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National Early Childhood Expert Lauds Federal Head Start Improvement Initiative


October 13, 2010

Washington, DC, Oct. 13 — Disadvantaged children are not achieving as they could if they had the proper help and preparation during their preschool years, said national preschool expert W. Steven Barnett, as he called for bold reforms of Head Start and other early education programs to make them better targeted, more effective, and provide better taxpayer return on investment.

A new collection of papers issued today, co-edited by Brookings Senior Fellow Ron Haskins and Barnett of Rutgers University’s National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER), assessed federal policies for early childhood education and child care. Investing in Young Children: New Directions in Federal Preschool and Early Childhood Policy recommended promising reforms for Head Start, Early Head Start, and home visiting programs. It proposed closing ineffective Head Start centers or giving other program operators the opportunity to compete for Head Start funds, and offering a few states broad regulatory relief to innovate and coordinate Head Start with other state preschool educational programs and child care.

“New Obama administration rules would require Head Start organizations whose performance puts them in the bottom 25 percent of grantees to re-apply for their grants, putting them in competition with other organizations for the funding,” said Barnett, “The new regulations have been among the reforms recommended by policy experts and are a critical step toward reforming the programs designed for the country’s most disadvantaged children – the children who need the most attention.”

“We support bold action in improving the effectiveness of programs designed to improve the lives of our children,” said Barnett. The report analyzed government expenditures on the major programs and the number and types of children receiving various services and found that programs are administered by different funding agencies, pursue different goals, have different rules and regulations, and often have different licensing agencies.

The administration should give some states the authority to use federal funds to build a coordinated early care and education system with an emphasis on program effectiveness, he said. The co-authors set out four sets of proposals with the goal of “getting the most out of what we spend as a nation on the care and education of children before they reach kindergarten.”

The co-authors said that efforts to dramatically improve federal early childhood programs will succeed only if they are tied into ongoing, systematic, rigorous evaluations of alternative approaches. “Our four-part plan holds promise for breaking us out of the current stagnation by creating continuous improvement processes and allowing the boldest and most innovative states to use all the resources at their disposal to develop models for coordinating the money we now spend and producing school readiness outcomes we all know should be within our reach.”

The volume also includes seven additional papers, which offer contrasting views of the respective early childhood programs.

A copy of Investing in Young Children: New Directions in Federal Preschool and Early Childhood Policy is available at nieer.org.

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The National Institute for Early Education Research (www.nieer.org), a unit of the Graduate School of Education, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, supports early childhood education policy by providing objective, nonpartisan information based on research. NIEER is supported through grants from The Pew Charitable Trusts and others.