Head Start is a valuable program that delivers early childhood education and comprehensive services to over one million children living in poverty, helping prepare them for kindergarten and beyond. But to maximize results for Head Start children and their families, practitioners and federal policymakers must use data in new ways to support ongoing improvement in Head Start programs.
Bellwether worked with three organizations—Results for America, the National Head Start Association, and the Volcker Alliance—to develop a vision for using data, evidence, and evaluation to improve Head Start outcomes. Implementing this vision requires change at a variety of levels:
Local grantees: All Head Start grantees need systems of data collection and analysis that support data-informed, evidence-based continuous improvement, leading to better results for children and families.
Federal oversight: The Office of Head Start, within the Administration for Children and Families of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, needs a stronger accountability and performance measurement system. This would allows federal officials to identify and disseminate effective practices of high-performing grantees, identify and intervene in low-performing grantees, and support continuous improvement across Head Start as a whole.
Research and Evaluation: Federal policymakers and the philanthropic sector need to support research that builds the knowledge base of what works in Head Start and informs changes in program design and policies. This will require increasing funding for Head Start research, demonstration, and evaluation from less than 0.25 percent of total federal appropriations to 1 percent. Those funds should focus on research that builds knowledge to help grantees improve their quality and outcomes.
Philanthropy and the private sector: The philanthropic sector, universities and other research institutions, and the private sector should help build grantee capacity and support the development, evaluation, and dissemination of promising practices.
Fully realizing this vision will require a multi-year commitment. But federal policymakers and the philanthropic sector can take actions now to advance this vision. Specifically:
These actions can support Head Start grantees in using data, evidence, and evaluation to improve results for children and families.
Read the full report here.