Why Comprehensive Early Childhood Education
                           is
So Important

Funding Head Start is investing in the most critical time period where we can have the most impact. Brain researchers have discovered that 90 percent of brain development is completed by the age of 3, and by age 4 concepts of compassion, conscience and personal responsibility are established. Brain development is "activity-dependent," meaning that the electrical activity in every circuit--sensory, motor, emotional, cognitive--shapes the way that circuit gets put together. Like computer circuits, neural circuits process information through the flow of electricity. Unlike computer circuits, however, the circuits in our brains are not fixed. Every experience--whether it's seeing one's first rainbow, riding a bicycle, reading a book or sharing a joke--excites certain neural circuits and leaves others inactive. Those that are repeatedly and consistently turned on will be strengthened, while those that are rarely excited may drop away. Or, as neuroscientists sometimes say, "Cells that fire together, wire together."

Do early childhood programs like Head Start really work?

Yes. Recent studies point to both short and long term positive gains for children participating in comprehensive early care programs. Here are just a few positive reports:
    • The results of a randomly selected longitudinal study of more than 600 Head Start graduates in San Bernardino County, California, 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.
       
    • A study from researchers at UCLA found that Head Start children are significantly less likely to have been charged with a crime than their siblings who did not participate in Head Start.
       
    • In a 12-year longitudinal study of Washington State ECEAP (1988-2000), researchers found that ECEAP children made significantly greater academic gains, displayed more positive behaviors, enjoyed school more, and had fewer health problems than non-ECEAP children.
       
    • Families also greatly benefited from Washington State ECEAP's family orientation and focus on parent involvement and training. In year 1 of the study only 5% of ECEAP families were above the Federal Poverty Level; in year 9 over 50% had reached that level, a ten-fold increase. Their mean family income rose by more than 51%, and their reliance on public assistance was greatly reduced.
       
    • Other studies have shown that at-risk children without quality preschool were 70% more likely to commit violent crimes, and have lower graduation rates and higher drug use. 
       

MYTH:  Early Childhood Programs Take Mothers Out of the Home

False.  Head Start firmly believes that parents are a child's first and most important teacher.  This program supports families in setting goals and accessing resources to help families break out of the bonds of poverty that often force both parents to work outside the home.  Increased family literacy, increased family awareness of community resources, increased adult education and job skills, and increased parenting skills help families to become healthy, informed, and self-reliant so the choices they make belong to them- not to the need to survive from paycheck to paycheck.

Head Start: Making a Good Thing Better

Posted: 9/14/11 01:22 PM ET
It takes a lot more than the ABC's and a working knowledge of colors to get ready for kindergarten. As 1 million low-income children head to Head Start programs across the country this month -- we know that providing them and their families with a broad range of services will give them their best possible chance at success in school. That's why, in 49,000 classrooms across the country, Head Start teachers and staff are not only providing critical education services, but also dental, nutritional, mental health and other services to the children and their families.

The children who attend Head Start come from families and communities facing enormous economic and social challenges. Head Start serves the highest need populations, including children who are in the child welfare system, are homeless, are just learning English, and who have disabilities. Often, families who faced barriers to critically needed services in other settings get access to the services they need through Head Start.

While we know through extensive research that Head Start helps prepare our most vulnerable children for kindergarten, we also know that we can do better. We want to ensure that more children benefit from quality Head Start programs, and that those benefits continue through their school years. That is why the Office of Head Start has launched a reform agenda that is bold, innovative, and built on the best evidence available. This reform is designed to ensure that all Head Start children are ready for success in kindergarten and that all Head Start programs are high quality and well managed.

We have sent a strong message to Head Start programs and the entire early education community that the bar for quality has been raised. If a program is not delivering the high-quality educational experience our children deserve, and if there is a more capable, better qualified entity to run Head Start in a community, we owe it to our kids to shift funding to the more capable entity. While we are holding programs more accountable for higher quality services, we are also providing them with additional training and technical assistance through our National Centers.

Focusing on what happens in the classroom is key to improving children's experiences while they are in Head Start. But that is not enough. We are also working to improve the linkages between Head Start programs and the public schools children will enter when they start kindergarten. Strong linkages can accomplish several goals: they can assure that Head Start educational goals are matched up to what the schools think are important readiness goals; they can ease the transition for children by making sure that schools have good information and are prepared for the children coming from Head Start; and they can improve parent engagement at the critical point when the child is transitioning from Head Start to public school.

Head Start is the foundation of our nation's commitment to providing equal access to quality early learning programs. For children to reach their full potential -- and for our nation to reach its competitive potential -- we must provide the learning environments and services that children need in their first few vital years of development. Focusing on these children's success now is providing low-income families the opportunities they deserve and strengthening our country's workforce for decades to come.

Since 1965, Head Start has provided a critical lifeline for more than 28 million children and their families. Ed Ziegler, one of the founders of Head Start, always said that Head Start is not just a program -- it is an evolving concept.

Every day, the Office of Head Start continues to intensify our impacts, foster innovation, and ensure accountability so that every child in every Head Start program has the best opportunity to reach their full potential.

Head Start children need and deserve the most effective early education program possible. We are taking aggressive steps every day to meet our commitments to them.

Yvette Sanchez Fuentes is the national director of the Office of Head Start in the Administration for Children and Families division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

 

Head Start Works
By Yasmina Vinci, Executive Director, National Head Start Association

September 2010     Scholastic.com

A few active Head Start opponents have inaccurately portrayed the recent Head Start Impact Study as being negative to Head Start, and by doing so have unfairly misled a number of fair-minded observers. In actuality, the Study was yet another affirmation of the decades of rigorous peer-reviewed research showing that Head Start works.

