August 4, 2015

Analysis of Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in Head Start Performance Standards

By Sara Mead

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In June 2015, the Federal Register published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for the Head Start Performance Standards, the federal regulations governing the operation of Head Start programs. This is the first major revision of the Performance Standards since 1998, and the first complete restructuring since their creation, some 40 years ago. The proposed rule seeks to update the Performance Standards to reflect numerous developments that have occurred in the past 17 years, including a reauthorization of the Head Start Act in 2007 and new research findings on how young children learn and on the characteristics of quality early childhood programs.

The proposed changes would improve the Performance Standards by prioritizing outcomes over process; emphasizing quality education in Head Start programs; increasing the amount of time preschoolers spend in Head Start; implementing research-based strategies for parent engagement, professional development, and mental health consultation; and strengthening alignment with other early childhood and education programs. They would also reorganize, streamline, and clarify the Performance Standards, which piecemeal additions and changes over the past 40 years have rendered overly complicated and confusing.

These proposed changes would raise the quality of practice in Head Start and improve child outcomes. But they do not address some important needs to improve Head Start, and could go farther to reduce burdensome compliance requirements on Head Start programs. On net, however, the proposed rule would support real improvements in the quality of Head Start programs and the outcomes they produce for children.

This document provides an overview and analysis of the key changes in the proposed rule and offers recommendations to improve on them. It also addresses cost and implementation considerations for the proposed changes. The Department of Health and Human Services is accepting comment on the rule through August 18.

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