Panel Paper: Conceptualizing and Examining Data Use By Head Start Managers to Improve Program Quality

Saturday, November 9, 2013 : 3:50 PM
Plaza I (Ritz Carlton)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Teresa M Derrick-Mills and Heather Sandstrom, Urban Institute
Head Start is a federal-to-local initiative with approximately 1,600 community-based nonprofit, for profit, and public organizations operating programs to support the early childhood development of low income children ages birth to five years.   The Head Start Act of 2007 mandates that Head Start grantees develop locally defined school readiness goals as part of their annual self-assessment.  In addition, grantees’ establishment and use of school readiness goals is one of the seven components on which grantees are evaluated in the new Head Start Designation Renewal System (HSDRS).  The HSDRS is a performance improvement system aimed at assuring that the highest quality programs are providing Head Start services in each local community.  As a result, the question of how Head Start programs interpret and implement these new requirements is of great interest to the Administration for Children and Families.  In addition, it is the hope that these requirements will foster real data use for quality improvement, not simply compliance with requirements. 

To that end, the paper will review two projects exploring how to study data use in local Head Start programs, and to develop an understanding of how data are being used. The first project draws on the research of other disciplines to create a conceptual framework for examining the process of continuous quality improvement systems in Head Start programs broadly.  The second project focuses specifically on improving understanding of how local Head Start and Early Head Start grantees define, measure, and communicate school readiness goals, and how they use these goals in program planning to improve program functioning.   

The paper will discuss the conceptual framework built from an interdisciplinary perspective on data use for continuous quality improvement drawing from literature in the disciplines of educational management and leadership, healthcare, nonprofit management, public management, performance management, and organizational learning.  Data collection regarding exploration of the processes and systems of quality improvement (i.e. collaborative inquiry, distributed leadership, data systems, etc.), and the specific efforts of Head Start programs to define and use School Readiness Goals in program planning, will begin a few months before the conference.  The paper will describe those research efforts, what can be learned from those efforts so far to inform both a local and coordinated systems perspective on data use for quality improvement, and how these studies may be used both within the early childhood field and beyond for understanding how to better study the issues of data use.