NASET News Alert

Successful Head Start Programs Highlight Possibilities for Early Childhood Education Reform

May 26, 2006

WASHINGTON, D.C.(April 14, 2005) – Testifying today before the House Subcommittee on Education Reform, representatives of high quality Head Start early childhood programs described the strategies that have made them successful and outlined additional steps that could be taken at the federal level to make the program even stronger.  With Congress preparing to strengthen and reauthorize the Head Start program this year, today’s hearing offered valuable insight into what factors make up effective Head Start programs, and what weaknesses may prevent the program from reaching its full potential.

“For the better part of two years, this committee has been making the case that Head Start is a good program that can be made stronger.  Since 1965, the Head Start program has provided comprehensive health, developmental, and educational services to disadvantaged three and four-year olds.  Head Start involves parents and communities in helping prepare needy children to succeed in school and beyond,” said Subcommittee Chairman Mike Castle (R-DE). 

“Yet despite the many success stories in the program – and there are many – we have also heard troubling stories about program weaknesses,” continued Castle.  “The GAO recently released a report that warned the financial control system in the federal Head Start early childhood program is flawed and failing to prevent multi-million dollar financial abuses that cheat poor children, taxpayers, and law-abiding Head Start operators.”

During a hearing held by the Education and the Workforce Committee on April 5, the independent GAO testified on the findings of its recent report on weaknesses in the financial oversight structure for the Head Start program.  Among the recommendations highlighted by the GAO report was a call for increased competition to help weed out poorly performing programs and ensure disadvantaged children and families have access to high quality programs and services.

Witnesses before the subcommittee outlined additional steps that could help to strengthen Head Start, including strategies for improved coordination and integration of Head Start and other state and local pre-school and early childhood programs.  Committee leaders have recognized program integration as a key goal for enhancing services available to low-income children and their families.

Education and the Workforce Committee leaders have identified a number of characteristics common among exemplary programs.  These characteristics, displayed by the witnesses at today’s hearing, should be the rule for Head Start and not the exception, Republicans noted.  Exemplary programs should demonstrate success in multiple facets of their program, including strong parent involvement; success in improving child outcomes across all developmental domains; a language-rich learning environment; well-qualified staff and administrators; an engaged and well trained board of directors; clean financial audits and program reviews; and, full program enrollment.  Additionally, exemplary programs should secure community involvement and support, and when possible, integrate Head Start with pre-kindergarten and other early learning programs within the community.

On March 30, 2005, Education and the Workforce Committee leaders unveiled a new website seeking input from parents, teachers, and advocates for early childhood education on how to strengthen and improve the Head Start early childhood program.  The web-based survey also invites the public to share stories about exceptional Head Start programs and what has made them so effective.  The Head Start survey is available on the Education and the Workforce Committee website at http://edworkforce.house.gov.

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