Since it began in 1965, Head Start has been the cornerstone of the nation’s services for low-income children and their families. A substantial research base has been attached to Head Start, providing information about the program’s overall accomplishments and directions about ways to improve services for young children. American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) children, however, have not always been the direct beneficiaries of knowledge gained through research because very little evidence has been systematically gathered from Head Start programs that serve these children.
To support the development and implementation of research within and by tribal communities, the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, awarded ORC Macro a two-year contract to review existing information and explore research needs for American Indian-Alaska Native Head Start programs. The goal of the project was to develop a research agenda responsive to the needs of American Indian and Alaska Native Head Start programs—a research agenda that (1) takes into account the unique cultural environments and values of these populations and (2) guides the development of information programs can use to improve services provided to children and families.
To begin addressing the gaps in research, the ACF initiative established a consultant panel of experts in early childhood education for American Indians and Alaska Natives; synthesized findings from previous research studies; and conducted listening sessions with tribal leaders, elders, community representatives, parents, and staff from 18 American Indian and Alaska Native Head Start programs that represent a wide range of geographic location, size, program structure, use of the native language, and other factors.