Committee on Education and the Workforce
Hearings

STATEMENT OF DWAYNE A. CROMPTON
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
KCMC Child Development Corporation

SUBCOMMITTEE ON EDUCATION REFORM
COMMITTEE ON EDUCATION AND THE WORKFORCE
UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

HEARING ON HEAD START REAUTHORIZATON

March 6, 2003

Good Morning Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee:

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to testify on behalf of the thousands of successful Head Start programs across the country and to speak before this committee on how to continue to improve Head Start for the more than 900,000 children who rely every day on this program for their health, nutrition and cognitive development.

I know that there are hundreds of other Head Start directors who could easily be sitting in this chair talking about what Head Start means to their communities and how they work every day to deliver high quality, comprehensive services to the poorest of America’s children.

My name is Dwayne Crompton and I am the Executive Director of KCMC Child Development Corporation in Kansas City, Missouri. Through our Early Head Start, Head Start, and Community Partnerships Programs in three counties and our Child and Adult Care Food Program in some 15 other Missouri counties, KCMC serves almost 3,700 children every day.

Knowing how important it is to reach our most vulnerable children quickly, our Early Head Start program collaborates with a number of partners to serve pregnant women and families of newborn children from birth to three years of age. In Early Head Start, we work with home-based providers to help them connect locally with social, health and nutrition programs that serve income eligible women to provide child development education and support services as soon as possible. Currently, KCMC’s Early Head Start provides home-based services to 44 families, services through family child care to 38 families, and full-day, full-year center-based services to 197 families.

KCMC Child Development Corporation has also created numerous initiatives that work collaboratively with local school districts, community-based child-care programs and family child-care homes. These initiatives extend the reach of our program beyond the classroom out into various communities and bring benefits to thousands children and families with the greatest need.

As the Executive Director of KCMC Child Development Corporation for the past 27 years, I have spent my life working to ensure that Head Start continues to provide high quality, comprehensive services to the poorest children in my community; to ensure that it works collaboratively with other early childhood programs in my state; and to ensure that the program applies the best thinking in early childhood research in our work with children.

For as long as I have been involved with Head Start, the program has seized every opportunity to improve the services it provides for children and families. We embrace change in Head Start. From my perspective and experience – which includes the classroom, the kitchen and the Board Room – Head Start works. We should not change the nature of the program by devolving it to the states and losing its performance standards and strong commitment to comprehensive services. Instead we should improve it, continuing in our efforts to ensure that every poor child has access to this high quality early childhood program. I do not want Head Start to become static or be swallowed up by a huge impersonal bureaucracy. Neither do the tens of thousands of Head Start parents and staff across the country. That will be a tragedy of immense proportion.

Specifically, I think that Head Start should continue to follow its strong performance standards, ensure accountability, provide comprehensive services and remain a federal to local program within the Department of Health and Human Services. During this reauthorization, we should work together to strengthen these areas of Head Start, not to devise ways to weaken one of the most meaningful social programs the country has ever established.

I do not speak to you in the sterile language of the researcher or in the abstract terminology of the sociologist. My extensive work with Kansas City’s poorest children and parents has shaped my thinking and focused by views on Head Start. Based on my experience, I offer my perspective on four key issues that I think are critical to this reauthorization debate.

COLLABORATION

In Head Start programs across the nation, we serve our children and families through partnerships. These collaborations are possible because Head Start values collaboration—and in fact, holds programs accountable for their work with community partners. As outlined in a Department of Health and Human Services Head Start monitoring report, 82 percent of programs reviewed had no negative findings in the independent federal review and evaluation of their program’s community partnerships. And these evaluations are extensive—monitors don’t just talk to Head Start staff, but they interview parents, collaboration partners from the community and representatives from governing boards and policy groups.

For KCMC, the list of collaborative partners is expansive.

Collaborations with schools.

First, our partnership with local school districts allows us to deliver Head Start programs on school district sites. These collaborations allow us to share facilities and provide joint training of Head Start and school district staff. In these school-based Head Start centers, Head Start children receive part-day and full-day services through the integration of Head Start into other early childhood classrooms, and all children in these classrooms receive Head Start’s comprehensive services. In these collaborations, the school district operates the Head Start program, while Head Start staff provides the monitoring and technical assistance.

In addition to these shared facilities and resources, KCMC has established formal agreements with schools special education services to conduct screenings, assessments, and Individualized Education Plan conferences for our Head Start children.

