"Early education from Head Start, a federally funded preschool program for disadvantaged kids, greatly improves the likelihood of obtaining financial self-sufficiency in adulthood, according to an unusually large study of its long-term effects."
I would like to provide a respectful rebuttal to Melanie's statements. After directing a school district Head Start program for 23 years and consulting around the country for the past ten, I can attest to some dedicated, experienced and excellent teachers and programs. Of course, not all programs are equal but Head Start provides both dollars AND materials for teacher training and support. This also extends to the learning environments created and maintained for Head Start children. Most programs provide specific training in observation skills, challenging behaviors and developmental timelines. Time for paperwork requirements to be met is arranged through workdays, substitutes in classrooms or creative scheduling.
During a time in our country/society when support for early learning, especially for those children and families most impacted by the pandemic issues, we must come together as a profession to bolster opportunities for these children. While I understand that Melanie could have seen a less than stellar example of a Head Start classroom, I encourage her (and all others) to investigate more fully. You should not have to look far to see excellent examples of this federally funded, but locally designed and supported program. I am happy to assist in finding those programs.
Working together for all preschool programs for our children,Sharon Jackson, PhDEssential Elements: The Key to Head Start Successhsessentials.com
Melanie, I'd like to add a little to what Sharon said. I've seen a couple lower-quality Head Start programs, but the vast majority have been high-quality places to learn and teach. While paperwork can become a burden (though it is being addressed by the program and there are efforts to reduce it), I honestly think you, as "The Preschool Doctor," probably see more low-quality centers. The nature of your business is going to struggling centers to help them improve. Speaking anecdotally, every Head Start center I worked at had more than enough toys, though we also participated in our state's QRIS program to ensure our environments were developmentally-appropriate and engaging (don't even get me started on the huge state-by-state and county-by-county disparities in ECE funding, maternal/pediatric healthcare, EI/ECSE access, etc. probably affecting your experiences). We also had directors with teaching experience, as well as educated teachers.In my experience as a teacher in both Head Start and for-profit centers, and as a director for a HS site, issues arise because of staff turnover and/or shortage of qualified teachers/directors, largely due to a lack of compensation parity. I also want to mention that, as a director, it is my job to ensure my staff have appropriate training and professional development, in addition to scheduling them adequate time to finish their documentation and other paperwork. If they can't do that, than I need to do my job better so they can succeed, even if it is just helping them with time management skills.In addition, just having that solid base of child development knowledge can prevent the problems to which you refer. It's one of the reasons I'm firmly in the camp of requiring all ECE teachers and directors to have an ECE teaching degree. Future teachers in a teaching program learn how to observe, assess, and individualize in a developmentally-appropriate way (one can observe a child's behavior in class to try to determine the antecedent without a counseling degree). They also learn classroom management techniques, which can help prevent the need for hiding toys in the first place. Programs usually include student teaching placements where they get real-world experience before going into their own classroom. We could add a performance standard that stipulates a certain number of toys in the room to prevent unprepared teachers from removing them due to certain behaviors (which will continue because the teacher is still unprepared)...or we can give teachers the tools in pre-service training to succeed in the classroom.TL;DR: Increase the education and compensation for preschool teachers across the board, not just Head Start, and we will see improvements in classroom function on a day-to-day basis. Getting caught up in specifics adds more classroom-level regulations, but doesn't necessarily increase quality.Sincerely,
Thank you, Holly, for your well-written and example filled response! You made so many of the ideas that I stated realistic and understandable. I appreciate that you took the time to advocate and enlighten the audience on the important points made in your letter. As a former early educator, prior to my director's role in Head Start (and thanks as well for the correct spelling of the name), it was critical that I offer the most up to date and explicit training and support for my teaching staff. One of the main points of any training was that the most important ingredients for a young child's learning were the positive atmosphere of the classroom, the relationships and interactions with the adults present and the intentional experiences carefully individualized and prepared for the children. These were the curriculum (regardless of what was adopted), not the "toys" which were actually carefully selected materials and supplies, designed to be used in specific and integrated experiences within the scope of the child's day.
As an administrator of the program, it was also critical that I budget and schedule for these essential opportunities. Combining a strong appropriate approach to early learning with the required performance standards and planful professional development allow the majority of Head Start programs to operate at high levels.
While I agree that it is possible for lower quality programs to exist, they typically are under review from regional or national staff and are often receiving specific technical assistance from the Office of Head Start. I hope anyone interested in learning more about Head Start and the whole child-whole family benefits it offers will contact one of us! Thanks again, Holly...I'd love to meet you one day!