AFT Reacts to Administration's Plans for Head Start

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The AFT supports President Obama's call to improve the quality of services and accountability of Head Start programs across the country. As a union with thousands of members teaching and working in Head Start classrooms nationwide, the AFT believes that establishing stronger school-readiness standards for the nation's more than 1,600 Head Start programs serving more than 1 million children will keep the focus on high-quality educational services for our youngest and neediest children. (Read more about the administration's plan.)

These are tough times for families and communities, which means that every dollar available should go into good programs for kids, not into unnecessary competition to continue grants. The union firmly believes that programs which have deficiencies in services, that mismanage funds or that don't comply with program regulations should be examined and required to compete again for a grant. But it is inefficient to force Head Start programs that have met all the standards into another competition based entirely on the outcome of only one instrument (CLASS: Pre-K) to assess classroom performance.

The AFT knows that "CLASS: Pre-K" is a highly regarded observation tool of interactions between teachers and students; it is intended to support and stimulate teacher reflection, best practices and professional growth. Its use as a proxy for quality is mystifying, however, because it does not assess the quality of the curriculum or the content knowledge of teachers—both of which are key components of good educational programs. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services acknowledges this concern in its own documents. The AFT will continue to work with Head Start officials to identify and adopt the types of multiple measures that will ensure high-quality instruction and learning environments.

(The AFT has put together background information and analysis of some of the new Head Start rules.)

The AFT and its members are gratified to see the Obama administration's continued focus on the quality of early childhood education. As the president said during a recent visit to a Pennsylvania Head Start center, early education is "one of our best investments in America's future."

November 10, 2011