Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Head Start: From “Friends” to “Modern Family”



This week the Emmys were held in Los Angeles.  Back in 2002 Friends won an Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series.  Critics of Head Start are a little bit like the college friends you had in the 90’s that keep debating whether Ross should have ended up with Rachael. It’s time to move on.  This year’s Outstanding Comedy Series winner was “Modern Family”.  It’s time to look at the “Modern” Head Start.

For the past couple of years, pundits and some members of Congress have slammed Head Start for being ineffective. Some have called for major reforms, while others have suggested that Head Start should be simply defunded.  To make their case they point to the Head Start Impact Study—a national evaluation of the program that looked at children who went through Head Start in 2002 and compared them to children that did not attend the program. It concluded that while there were some benefits to children in Head Start they seemed to “fade-out” by 3rd grade. It is this 2002 evaluation of Head Start that critics like to point to. As you can imagine, much has changed since then except that Conan O’Brien is still on TV (he hosted the Emmys in 2002). 

I continue to maintain that the study is flawed because of the large percentage of children who were supposed to be in the control group but instead found a way to enroll in Head Start (can’t stop determined parents). Others have suggested that the poor quality of elementary schools that Head Start children attended is mostly to blame. I don’t pretend to be a researcher and I don’t know the answer to these questions with any certainty. I just know it is time to move on. 

The Head Start Impact Study was based on a cohort of children in 2002. That’s 12 years ago, people.  So let’s put the study behind us for a minute and deal with current day reality. A lot has happened from 2002 to 2014—the explosion of social media, two wars, smart phones (sorry Blackberry), and the Seahawks winning the Super Bowl. I even retired my old TV this year. It took 3 big guys to carry it out and I replaced it with a flat screen with HD. When I asked the homeless shelter guys what they planned on doing with it, one of the guys looked at me and said “sir, no one has a TV like this anymore. We’re just going to recycle it.”
Head Start has changed quite a bit as well. It is simply not the same program it was in 2002.  Here are just a few examples:
  • During the Bush Administration Head Start teachers received a steady diet of language and literacy professional development. The increased focus appears to have improved instruction and outcomes for children.
  • In 2007 the Head Start Act was signed into law with several major reforms, including a requirement that half of all lead teachers must have at least a BA degree.  In 2002, only 25% of Head Start teachers had at least a BA degree, in the 2006—2007 school year immediately prior to the Head Start Act being signed into law it was about 45%, and now in 2014 more than 67% of lead teachers have at least a four year degree. Quite a huge change. 
  • The Obama Administration has also increased the quality of Head Start in three very big ways.
 o   They got rid of many low performing programs through a process called the Designation Renewal System.  Just in the last few years 48 programs have been replaced with new providers;

o   They instituted a new teacher-child assessment system developed at the University of Virginia. It measures teachers on how well they support a child’s emotional needs, how well they manage a classroom, and the quality of their instructional interactions. This new tool has led to an increase in the quality of teaching and better outcomes for children; and

o   They reoriented Head Start toward ‘School Readiness’ in both the more ‘academic’ areas like literacy and math and in the social-emotional development needed for school success.  Programs establish school readiness goals, create individual plans for each child to meet those goals, and track how well each child is progressing.

You might wonder whether these reforms have led to better outcomes.  Beyond the Head Start Impact Study, the government also reviews Head Start’s quality through the Head Start Family and Child Experiences Survey called FACES.  Researchers evaluated Head Start in 2003, 2006, and 2009. The 2003 cohort would most closely match the children evaluated by the Impact Study in 2002.  

Steve Barnett from the National Institute of Early Education Research, an occasional critic of Head Start, did an analysis of the data and found that the language and literacy gains for children from 2003 compared to 2009 were sometimes two or more times as large. In other words the program got a heck of a lot better between 2002 and 2009. 

