Increasing School Readiness through a Head Start-University Partnership

Funders: Haynes Foundation

Principal Investigators: Stephanie Reich, George Farkas, Jade Jenkins

Project Summary

Across the country, decisions about educational practices are data-driven, from high stakes testing to value-added assessment of educators. However, for the education of our very young children (0-5 years), data rarely drive policy and practice decisions. This is unfortunate since federal and state funded early child care programs often capture rich data that are solely used for administrative purposes, rather than improving educational practices.

For the national Head Start program, no funding is allocated for quality improvement data analysis, even though the federal government mandates the collection of detailed data. For instance, Orange County Head Start (OCHS), which currently serves over 4100 low-income, predominately Latino children (0-5 years) each year, keeps detailed records on the children and families they serve as well as the characteristics of the teachers, classes, and centers they operate.

These data have been used for federal reporting, determining service and programming needs, and allocating resources to specific centers and classes. These data have not been utilized to answer important questions about programming (e.g., full day versus half day), staffing (e.g., mono-lingual versus bilingual teachers), and treatment heterogeneity (e.g., what works best for which children). With support from educational researchers, these data could be used to determine what components of Head Start are working most effectively, for whom, and under what circumstances.

This project brings together an interdisciplinary team (sociologist, psychologist, early childhood educators, and education graduate students) to

  • enact a research-to-practice project that will increase OCHS’s capacity to use data meaningfully,
  • increase children’s school readiness,
  • provide applied and socially-relevant experiences to doctoral students, and
  • support empirical work that can inform policy from the local to national level.

This university-community partnership involves a two-stage process of implementation and sustainability.

  • In the first stage of the project we will create a sustainable system for structuring and importing the rich OCHS dataset into analyzable form, complete with codebooks, variable libraries, and linking keys.

  • In the second stage the UCI School of Education- OCHS partnership will tackle research questions of practical importance to OCHS using cutting-edge analytic techniques, report the results, and provide programming recommendations to the OCHS leadership. This second stage will involve use of the data to address important questions about how best to serve children and families in Orange County Head Start. This stage will also involve a service-learning component in which doctoral students in the School of Education will use the de-identified OCHS dataset to address additional important questions about OCHS programming and improving children’s school-readiness.

Findings will then be interpreted in collaboration with OCHS and Education faculty. This helps ensure that the next generation of education scholars is trained to be socially engaged. By capitalizing on administrative and process data already collected by federal reporting requirements, this partnership can improve the comprehensive early education experience of young children and help make them more ready to start school.