low-income preschoolers ages 3 to 5 and provides funding for up to two years of services. Local school readiness councils are responsible for allocating funding to individual programs. CSRI includes an evaluation of classroom quality, and baseline assessment data were used to target quality improvement funds. Between 1997 and 2000, CSRI showed significant improvement in classroom quality, with the number of classrooms rated excellent tripling and the percentage of classrooms rated inadequate to minimal dropping from 50% to 8%.(51)
In the mid-1990s, Delaware began to provide comprehensive early childhood programming for all children aged four who were living in poverty. The Early Childhood Assistance Programs (ECAP) are modeled after the federal Head Start program and use the Head Start Performance Standards as their program standards. The state also supplements federal Head Start funds with its own dollars. Delaware formed an interdepartmental committee called the Interagency Resource Management Committee to oversee the state’s early intervention programs, including the ECAPs, the Birth to Three Early Intervention System for very young children with disabilities and their families, and the Preschool Children with Disabilities programs for three-and-four-year-olds. Delaware funded a longitudinal study of its early childhood program, which found that 69% of former Head Start students in the state are meeting the standards on state achievements tests in third grade. Only 48.7% in a comparison group of poor children who did not attend Head Start are meeting those standards.(52)
The Georgia Pre-kindergarten (Pre-K) Program was established in 1993 to provide Georgia’s four-year-olds with high quality preschool experiences needed to be ready for kindergarten and the elementary school years. The program is funded by a state lottery that was created in 1989 to support only education initiatives, including a voluntary preschool program for four-year-old children. This approach is creating a system that includes Head Start, pre-kindergarten and center-based childcare programs.
Georgia Pre-K is administered at the state level by the Office of School Readiness (OSR), which reports directly to the Governor. Enabling legislation authorizes OSR to administer the operation and management of voluntary pre-kindergarten, and certain other preschool and child development programs, and any federal funds relevant to these functions. OSR also is authorized to provide assistance to local units of administration to ensure proliferation of services. OSR oversees Pre-K, licensing of Pre-K providers, the federal funded Child and Adult Care Food Program and Summer Food Service Program, and a set of other initiatives. The agency works directly with local providers to implement state policies and federal funding streams.
There are two types of competitive processes to establish child care learning centers, depending on whether the center plans to offer primarily pre-kindergarten services or both pre-kindergarten and comprehensive family supports and engage in extensive coordination with Medicaid, TANF, Food Stamps, SSI and, in some instances, children who receive free and reduced price meals under the USDA school lunch program. To become a Georgia Pre-K service provider, a program must be approved by OSR staff. Applicants must describe the content that will provided to children during the 6.5 hours of instructional time, expectations for children at the end of the 180 day program, and which of the seven approved curricula will be used (or the applicant may submit a locally developed one for approval instead).
To offer additional services, applicants must demonstrate the quality of the service delivery plan, linkages to other collaborative initiatives in the community, the education and experience of the resource coordinator, the proposed plan to collect data and evaluate outcomes, and a budget proposal which should address the number of children served compared to expenditures. Children who receive assistance beyond the pre-kindergarten services are referred to as Category One children. In the 1999-2000 school year, 970 Georgia Pre-K child-care learning centers enrolled 62,500 children, including 30,000 Category One children.
OSR has developed detailed guidelines to assist participating providers in implementing key policies and procedures. The guidelines define eligibility criteria and specify educational experiences which must be provided for at least 5 hours per day in the areas of language/literacy development, mathematics, science, music, art, and physical development and. OSR has developed a set of “Learning Goals” to describe the meaning of these categories and a “Best Practices Portfolio” with specific classroom activities. The guidelines also specify criteria regarding class size, teacher qualifications and training, curriculum, licensing, parent fees, parent participation, transportation, health services and resource coordination services.
Pre-K services are provided by public/private elementary and secondary schools, postsecondary vocational technical institutes, private and state colleges, private non-profit and for-profit child care learning centers, Division of Family and Children Services offices, Head Start sites, hospitals, military bases, and YMCA/YWCAs. OSR does not require programs to provide services to extend the duration of the program, but many providers put together funding from the Department of Human Resources and/or Head Start to extend the time they can provide services to low-income parents.
