The preschool landscape is complex, consisting of several publicly funded programs supported by federal, state, and local funds. Included in this landscape is Head Start, a critical early childhood education (ECE) program that serves—in every state and territory—young children in families with incomes at or below the federal poverty line, families experiencing homelessness, families receiving assistance like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), families of children with disabilities, and children who are in the foster care system. Head Start also provides tailored services for children from Tribal communities and to families of migrant and seasonal farmworkers.[i] Comprehensive data on Head Start programs are available nationally but can be challenging to integrate with other preschool and K-12 data, in part because the data typically flow from local Head Start grantees up to the federal Office of Head Start (OHS), bypassing the state. However, without the inclusion of Head Start data, researchers, policymakers, and preschool administrators are unable to answer key questions about the experiences of those being served or understand which children and families are served in states with Head Start and state pre-kindergarten (pre-K).
To better understand the ways Head Start data are being accessed, analyzed, and used with other preschool data at the state level, the Early Childhood Data Collaborative (ECDC) at Child Trends conducted a survey of Head Start State Collaboration Offices (HSCOs). HSCOs play a role coordinating Head Start systems at the state level with other early childhood programs, and they are well positioned to understand the data collection efforts within a state. The primary goal of the survey was to better understand the types of Head Start data that HSCOs can access and how these data are used, disaggregated, and linked with other early childhood and K-12 data; in addition, the survey aimed to understand data-related supports and infrastructure. The survey was administered alongside the nationwide State-funded Pre-K Data Survey, both of which were used to inform the System Transformation for Equitable Preschools (STEP Forward with Data) Framework—a tool designed to help state leaders answer essential questions about their preschool systems, assess data gaps, establish data collection practices that address equity, and identify action steps for using data to create more equitable preschool systems.
 In the survey, accessible data was defined as data collected by a state agency that is accessible for use within the state agency or by request.
[i] Office of Head Start. (2023, June 30). Head Start History. The Office of the Administration for Children & Families. https://www.acf.hhs.gov/ohs/about/history-head-start
This research was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The findings and conclusions within are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
We would like to thank all the state Head Start administrators who completed the survey for their time and insights. We would like to give special thanks to Vanessa Jones (Head Start state collaboration specialist with the Maryland State Department of Education) for helping pilot the survey tool and providing valuable feedback.
Tang, J., Ulmen, K., Amadon, S., Richards, K., Guerra, G., Ball, J., King, C., Richards, D. (2023). State-Level Accessibility of Head Start Data Across the United States. DOI: 10.56417/1673d1859j
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