Meanwhile, current Head Start teachers also tend to be better at the care part of their jobs than the instruction one. An evaluation tool, known as CLASS, evaluates how emotionally connected preschool teachers are to their charges—a critical element of successful teaching for young children—as well as their ability to teach literacy, math, and critical-thinking skills. As a whole, Head Start teachers score high on their ability to provide emotional support to their students and lower on their ability to teach academic content. Proponents say higher wages would keep the best teachers in the field longer and allow for more continuous development of their instructional skills.
Leadership capacity at the small local agencies that receive federal grants to run Head Start also varies. Not every Head Start program is placed within a school district like Portland’s. And school-district placement alone is no guarantee of quality, because many schools districts have plenty of their own problems. Some small nonprofits do an excellent job offering Head Start preschool in an intimate setting, while others struggle year-to-year.
In spite of these issues, there are many bright spots. There’s the program in Glendale, California, that has made math and science a daily focus. There’s the one in Guilford, North Carolina, that provides GED and computer skills classes for parents on site. And there are the countless testimonials from former students who tell how the program changed their lives.
Head Start, always conceived as an anti-poverty program and not just a vehicle for 4-year-old education, is also one of the only major federal programs Washington lawmakers from both the left and right agree on. Funding increased this year, and a new stream was added that will allow existing programs with successful grant applications to offer full-day services.
Berry, the Portland Public Schools’ Head Start director, said that, for the most part, she is a fan of the new focus on quality; she is hoping to qualify for new funds to make more of her classrooms full-day. However, most of the new requirements have had little effect on her program, she said, because it already exceeds most of them. In large part, she said, that’s because she has access to funding well beyond what is provided by the federal grant. “We wouldn’t be able to provide the services if we were not able to blend the funds,” Berry said.
Only 43 percent of Berry’s funding comes from Portland Public Schools’ federal Head Start grant. The rest comes from the state of Oregon’s preschool grant program (45 percent), a local Portland tax (5 percent), and Portland Public Schools (7 percent). All told, Portland spent about $8.9 million on its school-district-based Head Start program in fiscal year 2016. On average, that’s $10,650 per enrolled child. The national average is $1,000 to $2,000 less, depending on how it’s calculated.
Were more programs to get the support Portland’s program enjoys, perhaps they too could provide the staff, curriculum, and comprehensive health and family services that leaders here say make a difference.
This post appears courtesy of The Hechinger Report.