New legislation to increase education level of preschool teachers.
One of the nation's premier early childhood programs is likely to build new partnerships with minority-serving colleges and universities under legislation just approved by Congress.
The House- and Senate-approved bill for Head Start contains new accountability provisions to increase the education level of teachers in the federally funded preschool program. Within six years, at least half of all teachers in the program must have bachelor's degrees, and the bill envisions a role for Black and Hispanic-serving institutions in that process.
"We will reinvigorate Head Start and help more children arrive at kindergarten ready to succeed," said Rep. John Conyers Jr., DMich., a Congressional Black Caucus member.
Under a career ladder program created through the bill, Head Start agencies can partner with historically Black colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions and tribal colleges and universities to increase the number of Head Start staff earning associate and bachelor's degrees. Colleges are to work with agencies that enroll a large number of Black, Hispanic or American Indian children.
Created in 1965, Head Start provides education, social, health and support services to preschool youngsters and their families. In recent years, the national trend to emphasize standards in elementary education has filtered down to the preschool level, with policymakers seeking early childhood programs that can help prepare at-risk youth for kindergarten and beyond.
For staff, many of them former Head Start parents, professional development and training are increasingly important issues. Prior to approval of this new bill, more program staff were required to have at least associate degrees, which prompted new partnerships between Head Start agencies and two-year colleges.
Head Start also will have more funding available to help staff pursue the educational opportunities outlined in the new bill. Formally called the Improving Head Start for School Readiness Act, the measure would increase funding from $7.3 billion to $7.6 billion in 2009 and $8 billion in 2010.
Extra funding could go toward increasing teacher salaries and professional development, among other uses, the legislation states. The more than 1,000 local Head Start agencies would have to develop annual professional development plans for staff, and teachers would need to receive additional training to work with at-risk children and those with disabilities. …