Published Online: August 28, 2012
Published in Print: August 29, 2012, as Blogs of the Week

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| NEWS | EARLY YEARS

Head Start 'Recompetition' Moves Into Review Stage

By now, the roughly 130 agencies that were slated to vie to keep their federal Head Start dollars had to submit lengthy applications. Now it’s up to a panel of experts to decide if those agencies will keep some or all of the funding, or if the grants will be awarded to new applicants.

This is the first time in the federal program’s history that longtime Head Start grant recipients have to “recompete” to continue receiving their funds. The Obama administration has made a big deal out of this policy change that has put some of the largest Head Start grants—Los Angeles County and New York City among them—up for grabs. Most of the organizations that are recompeting are county and city agencies, public school systems, or large, community-based organizations.

How many applicants are there? Will the public get to see those applications? Who are the judges?

I put those questions to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The response: no comment.

Kenneth J. Wolfe, a spokesman for the agency, which oversees Head Start, told me in an email that the HHS would issue a news release when the grant awards are made, but would not provide answers to any of those other questions I asked. The awards aren’t scheduled to be announced until some time in December.

I’m a bit baffled and am hoping to get a fuller explanation for why basic information such as the number of applicants would be off-limits. Perhaps there is concern that the process didn’t yield a robust number of new applicants, or that if it did bring in lots of new potential recipients, that information could taint the final outcome.

Given the attention and effort the administration put into this Head Start reform, I thought it might track similarly with the transparency of its other signature grant competitions such as Race to the Top. In the Race to the Top K-12 sweepstakes, the Education Department disclosed which states applied, and publicly released those applications. They did keep judges’ names under wraps until after the winners were announced, but they did at least reveal some telling demographic information about who the reviewers were.

—Lesli A. Maxwell


| VIEWS| PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT & ED REFORM

From a 'Fruitcake' to a 'Powerful Organization'

I often hear parents say they don’t feel welcome at their child’s school. This is especially the case if they disagree with something the school leadership or staff has done. Of course, strong leaders welcome constructive criticism as a source of continuous improvement. But what can parents do in situations where they feel completely excluded?

One of the best practices I have observed is suggested by the Commonwealth Institute for Parent Leadership. The institute offers a variety of programs aimed at bringing together parents, teachers, community members, and school administrators for training, information, and experiences that help them work as partners to raise student achievement. The program was developed by the Prichard Committee in 1997 as a way to support informed, skilled parents as effective advocates who are passionate about improving public schools.

During a recent session, the institute’s director, Bev Raimondo, talked about the correlation between school leadership accepting input from parents and the number of parents voicing similar concerns. She shared this visual to illustrate the point:

• 1 Parent = A fruitcake
• 2 Parents = A fruitcake and friend
• 3 Parents = Troublemakers
• 5 Parents = Let’s have a meeting
• 10 Parents = We’d better listen
• 25 Parents = Our dear friends
• 50 Parents = A powerful organization

When voices which need to be heard are being ignored, numbers equal power and attention.

Again, great leaders understand the direct relationship between strong parent and family involvement and academic achievement. They develop a school culture that supports parent and family partnerships. They know educators cannot be successful without families. Many great suggestions and examples of school cultures and climates that encourage parent and family involvement exist and are readily available. When schools truly partner with parents and families, the kids are beneficiaries.

As we move forward, we must understand that taking the next big steps in education will demand the involvement of parents and families. If we’re not already there, we must reform our thinking, culture, and climate to ensure that our parents and families become and remain deeply involved in our schools.

—Stu Silberman

Vol. 32, Issue 02, Page 10

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