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A Good Decade for Head Start

December 13, 2017
Sara Mead
US News & World Report

If you follow the news these days, it’s easy to believe the federal government can’t do anything right. Conservative politicians have long argued that government is inherently less effective than markets, and that state and local governments do a better job than the feds. But Republican control and dysfunctional policymaking have spurred even pro-government liberals to question the viability of our federal institutions. And the partisan bickering, scandals and ongoing gridlock from Washington have left many ordinary Americans disgusted.

In this climate, it’s all the more important to recognize where the federal government is doing things well. The 2007 Head Start Act, signed into law 10 years ago this week, offers a great example of bipartisan Congressional action that has had positive results for children and our country.

Head Start is an early learning and child development program serving children in poverty and their families. Created in 1965 as part of the War on Poverty, Head Start is funded by the federal government but operated by a network of local programs, including school districts, community action agencies and other non-profit organizations. Since its founding, Head Start has emphasized a comprehensive approach to child development that supports children’s health and family economic well-being as well as early learning.

Starting in the 1990s, however, federal policymakers, swayed by evidence of early learning’s impact on long-term child outcomes and the educational benefits of quality pre-K, focused increasing attention on Head Start’s educational role.

Thus, the 2007 Head Start Act took a number of steps to improve school readiness for Head Start. It raised educational requirements for teachers and required Head Start to measure the quality of teacher-child interactions in Head Start classrooms. It also created a new process, known as designation renewal, in which programs that fall short of standards are identified and required to compete to retain funding.