Lead teachers must have either certification in early childhood or elementary education; a four-year college degree in early childhood, education, or other approved fields, a technical institute diploma; a two-year associate degree or Montessori diploma; or a Child Development Associate (CDA) or Child Care Professional Credential (CCP). The state is phasing out the CDA and CCP options by requiring teachers with these qualifications to participate in degree programs.(53)
North Carolina has implemented a variety of strategies to build an effective early care and education system for children from birth to the start of kindergarten. “Smart Start” is a comprehensive community-based early childhood initiative that strives for collaboration at both the state and local level. An evaluation of Smart Start by researchers at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute indicates that the quality of center-based child care has significantly improved because of Smart Start, and that children who attended child care centers that were involved in Smart Start quality improvement activities entered school with significantly better skills than those who did not.
The “More at Four” pre-kindergarten program complements Smart Start by targeting at-risk four-year-olds and providing a high quality program of standards-driven, research-based educational pre-kindergarten. Each of North Carolina’s early childhood programs, including Head Start, child care, Smart Start, and More at Four, strives to link its funding, delivery systems and programming with the others, which has resulted in significant improvements in cooperation and better service to children.(54)
Ohio seeks to coordinate its Head Start, public preschool, and child care programs, with the goal of providing a high quality preschool experience to low-income children. This state-federal Head Start partnership reaches 57,000 children, a number that encompasses nearly all eligible three- and four-year-olds in the state. Child care centers receiving federal child care subsidies can also receive Head Start aid for children whose families are at or below 100 percent of the federal poverty level. The child care centers can then use Head Start resources to provide higher salaries and more training for staff members, both key aspects of high-quality child care programs. The centers, in turn, have to meet Head Start requirements for providing such services as health screenings and ensuring that parents are involved in the program. In addition, Ohio employs a system of standards, curricula and assessments that align preschool and Head Start standards with the state’s K-12 system.(55)
In recent years, Texas has been the site of several innovative efforts to improve the language, literacy, and cognitive skills of preschoolers, with the overarching goal of ensuring that children are prepared to succeed in kindergarten.
The Margaret H. Cone Head Start Center was established in 1990 as a partnership between the Texas Instruments Foundation and Head Start of Greater Dallas.(56) The goal of this partnership was to develop a model, research-based comprehensive early childhood services program for children and families who were mostly black and Hispanic and lived in a near-by, extremely impoverished South Dallas neighborhood. The approach has become a widely known example of a comprehensive, early childhood services program that has established a language and literacy-rich curriculum.
The Texas Early Start Initiative is a new state-wide effort to coordinate early childhood programs and enhance young children’s language and pre-reading knowledge and skills. The goal of the state initiative is to improve learning by providing Head Start, public and private childcare facilities, faith-based groups, and pre-kindergarten classes with teachers trained to use curriculum materials that prepare children for school, promote skills such as language and pre-reading that are essential to school readiness, and align with the state’s existing pre-kindergarten standards. Texas voluntary standards for the pre-kindergarten curricula cover language and literacy, mathematics, science, social studies, fine arts, health and safety, and physical development. The guidelines were developed in consultation with early childhood educators and administrators, as well as child development and early education researchers.
The Center for Improving Readiness of Children for Learning and Education (CIRCLE) at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston is the designated center for designing and implementing the Early Start initiative. CIRCLE is working to develop training for early childhood educators throughout Texas, identify curriculum materials that meet voluntary state standards and promote language and pre-reading skills, and coordinate early childhood funding streams and programs. The CIRCLE approach to educator training has produced substantial increases in language and literacy skills for children at Head Start centers and preschool programs.(58)
In addition to the state efforts covered above, several cities have also made great strides in improving coordination of early childhood programs at the local level. These examples include:
Denver has integrated Head Start services with other local services for young children and their families to build a comprehensive, integrated network of high quality early childhood programs and services. The Denver public school system is a delegate of the Denver Great Kids program. Denver’s public school system also operates an Early Childhood Program with a literature-based curriculum that provides services for approximately 3,700 four-year-olds in 88 elementary schools and 16 community centers.(59)
The Bibb County, Georgia, Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) has developed an initiative to serve poor families in the region through “collaboratives,” a series of projects created by combinations of local agencies that provide support services to families. These collaboratives, which include a child care and child care training center, a residential drug abuse treatment facility for pregnant and parenting women, a pediatric clinic, health programs at the local medical center, and neighborhood outreach programs, have created a high level of service integration in the county and provided greater access to services for poor families. As part of this county initiative, the Bibb County Training/Child Care Center provides skilled training for welfare recipients as child care providers, parenting skills training for welfare recipients, quality child care slots for children of welfare mothers returning to work, parenting skills for non-resident fathers, and training for child care providers, including in-home providers.(60)
The local Head Start has collaborated with child care centers to provide high quality full-day care for children, while the local school district operates Child and Family Learning Centers, which provide full-day, high quality child care on a sliding fee scale for three-to-five year-olds at every elementary school.(61)
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district, located in the southern Piedmont region of North Carolina, is one of the largest in the nation. The districts’ pre-kindergarten program, Bright Beginnings, is a full-day, literacy-based initiative for four-year-olds identified as having educational needs. A primary motivation for the program was the need to eliminate the achievement gap for poor and minority students in the county. Funding comes primarily from Title 1, with significant support from community and corporate partners. Children are eligible for the program if results of formal screening show an educational need, as specified in the Title I policy guidance.
