Tuesday, September 21, 2010

HHS Announces National Effort to Reshape and Raise Quality in Head Start Programs

Today, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced new proposed regulations that for the first time require lower performing Head Start programs to compete against other entities for continued funding. The proposed regulations will be implemented with a number of new training and technical assistance initiatives to help Head Start grantees meet higher standards.

Under the proposed rules, Head Start grantees will be required to compete for their grants if they fall short of quality benchmarks, including classroom instruction and health and safety standards as well as financial accountability and integrity. Among the factors that will be considered is a classroom assessment that was developed by researchers at the University of Virginia and has been validated through rigorous research.

"These new regulations represent an important step in raising the bar on quality in Head Start programs," HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said. "Head Start has a critical mission - to help vulnerable children achieve their full potential. It is a top priority for the Obama Administration to ensure that the program fulfills that mission by holding programs accountable for classroom quality and high standards of program integrity."

Under the proposed rule, at least 25 percent of grantees will be required to compete for funding. This proposal goes beyond a recommendation from an advisory committee convened in early 2008 that 15 to 20 percent of programs compete for funding. The Head Start proposed rule is consistent with the Administration's broad commitment to hold those that receive federal funding accountable and to use competition to ensure that only the highest quality entities receive federal funding.

HHS is also announcing this week, four new national training and technical assistance centers which will identify and disseminate evidence-based best practices to local Head Start programs. Head Start training and technical assistance centers will support Head Start programs to bring best practices into Head Start classrooms around the country, promoting continuous improvement and innovation at the ground level. HHS is also placing expert mentors/coaches in a number of Head Start programs across the country to provide on-the-ground training to teachers and program directors, to help them improve their classrooms. Further, 10 exceptional local Head Start programs, each nominated by the governor in its state, are being named as Centers of Excellence and will provide peer-to-peer technical assistance. A goal of all of these training and technical assistance initiatives is to help Head Start grantees meet the standards articulated in the proposed rule that is also being released today.

"These important reforms will directly benefit the children and families we serve," said David Hansell, Acting Assistant Secretary for Children and Families. "Head Start and Early Head Start serve nearly a million of our most vulnerable children during the critical first few years of cognitive and social development. Holding programs accountable for meeting quality standards, and providing the help grantees need to meet these standards, will ensure that programs provide a quality Head Start experience that children need to be successful in school and life."

"A renewed era of innovation, improvement and integrity in Head Start is here," Secretary Sebelius said. "Helping all children realize their dreams and potential will help us build tomorrow's workforce, strengthen our economy, and fulfill American's promise. Giving poor children and families the tools they need to succeed is in everyone's best interest."

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