Simon van Zuylen-Wood has written an interesting piece for The New Republic criticizing the Obama administration’s roll-out of its Head Start recompetition requirements. The requirements were part of the 2007 reauthorization of Head Start and were intended to weed out low-performing Head Starts and make room for new, higher-performing providers to take their place.
So far, the administration has identified 132 grantees that will need to recompete for their current funding. But, according to van Zuylen-Wood, agencies are as likely to be forced to recompete because of minor bureaucratic matters as they are because of more serious shortcomings in student academic outcomes or student health. He also says that several programs are being forced to recompete if they are part of larger networks where violations have occurred in other programs in the network, even if the programs in question experienced no such violations themselves.
Over at Education Week, Sara Mead, a senior associate with Bellwether Education Parnters, blogs that van Zuylen-Wood is stoking false fears. She says the programs in question are not being defunded, they are only being required to recompete against other providers, an important distinction.
If anything, the bigger concern is that not enough low-performing Head Start grantees will lose funding, because there is a lack of quality providers with the capacity to replace them. I’ve spoken with folks from some of these 132 places who know that their current Head Start provider is lousy but despair of finding a better provider to compete for the grant.
Mead agrees that various aspects of the recompetition can be improved, including the data that is being used to single out programs for recompetition, but concludes:
Ultimately, yes, Head Start recompete will lead to some disruption. But if we believe in the importance of early childhood education, that means we need to be serious about the performance of publicly funded providers.
For those who are interested in following this issue more closely, there is a blog devoted exclusively to Head Start Redesignation that is run by Foundations for Families, a consulting and training company based in Alexandria, Virginia.