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Actions by the Bush Administration to Improve Head Start

Head Start Policy Book

The President is determined to help prepare poor and other at-risk children for success in the public schools. In April 2002, building on his Administration's emphasis on preschool programs, President Bush announced Good Start, Grow Smart, a preschool education initiative with three goals:

  1. Strengthening Head Start;
  2. Partnering with states to improve early childhood education; and
  3. Providing information on child development and early learning to teachers, caregivers, parents, and grandparents and closing the gap between research and practice in early childhood education.
The Good Start, Grow Smart initiative was based on recommendations made by the nation's leading early childhood education authorities during the White House Summit on Early Childhood Cognitive Development in July 2001. It is now being implemented by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Education. These two Departments responded to the Good Start, Grow Smart initiative by establishing an interdepartmental task force dedicated to achieving its three goals.

Strengthening Head Start

As affirmed by the No Child Left Behind Act, accountability must be an important component of education programs to ensure that recipients of services achieve program goals. In the case of Head Start, achieving program goals means not only improving children's health and nutrition, but preparing them to succeed in kindergarten and beyond. To accomplish this goal, the Head Start Bureau in the Department of Health and Human Services is implementing an accountability system aimed at ensuring that every Head Start program assesses standards of learning in early literacy, language, and numeracy skills. Called the Child Outcomes and National Reporting System, the Head Start Bureau is field-testing new procedures in more than 100 local Head Start programs. Implementation across Head Start programs is scheduled for the fall of 2003.

Having well-trained teachers is the single most important component of any preschool program. Thus, the Head Start Bureau has implemented a national training program with the goal of training nearly 50,000 Head Start teachers in early literacy teaching techniques. To date, more than 3,000 early literacy specialists in Head Start and 65 child-care administrators have been trained in the use of research-based classroom activities designed to promote literacy. In turn, these literacy specialists serve as trainers for the nearly 50,000 Head Start teachers across the country. The literacy specialists also visit individual Head Start programs to ensure that newly-trained teachers are implementing the literacy instructional activities. In order to continue building the capacity of this program, the Bureau will offer training to new staff. In addition, the Head Start Bureau will offer training during the summer of 2003 to help prepare Head Start staff to implement the Child Outcomes and National Reporting System.

Partnering with States

Today, states are dedicating increasing resources to preschool education. In addition, states have recently started to incorporate literacy, language, and pre-reading development into programs that serve preschool children.

The Child Care Bureau and regional offices of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have conducted a series of regional roundtable discussions with state child care administrators, state departments of education, and Head Start officials to promote the development of state guidelines for early learning practices. In addition to prompting states to develop early childhood learning guidelines and practices, these roundtable discussions were used by HHS officials to encourage professional development and the coordination of early childhood programs called for under the 1996 federal child care reform. As part of the current biennial planning process for CCDF, states are being required to describe their progress in developing guidelines for early learning as well as professional development and coordination of early learning programs.

Providing Information to Preschool Teachers, Caregivers, and Parents

To close the gap between what is known from research about early childhood development and what happens in the daily lives of preschool children, the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services have published and distributed guidelines on language and literacy development for young children. These publications were written for parents, grandparents, early childhood educators, child care providers, and preschool teachers with the hope of getting information about the importance of early literacy into the hands of the adults who care for young children.

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