In the fall of 2011, the Office of Head Start (OHS) significantly expanded its accountability provisions with the establishment of the Head Start Designation Renewal System (DRS). In response to requirements in the Improving Head Start for School Readiness Act of 2007, the DRS is designed to determine whether Head Start and Early Head Start grantees are providing high quality comprehensive services to the children and families in their communities. Where they are not, grantees are denied automatic renewal of their grant and must apply for funding renewal through an open competition process. Determinations are based on seven conditions falling under three broader categories: service quality, licensing and operations, and fiscal and internal controls.
In 2012, ACF awarded a contract to the Urban Institute with subcontractor Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill to conduct a formative evaluation of the DRS and examine how the system is meeting its goals of transparency, validity, reliability and stimulating overall program quality improvement. The purpose of the study was to:
- evaluate the early implementation of the DRS,
- describe the mechanisms by which the DRS supports program quality improvement,
- examine how well DRS is able to identify grantees providing lower quality services for competition, and
- describe the results of competitions.
The evaluation used a mixed-methods design that integrated administrative data and secondary data sources, observational assessments, and interviews to tap multiple dimensions of program quality and Head Start programs’ experiences with DRS at all phases of the process. The points of contact are Amy Madigan and Nina Hetzner.