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New Reports Tout Role of Gathering Data in Creating Effective Head Start Programs

A new series of reports released this month profiles five of the most highly effective Head Start programs in the country to determine what they're doing differently and how other early-childhood education programs can emulate them.

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The reports by Bellwether Education Partners, a national nonprofit organization focused on reforming education to better meet the needs of underserved children, find that an emphasis on data collection and ensuring quality teaching by aligning curriculum and professional development are key factors to a program's success.

These reports are part of Bellwether's Leading by Exemplar project and include in-depth case studies of the following programs: 

  • Acelero Learning in Camden, New Jersey and Philadelphia
  • Community Action Program of Tulsa (CAP Tulsa) in Tulsa, Okla.
  • Educare in Miami
  • Fairfax County Public Schools in Fairfax, Va.
  • Utah Community Action in Salt Lake City

"There's a wide variation in the quality of Head Start and early childhood programs, but these programs have evidence of effectiveness," said Ashley LiBetti, the lead author and researcher on the project and an associate partner with Bellwether. "These programs are clearly, high-performing and show what is possible when early-childhood providers are adequately supported and have clear strategic practices for serving children and families."

To be included in the study, the programs had to show demonstrable evidence of "positive impacts on children's learning that were either substantially larger than those of typical Head Start or other early-childhood programs or sustained beyond kindergarten entry."

The programs also differ in some key ways such as in size and program design. But in terms of the five facets of program practice the researchers used to assess the programs there were many similarities.

Good Data, Good Results

The programs were evaluated on the course of study chosen for students, how teachers delivered lessons, and how learning gains were assessed, in addition to how well the programs met the needs of all students, ensured high-quality teaching, engaged families, and used data to improve practices.

"At this point, the research doesn't point to one specific thing that Head Start programs can do that will guarantee an improvement in their quality, so what these programs have done is started to figure that out for themselves," said LiBetti.

That's where data utilization comes into play. LiBetti found that the five programs constantly analyzed their practices and the results of them leading to data-informed continuous improvement.

Those methods also come into play in helping teachers learn to be more effective.

"Teachers have a good deal of autonomy and support and training via professional development that's connected directly to their curriculum, and their program will assess the effectiveness of that work via their data," said LiBetti. "So all of the components of the program are linked and woven together to support effective instruction in the classroom."

The reports also point out that none of the profiled programs functions solely on Head Start funding. They utilize other funding streams such as child-care subsidies and philanthropy.

"A lot of what we talk about in the field is whether we can stretch existing funding to serve more children or serve them more effectively, but all of these programs show that in order to truly have the type of impacts that we want programs need access to additional resources," said LiBetti.

Photo: Teaching assistant Jessica Medianero paints with students (L-R) Byrisha Campbell 3, Lesly Ortiz-Albarran 3, and Alexa Nieto-Delgado 3, in their classroom at ECDC Reed, a CAP Tulsa Head Start program in Tulsa, Okla., Tuesday, June 12, 2018. --Brandi Simons for Education Week


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