Opportunities to Advance Racial Equity in the Head Start Performance Standards

From left to right: Megan Madison, Catherine Corr, Katherine Paschall, Deborah Daro, Leah Bartley, Alayna Schreier

From left to right: Megan Madison, Catherine Corr, Katherine Paschall, Deborah Daro, Leah Bartley, Alayna Schreier

This week the Forum’s co-facilitators Megan Madison (far left) and Dr. Catherine Corr (second to left) were busy attending the annual meeting of the Doris Duke Fellowships at Chapin Hall in Chicago. They are part of a small group of emerging scholars focusing on interventions and systems aimed to promote child well-being.

Given their collective expertise and experience with Head Start programs, the group engaged in a rich discussion about the newly proposed Head Start Performance Standards.

On our Facebook page, Katie (Katherine Paschall) shared her thoughts:

Clearly, it is difficult to create regulations and policies for such a diverse group of families, but it is my wish that Head Start programs can continue to be responsive to the needs of their local communities; the strengths of the proposed updates allow for greater flexibility and strength in addressing the needs of vulnerable families, as defined by local communities. The weaknesses are those that threaten the strength of local communities/grantees to deliver the most appropriate program to their community.

From my view, the proposed standards include several commendable and appropriate updates to current enrollment policies, implementation strategies and focuses; the updates guided by research evidence are the clear strengths. For instance, Head Start will open slots to pregnant women experiencing homelessness & foster children, and intentionally incorporate evidence-based strategies for promoting the development of these particularly vulnerable populations.

The largest and most publicized update is the movement from half-day to full-day care, which is a double-edged sword. I am concerned, as are many others, that this will reduce the number of children who can be served, and that this will be an impediment to currently operating programs. I agree with the National Head Start Association that this should be one option, offered with the full support of the Office of Head Start, rather than a mandate.

All in all, the way the standards are written include few mandates, with plenty of “wiggle room” for programs to adapt them to their populations. However, some of that wiggle room can be problematic, such as the de-emphasis on family engagement. I look forward to hearing from my colleagues and am so glad to have the opportunity to publicly comment on these standards!

The group then compiled their thoughts into a formal comment.  All in all, they identified multiple ways in which the revision of these performance standards provided an opportunity to advance equity in early childhood education.  To read the group’s formal comment, click here.

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