For the first time since 1975, the Head Start Program Performance Standards (HSPPS) have had a full revision. Head Start, for our readers that might not be familiar with the program, was started as a part of ‘the war on poverty’ program initiatives of President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965. Head Start and Early Head Start programs aim to improve school readiness of children from low-income families through developmental support and support for health and family wellbeing. The HSPPS outline standards and establish minimum requirements for all of the various services that Head Start and Early Head Start programs provide. Considering all of the advances in early childhood education and development research over the past forty years, this update is long overdue. The Administration of Children and Families released the HSPPS on the September 1, 2016 and they went into effect on November 7, 2016. Although this only signals the start of the implementation process, a majority of the revised standards will need to be complied with by August 2017, with additional requirements needing to be met by August 2018, 2019, and 2021.
According to the Office of Head Start, the HSPPS major provisions will:
- Promote effective teaching and learning in Head Start classrooms
- Expand time for learning and healthy development
- Maintain and strengthen Head Start’s comprehensive services and family engagement
- Ensure the health and safety of Head Start children
- Promote effective management and continuous improvement of Head Start programs
While much of the HSPPS will seem familiar to those knowledgeable of previous regulations, two important things have changed. First is a requirement that programs increase the number of hours of service each day, totaling 1,020 hours of service for preschoolers annually. Second is an increased focus on and importance afforded to relationships with parents. Although Head Start has always considered parents as partners, the new standards’ final rule is to, “clearly acknowledges that parents as their children’s best advocates, better articulates family partnership services requirements, and maintains the parent committee requirement.”
These changes are step in the right direction for Head Start. After reports of disappointing results were released on Head Start student outcomes, there were two possible reactions that could have followed. One reaction could have been the elimination or scaling back of this long running program. Luckily this didn’t happen. Instead, reflection was taken, and with evidence proving the potential impact of Pre-K programs, it was resolved to work to improve the program.
Taking decades of research into account, the updated performance standards and regulations represent new hope for the future. Now is an important time for the federal government to make sure that it engages our country’s researchers and provides opportunities for the study of the implementation process as well as outcomes.
Stay tuned, as in coming week guest contributors will weigh in on the specifics of Head Start and the “Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Framework” I will continue to track Head Start’s changes, and highlight progress made, give updates when new studies surface. For some anecdotal evidence on the impact Head Start has had in people’s lives visit this link.
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