Media Statement: Head Start Performance Standards


To learn more or interview Head Start staff and families contact:

Joel Ryan,, 253.486.9077

Katy Warren, Katy@wsaheadstarteceap.com206.291.2021


New Head Start Proposal Holds Promise, But Also Threatens to Weaken Role of Parents

Most comprehensive changes in 40 years could lead to 1,500 fewer Head Start spots and

reduce parental engagement

                This summer we have an opportunity to make a pillar of the nation’s early education system even stronger by adopting flexible new standards for Head Start that reflect what we have learned about early learning over the program’s 50-year lifetime.

In July, the Office of Head Start created the opportunity when it proposed a comprehensive reorganization of Performance Standards that govern much of the program’s work. These standards could create a modern, easier-to-use approach that is dedicated to better student outcomes. The proposal, for example, would enhance Head Start’s curriculum by focusing on academic and social-emotional skills that research has shown supports development. It also would provide professional development, coaching, and technical assistance to the dedicated professionals who run Head Start classrooms.

Unfortunately, the proposal would weaken a hallmark of Head Start’s success: parental engagement. Head Start has taught us that preschool works best when it works with the entire family. It’s critical that any changes strengthen the roles of parents.

“If you want to help the child you need to help the parents. That has been what has made the program stand out: Intervening early and working with the whole family,” says Joel Ryan, executive director of the Washington State Association of Head Start & ECEAP.

The key to creating effective new standards is combining the best research with the flexibility to meet community needs.

Mandating a long list of changes without providing enough flexibility and support to make those changes is a recipe for failure. The new standards require a six-hour day, a potentially good but expensive idea. Without additional funding it could eliminate roughly 1,500 Head Start spots in Washington State alone. We need to give Head Start directors and teachers the flexibility to implement other ideas that enhance quality, such as better student-teacher ratios and livable wages for teachers.

Overall, we should strengthen the ability of local Head Start staff to make choices that work best in their communities. We all share the same goal: better outcomes for students. We should share the vision that there is more than one way to achieve our goal.

Over the last fifty years we have learned a lot about what it takes to create high-quality early learning programs for the nation’s most at-risk families. Let’s use what we learned to craft Performance Standards that give Head Start’s leaders – teachers, directors and administrators – the flexibility to make Head Start even better, strengthen parental engagement and create better outcomes for students.

You can read and comment on the proposed Performance Standards here.