In another recent evaluation of Head Start in 2012 researchers at Mississippi State University looked a large program in Mississippi.  Using the state’s educational data warehouse they compared children that attended Head Start to their peers that did not attend.  There were more than 12,000 children in this study. Unlike the Impact Study, they did not have to worry about the control group being contaminated because they had data on actual children and knew which child went to which program.  They then looked at how these Head Start children were doing in 3rd grade. What they found was amazing and completely contrary to what the Impact Study evaluators found:

  • Head Start children were 18 percent less likely to be retained than the comparison group. 
  • Head Start kids were 26 percent less likely to receive special education assistance than the comparison group.
  • Head Start children were 2.24 and 2.31 times more likely to be proficient in language and writing than the comparison group, respectively. 
  • Similarly, the data show that Head Start children twice as likely to be proficient in math as the comparison group.
The authors conclude that “the results clearly show that Head Start has a significant impact in the first years of elementary education.”  

I don’t want you to take this the wrong way.  Champions and advocates of Head Start should continue to push for making the program better. There are clearly things that everyone agrees will improve the program. For instance, we should:
  • Increase the number of full day/full year programs;
  • Further strengthen aspects of the classroom experience for children;
  • Reduce red tape by updating and reducing the number of program performance standards and making sure they reflect current research.; 
  • Ensure that our teachers and staff that work for Head Start are paid like the professionals they are.
Critics of Head Start should stop citing the Head Start Impact Study as the latest research on Head Start. It is completely outdated and not a fair assessment of where the program is in 2014. Unless you are the person still dancing in your kitchen to Nelly’s “It’s Getting Hot in Herre” or you keep wanting to recall the first the American Idol contest winner—Kelly Clarkson in case you forgot (does anyone still watch American Idol anymore?).  Even my mom finally threw out her VCR and now has a DVD player. Head Start has changed considerably since 2002. It is a much better program.  The next time someone talks to you about how Head Start doesn’t work and how the benefits “fade out” tell them to get out of their time warp, put down their VCRs and flip phones, and break it to them that Jay Leno is no longer the host of the Tonight Show.  

Before policy makers make decisions based on a study done the year KISS had their last performance, they should visit today’s Modern Head Start.   I think they’ll be impressed with what they see.  

Joel Ryan
Executive Director
Washington State Association of Head Start and ECEAP

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Cuts to Food Stamps will affect Washington Families



The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP, helps put food on the table for more than 46 million people every month, which translates into about one in every seven Americans. The program gives the opportunity for families to receive monthly benefits that allow them to purchase food they might not otherwise have the means to afford. 86% of the SNAP recipients are below the poverty line, and over half of the recipients are children. The food stamp program was expanded during Obama’s stimulus package, however, there are now efforts to cut the number of people who would be available to receive food stamp benefits. 

The U.S. House of Representatives recently voted to considerably cut the spending on the SNAP program by more than $33 billion. This would cut 11% from family’s benefits for an average family of four. The change will not only eliminate the amount of funding to families, but also make it more difficult for families to be accepted into the program. The "Ryan budget" would cut $133.5 billion in funding over the next ten years by creating a block grant system that gives each state a lump sum amount of funding. 

There are many risks involved with cutting the budget, such as increased number of starvation, homelessness and decreased number in those who can receive benefits. Eliminating this amount of funding would put families and their children at risk for not receiving the nutrition necessary in order to live a healthy lifestyle. In Washington State, 1.1 million people would be affected by the Ryan budget cuts and would decrease $2.71 billion in funding for the SNAP program. Families who currently receive help from the SNAP will suffer from not being able to afford food for their children and other family members.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Visit to World Forum

