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- What are the key characteristics and quality of Head Start programs, centers, and classrooms?
- What are the qualifications, experience, and beliefs of Head Start program directors, center directors, and teachers?
- How do teacher, director, and classroom characteristics vary across different program auspices and sizes?
This research brief describes the characteristics of Head Start programs, leaders, and teachers that prior research shows are related to classroom quality, using recent data from the Head Start Family and Child Experiences Survey (FACES 2014). We examine characteristics in five areas. First, we explore the structural characteristics of Head Start programs and centers, including agency characteristics, sources of revenue, size and turnover of teaching staff, and use of data systems. Second, we examine directors’ education and experience and the areas directors say they need more support in order to lead more effectively. Third, we examine the characteristics of Head Start teachers, including their education, credentials, and experience; symptoms of depression; attitudes toward developmentally appropriate practice; and job satisfaction. Fourth, we describe the training and mentoring Head Start teachers receive. Fifth, we examine the use of curriculum and assessment tools in classrooms, time spent in instructional groups, child/adult ratio and group size, and observed classroom quality. Throughout the brief, we also explore variation in teacher, director, and classroom characteristics by program auspice and program size. By examining this variation, we can better understand how the need for certain qualifications and supports differs across Head Start programs.
The purpose of this brief is to describe characteristics of Head Start programs, leaders, and teachers that prior research shows are associated with classroom quality. We also examine differences in service quality and the professional environment by program auspice and size.
Key Findings and Highlights
- The majority of directors and teachers have at least a bachelor’s degree. Directors have, on average, about 7 years of experience and two-thirds of Head Start teachers have at least five years of experience teaching in Head Start or Early Head Start. The majority of teachers report positive attitudes toward developmentally appropriate practice and report high job satisfaction.
- Consistent with Head Start Program Performance Standard (HSPPS) requirements, the majority of programs have capacity for data use: More than three-quarters of programs employ someone to analyze and summarize data.
- Consistent with HSPPS requirements, mentoring is a common professional development practice: Nearly three-quarters of Head Start teachers (74 percent) report having a mentor. Group sizes and child-adult ratios in classrooms also fall within HSPPS requirements.
- Head Start directors say they need more support with data-driven decision-making and program improvement planning.
- As measured by the ECERS-R short form, most classrooms score in the minimal to good range for classroom materials and arrangement and for the quality of teacher-child interactions. On average, on the CLASS, Instructional Support is in the low range and Emotional Support and Classroom Organization are in the mid-range.
- About one-third of programs operate for a full year.
- Programs’ strengths and challenges vary by program auspice and program size. For example, school-based programs tend to have more experienced center directors, more teachers with a teaching certificate and a graduate or professional degree, and higher observed classroom quality, than programs operated by community action agencies or other agency types.
The FACES sample provides information at the national level about Head Start programs, centers, classrooms, and the children and families they serve. We selected a sample of Head Start programs from the 2012–2013 Head Start Program Information Report, with two centers per program and two classrooms per center. One-hundred seventy six programs, 346 centers, and 667 classrooms participated in the study in spring 2015.
The sample used for this brief provides information on key characteristics of Head Start teachers, classrooms, centers, and programs in spring 2015. Teacher data on teacher characteristics are weighted to represent all teachers in Head Start. Teacher data that describe Head Start classrooms and classroom observation data are weighted to represent all Head Start classrooms. Survey data from program or center directors are weighted to represent all Head Start programs or centers, respectively.
Alamillo, J., N. Aikens, E. Moiduddin, C. Bush, L. Malone, and L. Tarullo. “Head Start Programs in Spring 2015: Structure, Staff, and Supports for Quality from FACES 2014.” OPRE Report 2018-79. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2018.
- Head Start Family and Child Experiences Survey