The Head Start IS measured the school readiness of Head Start children compared to a control group, some of whom stayed home and many of whom attended other preschool programs. The result was dramatically favorable to the Head Start children. The prime conclusion of the study was that the Head Start children left Head Start better prepared "on every measure of children's preschool experiences measured in this study".

The study also looked at certain measures of academic performance at the end of first grade and was unable to detect any statistically significant difference between the two groups, a fact that Head Start opponents have trumpeted loudly. What the opponents fail to mention is that the data from the control group were totally contaminated by the time children entered school.

Parents in the control group, as they should have been, were allowed to do what was best for the children—find another program not included in the study. In fact, 40 percent of the control group children were enrolled in other Head Start centers that were not a part of the study at some point before they entered kindergarten. An additional 25 percent of the control group children attended other preschool programs for an average of four hours/week more than the Head Start children spent in Head Start.

In reality, there was no longer a valid control group by the time children reached first grade. There was no attempt made by the study to compare individual children who had actually attended Head Start with those who had not.

Issues of fade-out at specific points in the education process are not new. Previous studies have shown ebbs and flows in achievement from grade to grade throughout the educational experience. In spite of the ups and downs in achievement, long-term studies continue to reach the same conclusion: Head Start results in significant improvements in a wide variety of educational outcomes and life outcomes, such as increased high school graduation rates; fewer grade repetitions; fewer kids going into special education classes; higher vocabulary levels; better emotional development; reduced mortality rates of young kids; families moving out of poverty, and a significant impact on long-term outcomes of adults 19 years or older who attended Head Start.

The fact is Head Start does work for a vast majority of children. Can implementation of the program be improved? Of course. And it will be. Head Start has a 45-year history of continuous improvement. This study was conducted from 2002 to 2005. Two years ago, the Head Start reauthorization included many significant improvements to the program, some of which are in the process of taking effect and are not reflected in this study. This study likely will only catalyze the improvements already underway in Head Start since its reauthorization in late 2007.

We also need to improve the connections between the comprehensive services children receive in Head Start and the additional supports they may need to continue their successful progress in elementary schools. Head Start looks forward to working with the Department of Education and school districts across the country to help improve post-Head Start education by sharing strategies, such as parent involvement, that have worked well in Head Start and should work well in the elementary school setting.

 

Persistent myths put Head Start program in the crossfire
 
Published: 05/31/09  12:05 am

Head Start – the comprehensive birth-to-five education and health program serving nearly a million low-income children each year – is one of the federal government’s best success stories. Unfortunately, Head Start increasingly finds itself caught in the crossfire between the opponents and proponents of expanded pre-kindergarten (pre-K) services for children not now eligible for Head Start.

For opponents of wider pre-K, the assumption seems to be that they have to “take out” Head Start first in order to lay waste to “universal preschool.” The recent op-ed by Hoover Institution senior fellow Chester Finn (“Targeted – not universal – preschool is the answer,” May 19, 2009) is a prime example of this unfortunate trend.

The truth is that President Barack Obama, who has pledged to spend $10 billion or more a year on “zero to five” education, and Congress – which already has approved a $2.1 billion “down payment” on that commitment for Head Start and Early Head Start – have it exactly right: Head Start works. It gets results. And it is extremely accountable in terms of how federal monies are spent.

Using Mr. Finn’s op-ed article as a guide, let’s take a look at the myths and facts about Head Start.

Myth: Head Start is ineffectual.

Fact: Head Start is one of the best-documented success stories in the federal government. Studies show that Head Start generates benefits that exceed its costs. Our society receives nearly $9 in benefits for every $1 dollar invested in Head Start children, according to the preliminary results of a longitudinal study of more than 600 Head Start graduates in San Bernardino County, Calif. These projected benefits include increased earnings, employment and family stability; and decreased welfare dependency, crime costs, grade repetition and special education. Head Start benefits its children and society at large by reducing crime and its costs to crime victims. Head Start children are significantly less likely to have been charged with a crime than their siblings who did not participate in Head Start.

Myth: Head Start programs are shoddy and don’t measure the right things, such as kindergarten readiness.

Fact: The federal government probably has more information on the quality of Head Start programs than it does for our major banks undergoing stress tests. Two nationally representative studies from 2003 and 2005 – the Head Start Impact Study and the Family and Child Experiences Survey, respectively – reveal that Head Start programs are of consistently good quality. Head Start assesses the kindergarten-readiness of its students through locally based assessments and through multiple nationally representative studies of the children enrolled in Head Start. The Head Start Impact Study found statistically significant positive impacts for 3- and 4-year-old enrolled children on pre-reading, pre-writing, vocabulary and parent reports of children’s literacy skills.

Myth: Congress has forbidden Head Start to use readiness measures to evaluate program effectiveness.

Fact: The fact that Congress terminated the scientifically flawed Head Start National Reporting System did not eliminate the use of other readiness measures. In fact, Head Start programs must assess child outcomes three times a year and are encouraged to follow the Head Start Child Outcomes framework and assess children three times a year in eight developmental domains: language development, literacy, mathematics, science, creative arts, social and emotional development, approaches to learning, and physical heath and development. In addition to the assessments that each local program must undertake, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has conducted the Head Start Impact Study and the Early Head Start Impact Study to evaluate the effectiveness of the Head Start and Early Head Start programs, respectively.

Head Start prepares children for kindergarten and makes a difference in the lives of its graduates as they progress through their primary and secondary education. More than 200 years ago, John Adams declared: “Facts are stubborn things.” When it comes to Head Start, the stubborn facts demonstrate why it is that Head Start is the premier national birth to five early childhood program.

Yasmina Vinci is executive director of the National Head Start Association in Alexandria, VA.

The News Tribune  http://www.thenewstribune.com/opinion/othervoices/story/761950.html 

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