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The Rocky Road to Higher Quality Pre-K

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Lead from the Start: The Rocky Road to Higher Quality Pre-K

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Rocky Road to Higher Quality Pre-K

FallingRocks.svg I guess I have to say something. I am not sure I want to because I don't want to play the political game that this type of research is used to support. But, it is my responsibility to talk about important research in the field of early childhood education. So, I will set off up the rocky road that is the The Head Start Impact Study final Report released on January 13th, with certainty and care. As a pre-k advocate my survival instinct says to acknowledge that there were not resounding "hallelujah's" for Head Start from this study and then, change the subject. I will not take that route though. Instead I want to dig deeper into the study than some policy wonks or those with a political agenda may have done.

The study had two major findings that those who are already opposed to Head Start, ignore. One is that, overall, there were benefits for 4 year olds in the cognitive domain in language and literacy. The other is that 3 year olds made gains in all four domains the study investigated including cognitive, social-emotional, health and parenting outcomes.

To me this suggests that if a student is in Head Start for one year, they make gains in literacy only. This makes sense because the amount of positive impact you can make on a child in one year is limited and highly transient according to early childhood research. The second finding, that 3 year olds made gains in all four domains, suggests that the benefit of Head Start is not only in academic ability but in the social-emotional, health, and parenting outcomes of Head Start. This is no small feat. How often is K-12 education found to impact areas outside of the classroom that affect school success? The Heritage Foundation, an organization opposed to funding Head Start, cites research that supports that there is "a strong rela­tionship between parental influences and children's educational outcomes, from school readiness to college completion."

Here are the statistically significant outcomes from the study.



Cognitive Outcomes Social-Emotional Outcomes Health Outcomes Parenting Outcomes
3 year old
Oral Comprehension closer and more positive relationships with their parents impact on child health insurance coverage in kindergarten
positive favorable impacts on use of time-out and authoritarian parenting
4 year old
Vocabulary
findings for the 4-year-old cohort are inconsistent impact on child health insurance coverage at the end of kindergarten and 1st grade no significant parenting practices impacts

The role of access to high quality early childhood services is also investigated in this study but is not mentioned in most of the coverage. From the report,
Providing access to Head Start had a positive impact on children’s exposure to high-quality early care and education environments. Specifically, there are statistically significant differences between the Head Start group and the control group on every aspect of children’s early care experiences measured in this study... The majority (70 percent) of children in the Head Start group in both cohorts were in centers with overall average ECERS-R scores of at least a five on a seven-point scale, indicating a good or better quality environment.
I am embarrassed to say it, but not all Head Start programs are of the same high quality. The program I work for recently took responsibility for a Head Start grant that had been maintained by a higher education entity. You would think, "higher ed must mean they know what they are doing," not true. The quality of the services and the breaches of performance standards in this program were significant and pervasive, and, worst of all, happening in the same community as our consistently highly rated program. Why was this happening? Mostly a lack of leadership committed to implementing the Head Start performance standards.

Quality is not universal in Head Start programs. It is high in most programs according to the study, (70 percent) but not in all.

Head Start needs to acknowledge this report and NOT change the subject. We need to take it as a call to action. I have been asked several times if I am interested in directing a Head Start program. My answer has always been, I am not sure. The program is 40 years old and has not undergone a major revision of performance standards to my knowledge. Much has been added over the years, from Training and Technical Assistance partnerships to requirements of bachelors for half a program's lead teachers, but nothing has been taken away. It must be difficult for a director to consistently meet the performance standards and not have to cut some quality corners in other parts of their program. As a teacher recently told me, "Head Start requires us to meet standards but doesn't make it possible to do it."


A lot has changed in the past 40 years in early childhood education. A significant revision of the performance standards, with a focus on research based quality indicators would go a long way towards changing the results of this study.

1 Comments:

At 7:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice report on Perry Preschool in Ypsilanti , MI on NPR:

http://americanradioworks.publicradio.org/features/preschool/

 

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