Education Funding Opinion

Head Start and the Other Half of the Charter Bargain

By Sara Mead — November 11, 2011 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Writing about new Head Start “recompete” regulations on Wednesday, I said that the regs “essentially move Head Start towards a charter-like model, in which continued receipt of federal funding is contingent on demonstrated quality and performance.”

That’s true in the sense that Head Start grants will now be in the form of 5-year contracts, with continuation after the 5 year term based on performance, and the potential to discontinue non-performing grantees when their contracts expire.

But I forgot one important part of the charter bargain: Charter schools get increased autonomy and freedom from bureaucratic regulations in exchange for increased accountability inherent in the charter contract. That’s not true with these new Head Start regs, as Steve Barnett’s comments to TIME earlier this week reminded me. Head Start grantees will still be subject to lengthy and detailed performance standards (such as a requirement that sleeping cots be placed 3 feet apart) that require both resources and effort to comply with. These standards were designed with the best of intentions to support children’s development and protect health and safety, but they have a side effect of restricting program innovation and take up resources programs might otherwise use differently to promote children’s learning. Further, the recompete itself is based in part on compliance with performance and financial standards, as well as observed classroom quality using the CLASS, and does not include any effort to measure child outcomes.

That’s not to diminish the momentous policy change reflected in the “recompete” rules, or their real potential to drive quality improvements by closing down low-performing providers and replacing them with better ones. But, ultimately, the ability of recompete regulations to drive improvements in Head Start outcomes is only as good as the extent to which it focuses on those outcomes and the factors most likely to drive them. And bureacratic rules are also an obstacle to attracting high-quality new providers to the space.

Slightly tangential to this: The point Barnett raises about Head Start Performance Standards gets to a concern I have with the Quality Rating and Improvement Systems that states are encouraged to establish under the Early Learning Challenge program. Both sets of standards include certain mandates that are designed to ensure quality exceeds a certain floor. The problem with this is that sometimes floors can become ceilings, and provisions designed to ensure a minimum of quality in weaker providers can actually constrain the ability of higher performers to innovate or reallocate resources to more effectively serve kids.

Related Tags:

The opinions expressed in Sara Mead’s Policy Notebook are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
What’s Next for Teaching and Learning? Key Trends for the New School Year
The past 18 months changed the face of education forever, leaving teachers, students, and families to adapt to unprecedented challenges in teaching and learning. As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Funding Interactive Look Up How Much COVID Relief Aid Your School District is Getting
The federal government gave schools more than $190 billion to help them recover from the pandemic. But the money was not distributed evenly.
2 min read
Education Funding Explainer Everything You Need to Know About Schools and COVID Relief Funds
How much did your district get in pandemic emergency aid? When must the money be spent? Is there more on the way? EdWeek has the answers.
11 min read
090221 Stimulus Masks AP BS
Dezirae Espinoza wears a face mask while holding a tube of cleaning wipes as she waits to enter Garden Place Elementary School in Denver for the first day of in-class learning since the start of the pandemic.
David Zalubowski/AP
Education Funding Why Dems' $82 Billion Proposal for School Buildings Still Isn't Enough
Two new reports highlight the severe disrepair the nation's school infrastructure is in and the crushing district debt the lack of federal and state investment has caused.
4 min read
Founded 55 years ago, Foust Elementary received its latest update 12-25 years ago for their HVAC units. If the school receives funds from the Guilford County Schools bond allocation, they will expand classrooms from the back of the building.
Community members in Guilford, N.C. last week protested the lack of new funding to improve the district's crumbling school facilities.
Abby Gibbs/News & Record via AP
Education Funding Can Governors Really Take Money From Schools Over Masks?
State leaders are using the threat of funding cuts as a weapon in the mask debate—but it's not clear if they can or will follow through.
7 min read
Conceptual image of hundred dollar bills with some of the images of Benjamin Franklin masked.
Vanessa Solis/Education Week and iStock