January 12, 2016 Press Releases

New Report Outlines 9 Concrete Steps to a Stronger Head Start


A new report released today outlines nine key policy recommendations that would increase the use of data and evidence to strengthen the impact of Head Start, the Federal government’s largest early childhood education program.

The report, “Moneyball for Head Start: Using Data, Evidence, and Evaluation to Improve Outcomes for Children and Families,” authored by Sara Mead and Ashley LiBetti Mitchel, is jointly published by Results for America, Bellwether Education Partners, the National Head Start Association, and the Volcker Alliance.

“Numerous studies show that early childhood investments can improve a range of life outcomes, but the quality of the early childhood programs matters a lot ” said Michele Jolin, CEO & Co-Founder of Results for America. “This report highlights real, actionable ways to strengthen Head Start and improve the quality of this critical early childhood program.”

“Head Start is an important federal program that improves the lives of the nation’s most vulnerable children and their families,” said Sara Mead, a partner with Bellwether Education Partners and co-author of the report. “Increasing the use of data, evidence, and evaluation will improve outcomes by helping policymakers and grantees to identify what’s working and share effective practices across Head Start.”

“The assessment and implementation of data, evidence and evaluation is essential to the relentless pursuit of Head Start quality improvement,” said Yasmina Vinci, executive director of the National Head Start Association. “Recognizing Head Start as the proven, national model for the successful delivery of quality early learning services, this report offers federal policymakers specific recommendations on how to support Head Start grantees’ use of data to strengthen their impact and improve results for children and families. This report is a clear roadmap to fully supporting and integrating valuable data to ensure another fifty years of Head Start opening windows of opportunity to our nation’s most vulnerable children.”

“Grants are a critical tool in the federal toolkit used to work with other levels of government and non-profit organizations to accomplish program objectives. More effective government grant management is essential,” said Shelley H. Metzenbaum, senior advisor at the Volcker Alliance. “I hope this report, focused on one federal grant program, begins an important and long overdue discussion about how all federal grant programs can and should choose and use performance data and other evidence more wisely not just to guide policy and central office decisions, but also to help those on the front-line learn how to be more effective, efficient, and responsive.”

To address challenges and enable Head Start to better serve our nation’s young people and their families, the report recommends the following steps:

  1. The U.S. Congress and the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) should make data-informed, continuous improvement a key priority in any legislative or regulatory policy action on Head Start;
  1. The Office of Head Start, within HHS, and the philanthropic sector should invest in building grantee capacity to use data to improve performance;
  1. Federal policymakers should initiate an iterative process to develop robust, common performance indicators for Head Start and should engage researchers, the philanthropic sector, and Head Start grantees as partners in this process;
  1. Federal research agencies should work with researchers and the philanthropic sector to support the development of solid, trusted metrics of Head Start child outcomes, family outcomes, and program capacity;
  1. The Office of Head Start should provide transparent, interactive, public reporting on grantee performance;
  1. Once the Office of Head Start has developed a sufficiently robust system to measure grantee performance, it should use this system to differentiate grantee performance in order to identify high-performing grantees and learn from and scale their effective practices; support improvement in adequately performing grantees; intervene in low-performing programs; and, when necessary, defund or require them to compete for grants;
  1. The Office of Head Start should continue, learn from, and build on efforts to make program monitoring more performance focused and less compliance oriented;
  1. The Secretary of Health and Human Services should implement a robust research agenda for Head Start, and Congress should increase the cap on Head Start research, demonstration, and evaluation spending from $20 million to 1 percent of total appropriations; and
  1. Congress should authorize the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to grant additional flexibility to allow cohorts of programs working with researchers to pilot new approaches to serving children and families.

Read Moneyball for Head Start: Using Data, Evidence, and Evaluation to Improve Outcomes for Children and Families

Today’s report builds on policy recommendations outlined in the “Renewing Head Start’s Promise: Invest in What Works for Disadvantaged Preschoolers” report by Sara Mead released in July 2014.

About Results for America
Results for America (RFA) is improving outcomes for young people, their families, and communities by shifting public resources toward evidence-based, results-driven solutions. RFA is working to achieve this goal through a three-part strategy: building a strong, bipartisan Invest in What Works coalition; developing and advancing the next generation of evidence-based, results-driven practices, policies, and programs; and supporting leaders at all levels of government to invest in what works. For more information about Results for America, visit www.results4america.org.

About Bellwether Education Partners
Bellwether Education Partners is a nonprofit dedicated to helping education organizations in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors become more effective in their work and achieve dramatic results, especially for high-need students. To do so, we provide a unique combination of exceptional thinking, talent, and hands-on strategic support. For more information about Bellwether, visit http://bellwethereducation.org/.

About the National Head Start Association

The National Head Start Association (NHSA) is a nonprofit organization committed to the belief that every child, regardless of circumstances at birth, has the ability to succeed in life. NHSA is the voice for more than 1 million children, 200,000 staff and 1,600 Head Start grantees in the United States. Since 1974, NHSA has worked diligently for policy changes that ensure all at-risk children have access to the Head

Start model of support for the whole child, the family and the community. NHSA’s vision is to lead – to be the untiring voice that will not be quiet until every vulnerable child is served with the Head Start model of support for the whole child, the family and the community – and to advocate – to work diligently for policy and institutional changes that ensure all vulnerable children and families have what they need to succeed. NHSA’s mission is to coalesce, inspire, and support the Head Start field as a leader in early childhood development and education. www.nhsa.org


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