Bright Beginnings currently serves approximately 3,000 students. Sites are located in centers and elementary schools in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system. A few hundred students participate in Smart Start-funded community-based sites, such as child care centers, part-day preschools, and Head Start facilities. Additional classes are funded by North Carolina’s More at Four initiative (see state description). The required components of the program are a child-centered curriculum with a strong focus on language development and pre-reading; professional development; ongoing research and evaluation; strong parent/family participation and involvement; and community partnerships, participation, and collaboration. While the program emphasizes language and literacy development, a guiding principle of Bright Beginnings is that cognitive, social, emotional and physical development are interrelated in young children, and all developmental areas must be addressed. Thus, in addition to language and literacy, the curriculum provides key foundational experiences in mathematics, science, social studies, creative arts, social development, physical development, and exposure to technology using computers and age-appropriate software.
The program is linked to the district’s academic goals for kindergarten through third grade. Teachers are required to have a North Carolina birth-through-kindergarten certification to teach in the program or to have provisional certification. Title I funds support the graduate school education necessary to qualify for certification.
Using a non-experimental design, the county has compared the literacy and mathematics performance of 1,382 students in the 1997-98 Bright Beginnings class to 184 eligible students who did not participate, as well as to all kindergarteners and first-graders in the school district. Children who participated had higher scores than non-participants in both kindergarten and first grade (though their scores did not reach the district average).(62) An independent, rigorous evaluation of the program has not been conducted; however, impact studies using randomized designs are currently underway with funding from the U.S. Department of Education, and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and other collaborating DHHS agencies.
Many states report positive outcomes in terms of increased child care and services as a result of coordination and collaboration.(63)
There is some evidence suggesting that high quality state preschool and pre-kindergarten programs can enhance the school readiness of children and lead to improved performance in school. This evidence includes the following:
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Research shows that children in Head Start are falling behind and too often are not ready for school. In particular, those children who are the poorest and have the most risk factors do not enter kindergarten with the intellectual resources they need to succeed. Some of these children are being served by Head Start, but others are in state pre-kindergarten, childcare, and home-settings. From basic science on learning and development and from intervention studies we know a great deal about how to narrow the achievement gap for Head Start and other disadvantaged children before they enter kindergarten. Research tells us the knowledge and skills children need in language, pre-reading, and pre-mathematics, and the social and emotional competencies they must have to succeed in school. The President believes that the Head Start program must be strengthened and provide more emphasis on pre-reading, language, pre-mathematics and other cognitive skills, while continuing to promote children’s health and social and emotional competence as part of school readiness. Research tells us that early childhood education implemented with qualified and well-trained teachers can make a significant and meaningful impact on the development of children’s knowledge and skills, their achievement in school, and success in life.
Everyone agrees that fragmentation is a problem and that uncoordinated approaches to offering early childhood education and care are preventing children from accessing the educational instruction and services they need to be school ready. We know that states are beginning to offer state pre-kindergarten programs that hold promise for producing positive results for children, successfully coordinating early childhood programs, and creating seamless systems that align early childhood programs with the public schools. There is a dire need to apply the evidence available to us and build on the good progress states are making in reducing fragmentation, coordinating funding streams and services, and aligning early childhood programs with the public schools.
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President’s plan will strengthen Head Start and
Children Who Entered Head Start in 1997
Performed Far Below Average Upon Both Entering and Leaving Head Start.
* Statistically significant difference between Fall and Spring.
Children Who Entered Head Start in 2000
Still Perform Far Below Average Both Upon Entering and Leaving Head Start.
* Statistically significant difference between Fall and Spring.
Percentage of Children Scoring Below Basic Achievement Levels
as a Function of Eligibility for the National School Lunch Program
Note. Within each skill area, all within-grade differences are statistically significant.
Percentage of Children Scoring At or Above Proficient Level
as a Function of Eligibility for the National School Lunch Program
Note. Within each skill area, all within-grade differences are statistically significant.