Performance Improvement 2007. What Are the Characteristics of the Children and Families Being Served by the Head Start Program?



This study analyzed data from a survey begun in year 2000 of a nationally representative sample of children and families served by the Head Start program. The study examined information on children's cognitive and social-emotional development over the Head Start year(s), measures of classroom quality including teacher education, credentials and knowledge of child development as well as direct observations of teacher-child interactions. The study predicted kindergarten performance based on skills and behavior in Head Start.

The study found that the population being served by Head Start is comprised of roughly equal numbers of white, African-American, and Hispanic children from poor families. Most children entered Head Start with math and literacy levels well below national averages. Children made gains toward national averages during the time they spent in Head Start, but still lagged behind national averages. As required in the program performance standards, nearly all Head Start programs used a curriculum; 60 percent of Head Start teachers reported that they used either "Creative Curriculum" or "High/Scope" curriculum. Head Start teachers tended to be qualified and experienced although as a group they did not have the same level of credentials as public school teachers. Teachers with higher levels of education had more positive attitudes and knowledge of early childhood education practices. This was associated with of higher classroom quality (for example: availability of more learning materials, improved language and reasoning activities, and teacher sensitivity and responsiveness). Surprisingly, greater entry-graduation achievement gains for some children were associated with higher, rather than lower child to staff ratios, although the range of variation in these ratios in Head Start is small. In addition, higher teacher scores on a measure assessing their knowledge of early childhood education practices did not translate into higher child cognitive outcomes.

Family incomes tended to rise modestly during their children's Head Start years. A significant portion of caregivers of Head Start children exhibited symptoms of depression or indicated having witnessed violent crime. Half the children lived in households where at least one person smoked and 2/3 lived in households where at least one person drank alcohol. Children whose parents read to them were more likely to show educational gains. A high proportion of families, 2/3, attended Head Start parent-teacher conferences. The measures used in the survey demonstrate strong predictive value for how well children will do in elementary school after their Head Start experiences.

Report Title: Head Start Performance Measures Center Family and Child Experiences Survey (FACES 2000) Technical Report
Agency Sponsor: ACF, Administration on Children and Families
Federal Contact: Woolverton, Maria, 202-205-4039
Performer: Westat, Inc.; Rockville, MD
PIC ID: 6331.3

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"PerformanceImprovement2007.pdf" (pdf, 717.63Kb)

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