Our Children Can’t Wait: New Regulations Increase Accountability and Boost Quality in Head Start

20111108 Head Start Announcement

President Barack Obama and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, right, talk with students while visiting a classroom at the Yeadon Regional Head Start Center in Yeadon, Pa., Nov. 8, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

 
Ed note: This blog was cross-posted from the White House Blog.  

We know that the first years of our children’s lives are critical. That’s when the most rapid development happens in their brains and when they pick up the social, emotional, and academic skills that will help them succeed.  When children get what they need during these early years, it can lay the foundation for success in school and through every stage of their lives.

President Obama and HHS’s announcement today of historic reforms to the Head Start program will help to ensure that all children in Head Start are attending top-notch programs that will help them reach their full potential. The Department of Health and Human Services will implement new rules that will – for the first time in the program’s history– require all Head Start grantees that fail to meet a new set of rigorous quality benchmarks to compete for continued federal funding.

Under the new rules, programs that fall short of quality benchmarks will have to compete. We will put out a notice to all early education providers in their communities: If you can do better, you’ll get the Head Start funding.  And after the initial round of reviews, Head Start providers will continue to be evaluated every five years to make sure they’re maintaining a high standard of performance.

The best Head Start programs do much more than teach kids their ABCs. They help children develop the self-control and critical thinking they need to become successful learners. They connect kids with essential health services like immunizations that they may otherwise go without. They get moms and dads engaged in their children’s education. They put kids on a path to opportunity.

This rule is a key part of the President’s broader agenda to strengthen Head Start. In the last two years, we’ve also improved training for Head Start providers, provided mentors for programs that want to improve, and created 20 Centers of Excellence that are models for the rest of the Head Start community. Combined with this new system of evaluation and competition, Head Start providers today have more tools and more incentives to improve than ever before in the program’s history.

In a world where the jobs follow the best trained workers, America’s capacity to lead the world will depend on our success in educating all of our children, including those most at risk for falling behind. The early years are critical to that success. This Administration will continue to work to make sure our children can grow up with the tools and experience they need to compete.

Today’s Head Start children are tomorrow’s workforce.  Today we are taking a historic step toward making sure all children in Head Start get the top notch early education they need to succeed.

Kathleen Sebelius is Secretary of the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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