Friday, March 23, 2012

How Are the Children?

"How are the children?"
Update #3 on the New Federal Head Start Rules

By: John J. Drew, former Head Start parent
and ABCD President/CEO

Why we must protect Head Start and its base in Community Action

At our ABCD Head Start Professional Development Training Day this year, a highly respected educational leader and champion for low-income, inner-city children and families, addressed our 600 Head Start teachers and staff who each day provide early education and care for approximately 2,400 Head Start children and their families.

She noted that in Kenya, the health of society is judged by the well-being of its children. When people greet each other on the street, rather than say "Hello, how are you?" the standard greeting is "How are the children?"

These words prompted a standing ovation from the hundreds of committed early education and care providers whose dedicated work in ABCD Head Start programs makes a difference every day for children from our city’s most at-risk families. I felt they were an appropriate opening for this update on the new Health & Human Services (HHS) rules on program competition, rules that put at risk a nationwide Head Start system with a documented track record for promoting the well-being of poor children and their families.

Lawsuit filed to prevent implementation of unfair competition rules

On Friday, February 24, the Ohio Head Start Association, Massachusetts Association for Community Action Programs (MASSCAP) and the Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies filed a lawsuit in the Federal District Court of the District of Columbia against the United States Department of Health & Human Services and Secretary Sebelius to bar HHS' implementation of a new rule requiring certain Head Start programs to compete for the next five years of their funding.

As has been discussed in previous communications, this arbitrary "re-competition" targeted at 132 Head Start programs in effect terminates their grants for disparate reasons with no established standards for judging their performance. No appeal or fair hearing process is provided. They are then in the position of trying to continue serving children and families under the cloud of their suspended status which results in delayed employment decisions, facilities upgrades, new collaborations and affiliations. In effect, business as usual is suspended.

The agencies' selection for grant termination and competition is based on past reviews where even one "deficiency" which has long ago been corrected puts them on the list for competition.

We support healthy competition that is fair and balanced. If a program performs poorly, action should be taken. But the way this regulation has been drafted and implemented flies in the face of a fair process. High quality programs are pulled into the mix. Everyone's future is compromised – but most of all the futures of the low-income children and families who depend upon Head Start are put at risk.

A recent news report in Education Week about the brewing Head Start competition for grants in New York City showcases the confusion and potential harm created by the new regulations. Calling the situation "a sea change in the Head Start world," the article describes New York’s 200 Head Start providers "in limbo," as the process unfolds. How can normal hiring practices, facility upgrades, collaborations and affiliations continue amidst this disruption?  Some providers report being encouraged by Head Start officials to apply independently for Head Start grants, which would put them in direct competition with their current administration, a politically thorny and practically awkward situation.

None of this can be good for the children and families served by Head Start.

We will keep you updated regarding the litigation process.

Head Start Works! And there is solid research to document its value

There is significant evidence that America’s 22 million children and their families served by Head Start over the past 48 years have benefited immensely from that experience. It must continue without disruption.

At that Head Start training conference last week, we also heard about important Head Start research documenting the long-term value of Head Start. Many of you may be aware of this content, but hearing our audience of Head Start providers applaud these outcomes made me  feel more strongly than ever that we must all work together to preserve this all-important program and the strong community action presence that makes it work so well.  Here are some of the points we managed to capture at the conference…and some others that we pulled from the data base.

  • In a study conducted in 2011 at the University of California at Berkeley, men who had participated in Head Start had decreased incarceration rates and increased earning levels. There were still lower rates of incarceration and increased earning levels when children attended Head Start centers with higher budgets and when they subsequently attended high quality elementary schools.

    Thus – the researchers concluded:
    • "Head Start works!"
    • "Head Start works better when the investments in it are right."
    • "Head Start works even better when the schools children go to after Head Start are high quality."
  • Research also shows that Head Start is a wise investment for society. The preliminary results of a study of more than 600 Head Start graduates in San Bernardino County, CA, showed that society receives nearly $9 in benefits for every $1 invested in these Head Start children. These benefits include increased earnings, employment and family stability and decreased welfare dependency, crime costs, grade repetition and special education. (Meier, J. 2003, June 20. Head Start Success. Preschool Service Department, San Bernardino County, CA)
  • Head Start children in the 2000 cohort of the Family and Childe Experiences Survey (FACES) demonstrated a greater increase than the typical child in vocabulary and early writing.
  • Head Start children are significantly more likely to complete high school and attend college than their siblings who did not attend Head Start. ("Longer Term Effects of Head Start," The American Economic Review, Sept. 2002, 92, 4:999-1012)
  • Several studies have found that Head Start children experience increased achievement test scores and that Head Start children show favorable long-term effects on grade repetition, special education and graduation rates. (Barnett, W., The Battle Over Head Start: What the Research Shows. Presentation at Science & Public Policy Briefing,  Federation of Behavioral, Psychological and Cognitive Sciences, Sept. 13, 2002)

The list of positive research results goes on and on. See for additional information.

We need to make these findings more visible. We need an ongoing national campaign to proclaim the unparalleled success of the innovative idea – the brainchild of the best and the brightest of War on Poverty pioneers – that is Head Start. We need to give credit to all the Head Start providers and supporters who over the years have given their hearts and minds and untiring assistance to this essential program.

Invested in by our federal government, supported enthusiastically by the U.S. Congress and the American public for almost 50 years, nurtured by a community of committed child development experts, parents, educators, health providers, businesses and philanthropies, Head Start is a cornerstone of American opportunity.

Head Start is a national treasure. As are the community action agencies with staffers who work day in and day out, long and hard in the multiple pockets of poverty in this country, determined to make a difference for the 20.7 million disadvantaged Americans seeking pathways to a better life.

The members of the community action movement and the Head Start community have worked side by side to provide opportunities for those in need. We will continue to do so.

Thank you for listening! And stay tuned….