By Joel Ryan, WSA Executive Director

I just returned from the World Forum on Early Education and Care in Honolulu, Hawaii, where we were asked to present on our WSA Parent Ambassadors program. It was a very interesting and enriching experience. On the first day I traveled with Yasmina Vinci, NHSA Executive Director, Joan Lombardi from HHS, and the person who oversees all of the reviews to visit Head Start programs on the island. Initially it was a bit of shock—I knew there were poor families living in Hawaii but I was surprised at the depth of poverty. On one highway we saw families living on the side of the street in tents. As you can imagine, the cost of living is very expensive and the service jobs people are doing don’t pay very much. I heard from several of the Head Start staff I met with that meth use is really high and that Hawaii is a stopping over point for drug runners trying to get to the mainland. I found that the Head Start programs were excellent. We visited one co-located with a transitional housing complex and another one at a huge (like old style Chicago) housing project where a community action agency delivered services. Not surprisingly I found that the Head Start folks in Hawaii are facing the same problems with the child care subsidy system in their state that we are facing here. One program shared some great work they are doing with the CLASS and beyond. They have a very extensive master teacher mentoring program and have seen their CLASS scores move way past the national average as a result. They said they would be interested in doing a webinar with programs in Washington.


I found that while the sessions at the World Forum were interesting, it was much more about the people. One woman I met from Afghanistan was defying the Taliban by starting a school for women and their children. Empowering and educating women in that country is still not acceptable to many elements. She spoke about setting up a school in a refugee camp in Pakistan, where the children were sleeping on the same ground as snakes and scorpions. To illustrate the degree of poverty she told a story about how a father sold one of his children for a few bags of rice. In those schools, the most dangerous job was being the bus driver – the school bus is constantly under threat of bombing or shooting or simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.


The other speaker I found really interesting was a Roman Catholic Priest that lives in Zambia. He focuses his time on HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, and spoke about the large number of children in Africa that are living with AIDS but not able to access the cocktail drugs. The vast majority of children with AIDS don’t receive help and are basically told to go home and die. One of the points he was making is that while many adults did not receive treatment, children seemed to be last to get any help. He also mentioned that with the recession, foundation support has been leveling off and in some places declining.


There were many good sessions dealing with impact on children living in war torn countries such as the middle east, Sierra Leone, and other dangerous places. Yasmina did a workshop on all the Head Start models around the world which there are many. I did a workshop on our association’s Parent Ambassadors Program. I was teamed up with a speaker from Zimbabwe that spoke about organizing parents in his country—something akin to a policy council. I heard good feedback and there was interest from a Canadian delegation and Fiji to get a program started in their countries. (Yes, I immediately agreed with them that it would make a lot of sense for me to travel with several directors to Fiji to teach them how to get it up and running). The conference was also a lot of fun too. There was an international dance, good discussion groups, and some time to just talk and meet people from all over. I signed our association up to be involved in issues around peace building and advocacy so we can continue to learn and model our work.


When the conference wrapped up I spent a few extra days with my wife and daughter and we had a great time. We ate shaved ice at some well known places, saw sea turtles and dolphin shows, and visited many beautiful beaches. Of course my daughter only wanted to play in the pool. She discovered that the slide was fun and I had to do that with her for about 4 to 5 hours one day which explains the tan and sunburn I have right now. (Katy said she really had a lot of sympathy for me) All in all it was an eye opening trip. I think my biggest take away was simply that the world is a lot smaller than we think. While the level of child poverty is not anywhere near the other countries that were present, there are people all around the world that care about children and their health and development.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Parent Ambassadors Advocate with Children's Alliance


Parent Ambassadors joined families and supporters of the Children’s Alliance on the Capital steps this week. With the state facing major budget cuts to programs like ECEAP, Apple Health for Kids and Working Connections Child Care, current and past Parent Ambassadors stood strong and advocated for funding of these programs.
John McClure a current Parent Ambassador from Spokane, took the initiative and organized a bus with 40 parents and children to attend the rally. Though the bus had to leave at 2am John says “It was a long day but it was worth it to make some noise at the rally.”

The rain and hail did not stop Parent Ambassadors from having meetings with their legislators in hopes of educating them on the importance of ECEAP. Bianca Bailey, a 2009 Parent Ambassador, brought her daughter Kamryn (4) to the capital for the first time. A strong advocate, Bianca spent the day taking Kamryn to her legislative meetings and was happy to get a photo of Kamyrn and Rep. Hinkle.

