The Advisory Committee on Head Start Research and Evaluation, established two years ago, recently released an outstanding final report containing recommendations for the future of the federal Head Start and Early Head Start programs. U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius lays out 3 broad recommendations: a data-driven focus on school readiness and other key outcomes; the use of evidence-based practices; and improving continuity of services and aligning early childhood services from prenatal through age 8.
The three recommendations are completely complementary with the concept of collective impact and the process of building civic infrastructure. The first focuses on the need to use data for the purposes of continuous improvement and ensuring you have the assessments in place to inform decision making. The second is about scaling those practices found to have real impact. And the third is to make sure these programs operate in a completely integrated way with other services.
The question will be whether there is the social capital to take these recommendations and put them into action. For years communities have known how critical this issue is and how woefully short we have fallen in delivering better results. But every community has strengths to build on. We just need the right leaders to align behind identifying these strengths and weaving them together into a comprehensive learning system that nurtures the development of children from the earliest ages.
Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky have done a phenomenal job modeling this type of aligned support around early outcomes. Most every other community we have interfaced with is interested in this aspect of the educational continuum. Let’s hope this report sparks national reform to complement the growing local movements to get better results at the earliest ages.