Up Next

Daily Uplift

Will new standards to strengthen the quality of Head Start programs help?

The Department of Health and Human Services announced a new plan for teachers to focus more on children instead of paperwork

Early childhood education is important for all children. The sooner kids are able to learn certain classroom techniques, the easier it could be for them to navigate through traditional and nontraditional learning environments, studies have shown.

Since 1965, more than 33 million children nationwide have been able to ask the question, “What are we going to learn today?” and in turn discover that learning can be fun. This has been offered to low-income families through the federal Head Start program. It’s now time for more improvements to the program.

On Thursday, the Obama administration announced its most significant enhancements in program history to further strengthen Head Start and enlighten millions more.

Throughout its existence, Head Start has promoted school readiness for children in low-income families by offering educational, nutritional, health, social and other services. It serves a diverse group of children, families and pregnant women. Last year, the program served nearly 1 million children and pregnant women, with 29 percent of the enrolled self-identifying as black and 38 percent as Hispanic/Latino.

The U.S. Department of Human and Health Services (HHS) said it looks to help those enrolled in Head Start by fostering more healthy child development options and school readiness.

“The new standards strengthen educational practices and are based on the best research about how children learn and develop,” said HHS Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell on Thursday during a midmorning discussion. “The standards we are announcing today will expand the number of children attending Head Start for a full school day and year, ultimately ensuring that nearly all children have access to such programs by 2021.”

Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell says changes to Head Start were a decade in the making.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell says changes to Head Start were a decade in the making.

Charlie Neibergall AP

Based on HHS findings, children who spend more time in the classroom learn more and have better social skills than their peers. To implement the expansion in the classroom, $294 million has been invested with another $292 million promised in the president’s 2017 budget.

The standards include a plan to improve how the children are taught and what they are taught. By raising educational standards, curriculum requirements and professional development expectations, Head Start programs will achieve strong early child-learning outcomes. Not only are the new standards looking to improve access for the children, but that of key members in their family as well. Parents will be given the tools to be able to fully participate in their child’s education and help them enter kindergarten ready to learn with ease.

And if those initiatives weren’t enough to improve the child’s experience in Head Start, HHS is looking to raise the quality of comprehensive services provided to the families.

“We know you can’t promote school readiness in a vacuum,” Burwell said. “A child who shows up to school hungry or sick isn’t going to learn effectively, and that’s why Head Start has always focused on the whole child. These new standards will help ensure that all children in Head Start have ways to eat healthy and stay healthy — so they can thrive in the classroom.”

Lastly, the revision of the program will cut the red tape by 30 percent and allow teachers to focus more on the children and less on the accompanying paperwork. Through the reduction of duplicate practices and outdated rules, administrators are streamlining the process while not looking to compromise the quality or safety of the child.

“Over the past 7 1/2 years, the president has not only talked the talk on early childhood education, but he’s walked the walk,” said White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett. “The changes our administration is announcing through the new performance standards is another big step forward for Head Start. We know that, even with these changes, we have far more work to do for our youngest learners.”

With these sweeping changes, more disadvantaged youth will have the same opportunity as their peers to not only dream a bigger dream, but to actually live it. They will each become one of millions to ask the question with glee, “What are we learning today?”

Toiaya Crawford is writer, public relations guru and a proud Tampa native who is unapologetic about her love of Beyonce, sports and a good book.