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Leading by Exemplar: Lessons from Head Start Programs

Ashley LiBetti

Title image for Bellwether publication "Leading by Exemplar: Lessons from Head Start Programs," March 2019Leading by Exemplar: Lessons from Head Start Programs is a synthesis of findings drawn from an in-depth analysis of five high-performing Head Start programs from across the country. The programs highlighted in this analysis — referred to throughout as Head Start exemplars — were selected because they demonstrate significant positive impacts on children’s learning.

This publication is part of the Leading by Exemplar project, a multi-year study conducted by Bellwether Education Partners. In this project, every aspect of the Head Start exemplars’ program design and practice was closely examined in an effort to understand each program’s “secret sauce.” Leading by Exemplar has three goals: to identify Head Start programs that are producing powerful results for children, elevate them as proof points of what is possible for the field, and inform policy and other efforts to improve early learning outcomes.

Leading by Exemplar: Lessons from Head Start Programs synthesizes the practices and characteristics that are common across the Head Start exemplars. We identify the factors that contribute to their success across three areas: policies, program practices, and enabling conditions. We also identify challenges common across all exemplar programs, which also affect the field more broadly. Finally, this work highlights lessons and implications that other Head Start and early childhood providers, leaders overseeing state pre-K and other public early childhood programs, philanthropic funders, and federal policymakers can draw on to inform efforts to improve early learning outcomes and advance equity for low-income children.

Detailed case studies of the programs highlighted in the Leading by Exemplar project are available here. Briefs synthesizing the programs’ instructional models and data utilization practices are also available.

Download the full report here or read it in the viewer below.