New Head Start Performance Standards

September 20, 2016
Children at Head Start Storytime

Linda K. Smith, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Early Childhood Development

Almost a year ago the proposed Head Start Program Performance Standards were released for public comment. Now I am pleased to announce that the new and final Head Start Program Performance Standards have been published in the Federal Register. These new Program Performance Standards have been nearly a decade in the making – stemming from the bipartisan “Improving Head Start for School Readiness Act of 2007” in which Congress required that the Program Performance Standards be modified to ensure that all Head Start programs provide high quality, comprehensive services that lead to strong outcomes for children. As a result, we proposed the most extensive overhaul of the standards since they were originally developed.

The new Program Performance Standards are based on findings from scientific research, extensive consultation with experts, and comments from the public. They reflect best practices, lessons from program input and innovation, and integrate recommendations from the Secretary’s Advisory Committee Final Report on Head Start Research and Evaluation.

They reflect this Administration’s belief that every child deserves an opportunity to succeed and that all children should graduate from high school college- and career-ready.

These are just a few of the things that the new standards cover:

  • Birth to Five Approach – The standards requires grantees to consider the needs of children birth to five in their community as they plan their programs. They focus on a continuum of services and sound child development principles that begin prenatally and continue into the school years.
  • Community Needs Assessment – A greater emphasis will be placed on the needs assessments with special focus on the needs of homeless children, children in foster care and children with disabilities.  
  • Duration – The rule phases in over five years, the number of program hours for preschool-age center-based programs to a new minimum of 1,020 hours per year. Each grantee will have the flexibility to determine the length of the days as long as services are provided for at least 8 months to minimize summer learning loss.
  • A Focus on Outcomes – The standards are designed to focus on the outcomes we want to see. We describe what the standard is but give grantees the flexibility to determine how to best meet that standard.  
  • Greater Alignment of Head Start Standards with child care and other programs. Head Start is the model we hope all programs will strive to emulate. To the extent possible, we have aligned the new standards with requirements in the Child Care and Development Block Grant to support opportunities for coordination and alignment with other components of early care and education. 
  • Plain English – The standards are written and organized in a “plain English approach” that the average reader can understand.  Our goal is to not only clarify the requirements for current grantees, but to help other programs use them as benchmarks to improve the quality of services nationwide.

Over the coming months there will be many opportunities to learn more about the new Program Performance Standards — The Office of Head Start will provide information, our regional offices will meet with grantees, and our new Technical Assistance Centers will be planning the best ways to support our programs. We know that as we work to fully implement the new standards there will be challenges, but there will also be more opportunities.

The new standards will ensure that the nation continues to look to Head Start not only as the leader, but also as a partner in moving early childhood forward. Head Start will continue its’ commitment to improving the lives of our poorest children through comprehensive services that build on and support the role of parents in the lives of young children, because we know a high-quality Head Start program can change the course of a child’s life, and engage the entire family.

These Program Performance Standards will help make Head Start programs a better place for children and families for decades to come, and help us build the next 50 years of Head Start!


Learn more about the new Head Start Program Performance Standards Visit disclaimer page

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