PHSA Response to USA Today Editorial

USA Today July 2010 Editorial – “Head Start Needs Fixing…”   PHSA Response

While we respect the right of USA Today to offer its opinion about Head Start funding, we wish that it would base it’s editorials on facts and thorough research.

This is an attempt to refute the complete misrepresentation of Head Start reality in the July 12, 2010 USA Today editorial, “Our view on Head Start: fix Head Start before throwing more money at it”.

Assertion:  Head Start is broken and needs fixing before approving additional funding.

Reality:  Head Start is not broken.  The majority of the Head Start research shows its effectiveness and the many long term economic, educational and social benefits to both Head Start children and their communities.   The solution to improving the program in many cases is to give Head Start more funding per child so programs can improve salaries, hire better qualified teachers, etc.(money purposefully allocated, not thrown).


Assertion:  The federal government is throwing money at Head Start.

Reality:  The $2.1M appropriated for Head Start as a part of the ARRA funding has been used effectively to stimulate the economy.  It has been used to improve Head Start program quality and to implement expansion of Head Start and Early Head Start.  The funds were spent based on the funding formula in the Head Start Reauthorization bill of 2007.  The additional expansion of EHS is a major initiative of the Obama administration and part of a national commitment to provide more resources to children ages 0 to 3 years old.
Assertion:  That Head Start has a primary promise called school readiness that is measured by academic outcomes displayed during children’s K-3 years and that Head Start has failed to fulfill this promise.
Reality:  Head Start is not just a promise or hope of school readiness for low income children.  Head Start is a program that was originally created as one of a wide number of programs and initiatives in President Johnson’s war on poverty.  Head Start never promised to overcome all the school readiness challenges low-income children face, much less end poverty all by itself. Although the program was never intended to eradicate poverty by itself, research shows, that it has, and does, change lives in a wide variety of measures, including school readiness.  The very study USA Today sites as saying Head Start is broken shows that Head Start children do receive a boost in school readiness.


Assertion:  There is a growing body of evidence that suggests that Head Start is not living up to its promise of improving school readiness.

Reality:  The study sighted as “growing” the body of evidence has as its first conclusion: Head Start children outperformed the control group “on every measure of children’s preschool experiences.”  This research does not suggest Head Start does not work.  The study suggests that Head Start children are more ready for school.  The editorial does not demonstrate any other examples that it sees as the growing body of evidence.
Assertion:    This study is sobering and should have made the Obama administration not request additional Head Start funding.
Reality:  The study deserves everyone’s attention.   It clearly shows that Head Start works in that Head Start children entered kindergarten scoring higher on study measures than control group children who did not attend Head Start.  It also raises some concerns suggesting the need for further research.

Assertion:  Fixing Head Start is a novel idea
Reality:  Head Start programs, The Office of Head Start, and Congress, are all constantly working to improve Head Start.  The last 2 reauthorizations of Head Start have increased already high Head Start standards based on the latest child development research and current best practices in the field.  The Head Start standards are often used as the bar that other Early Learning programs aspire to meet.


Assertion:  Fix Head Start by getting better qualified teachers.
Reality:  Head Start programs would hire better qualified teachers if the funding they received provided more money for teacher’s salaries.  Attracting and retaining qualified, committed and talented teachers can only be achieved when those teachers can be paid salaries that are equivalent to those earned by their peers in the public school system.

Assertion:  Competing for funding would improve Head Start
Reality:  When Head Start grants are made available; there are often few applicants because early learning providers know how difficult it truly is to run a Head Start program and meet program Performance Standards with the small amount of money allocated.  These standards assure a high quality program and are federally mandated.

Assertion:  That Head Start programs and the federal government are not promoting increased collaboration between Head Starts and local public schools to ensure that kindergarten and first grade build on, not re-teach, the skills Head Start attendees have.
Reality:  Head Start programs are model collaborators in many situations.  The federal government has consistently advocated increased collaboration between Head Starts and school districts and currently mandates that programs have Memorandums of Understanding with all of the school districts that their children move into.  If Head Start children are being taught things that they already know and have mastered in Head Start, why is USA today claiming that Head Start is failing at school readiness?  If the K-3 curriculum is a repeat of Head Start, this is a K-12 issue, not a Head Start issue.

Assertion:  The program should be streamlined to be more academic-focused, rather than mandating that it divide its energies among academic, social and health needs.
Reality:  This ignores copious amounts of child development research that shows that school readiness is not just a matter of academics.  Common sense: sick, cold, insecure children will not be school ready.  Streamlining would ignore research and best practice, and cause Head Start programs to fail in improving school readiness for low income children.

Assertion:  Somehow aggressively attacking fraud, which, based on the findings from a recent undercover sting conducted by the Government Accountability Office, might be widespread, will fix Head Start.
Reality:  The Head Start GAO fraud hearing and preliminary report made clear that the findings cannot be used to suggest that fraud is wide spread.  Regardless, the Office of Head Start has already acted to require programs to review and tighten their already complex policies and procedures that ensure that the neediest of children receive services first.

Assertion:  The “problem” seems to be more with Head Start than with the concept of early education generally.
Realty:   The author has failed to define the problems he/she is referring to.  In addition the data and evidence that the problems exist or that they are specific to Head Start has not been adequately presented in this editorial.  Administration of quality early learning programs is complex and challenging, it requires significantly more funding than is currently available to be done well.  Federal Performance Standards ensure that the Head Start program has some of the highest standards of quality in the country.

Assertion:  State funded Pre K is the answer
Reality:  Only one research study suggested that one of the three state programs sited performed better than Head Start in some areas of school readiness.  State funded programs without high quality standards have not shown effective outcomes, particularly for low income children.

Assertion:  Head Start is politically untouchable.
Reality:  The Federal Government realizes Head Start’s quality, and supports it and its purpose as is. American taxpayers and low income children have an effective program that delivers long-term results.