It has been a busy year for Parent Ambassadors and this event is just one of many that current and past Ambassadors have attended in the first six weeks of the legislative session. It is the dedication and commitment from our Ambassadors that help save funding for critical programs.

Thank you to Bianca Bailey, Immaculate Ferreria-Allah, April Ritter Terry, Rob Atherton, Wayne Ueda, John McClure, David McCormick for attending Have a Heart for Kids Day and continually support advocacy work for Washington’s children and families.

John McClure and Wayne Ueda deliver a petition of parent signatures in support of ECEAP to Senator Lisa Brown.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Parents in Action in Washington DC



WSA took five of our Parent Ambassadors to Washington DC for the National Head Start Association leadership conference, and to visit their elected officials and advocate for Head Start and Early Head Start. They did a fabulous job, meeting with both our Senators (Sen. Patty Murray is in the picture above), 8 of our 9 Representatives, and the head of the Office of Head Start!

April Ritter, Head Start Parent Ambassador from McCleary, WA, shared the following thoughts:


I want to write this, while the memory is still fresh in my brain, and before the overwhelming reality of life sets back in to my everyday routines. I just returned home from my trip to Washington DC to attend the National Head Start Leadership Institute. I was selected as 1 of 5 parents to attend the conference. It was quite possibly the most amazing week of my life. 5 days of learning, understanding more early learning issues, and advocating for children not only in my state, but those across the nation. I met Senator Patty Murray, Senator Maria Cantwell, and got to help them understand a little bit better how cuts that our government is trying to make to our state and federal budgets, will affect so many families. My fellow PA's and I, helped put a face to those services that are on the chopping block.

One friend was a teenage mom, who had no idea how to manage a checkbook, a household and a baby at the age of 16 while trying to finish school. With the help of the Early Head Start program, she finished high school, got her AA and is now working on her BA. She is a small business owner, and the proud mom of 4 kids!

Another was a recovering addict who spent over 20 years in and out of incarceration. He has now turned his life around, is a single dad and has helped start a Dad's group in his local town. He just recently became a homeowner and has a 3.75 GPA in his AA program. These are just a few of his accomplishments.

There were 3 more stories from my fellow PA's, that tugged at your heart strings, but I would be here all day trying to recap it all. I got to tell the story of how Head Start helped diagnose Lauryn with hearing loss that was fixable, and not just a speech impediment. And how she no longer needs any special services because of the help and resources she had access to as a Head Start student.

In our state, the Governor just proposed to cut the Working Connections Childcare Program. This will affect thousands of children and families in our state. We got the chance to let them know, that by reducing these subsidies, it will have an adverse effect on our economy. Those working poor in our state, will be turned in to unemployed workers and forced to draw from other state resources such as unemployment, TANF, Food Stamps and Medical. It doesn't make sense to not be PREVENTATIVE. Helping our lawmakers understand that we are REAL faces and not just numbers, was what we were there for.

I truly believe that our voices were heard in every office we visited.

Not only did we visit Capitol Hill, we gave a presentation and helped facilitate another one on Advocacy, and getting parents involved in early learning issues. The more people that are aware that from birth to 5 is the most important part of a child's life, and what they can do to make those years the best, the better our future generations will be set up for success. I could go on and on. But I won't. I just want to share the video of my telling my story about Lauryn. It is emotional. Yes, I cried. Because if it weren't for this program, I don't know that my daughter would be the child she is today. A loud, boisterous, talkative, SMART girl who started kindergarten ahead of the curve, because of the comprehensive services and amazing preschool experience she had through Head Start.

Some of my friends don't agree with these issues because of political belief, some of ignorance, and some of just plain disagreeing. But I think anyone who listens to any of these stories will agree that to not support this program and other early learning programs like it, is just plain stupid. Children should be our priority, not just an afterthought.

Click here to see April tell her daughter Lauren's Head Start Story.