Finally, we work to ensure a smooth transition to kindergarten for Head Start children and their families. We have transition agreements with school districts to ensure continuity for families as their children enter school and we provide parents with opportunities to visit kindergarten classes with their current Head Start teachers. We also conduct shared Head Start, school district parent meetings and activities to ensure that parents are comfortable with the K-12 system and are able to maintain their active role in the education of their children which they began in Head Start.

Collaborations with early childhood programs.

In addition to our work with local schools, we have, like many of other programs, found ways to bridge Head Start with child care and preschool programs so that children in other settings can benefit from Head Start’s comprehensive approach.

Specifically, we have initiated two programs that bring Head Start and other child-care providers together. One program, called New Start Child Care Partnership, provides full-day, year-round care to Head Start children. Another effort, called Full Start, leverages Head Start dollars to provide a full range of Head Start’s comprehensive services to children in child care centers in neighborhoods where Head Start programs are not located.

Because we are aware that home-based care is a cornerstone for early care and education in America, we also manage a Head Start Family Child Care Partnership. Through this initiative, we provide Head Start’s comprehensive services to 179 children in 25 family child-care homes.

Collaboration with Parent Education Programs.

KCMC Child Development Corporation has partnered with Parents as Teachers in school districts in our three-county service area to coordinate recruitment of children and families, developmental and health screening, home visits, joint training and shared resources. As an example, the Parents as Teachers program in the Center School District screens all Head Start children, school district and Head Start staff make joint home visits, and the School District nurse coordinates health activities for all children enrolled in their program.

Collaborations with the Private Sector.

In Kansas City, we are blessed with several generous private foundations and caring businesses that help fill the gap and ensure that coordination continues to help us build a collaborative system of early childhood education in Kansas City. For example, we recently built a state of the art, 28,000 square foot, child and family development center. Building the facility was a $3.7 million effort—and $2.5 million of this sum was provided by businesses, foundations and individual donors—all of whom understand that Head Start’s quality and comprehensive services are critical to the social and economic well being of our city.

In all of these partnerships and collaborations -- with business and the community -- Head Start is a leader and valuable partner. We bring to the table two elements that are critical to ensuring that children in Kansas City receive the education, services and supports they need—namely:

a dedication and commitment to high quality services that are enforced through Head Start’s essential program performance standards, and

a holistic and comprehensive way of delivering services to children and families that acknowledges that children do not come to our program prepared to learn—that they are not able to put aside hunger or violence or health problems to concentrate on ABCs.

Our partnerships prove how important collaborations are to Head Start. At KCMC, these programs help us meet the full-day needs of working parents in our community and allow us to use Head Start funding to expand the quality of all child care and preschool programs—by providing training for education, health care, parent involvement and social services as well as direct medical and dental services.

Challenges To Collaboration.

Obstacles to collaboration do not come from Head Start. Collaboration is often thwarted by under funded potential partners or by state-imposed restrictions and regulations, especially in my home state of Missouri. These obstacles occur because states are trying to balance limited resources, and in the current budgetary environment, things are only getting worse. Under-funded programs that already are struggling to provide child care, housing, emergency food services, health care, after-school and other educational programs are the ones experiencing even greater cuts in services and program quality. It is clear that states across this country are not moving forward to meet the needs of poor children and families. Instead, they are falling backwards.

Let me cite for you a few examples from my home state:

In Missouri, we have a small state-funded preschool program but these services do not go far enough to meet the needs of all eligible children. Most states in America are like mine, with the majority of prekindergarten spending occurring in just 10 states.

Income eligibility for child-care subsidies in Missouri is one of the lowest in the country—$17,784 for a family of three, or about 118 percent of the federal poverty level. That means that the vast majority of our state’s working poor are not receiving any assistance in covering their child-care needs.

And just last week our State’s House Appropriations Committee voted to completely eliminate the state's Children's Health Insurance Program. If this passes, over 77,000 children from low-income working families will lose their health insurance.

Head Start’s success in collaboration and delivery of comprehensive services to our community’s poorest children rely on state child-care subsidies and pre-kindergarten programs. We strive to collaborate, but we must have collaborators with financial capability. It is clear that within Missouri and in states across the country, crippling budget deficits have left these services and programs in disarray. The safety net is being shredded and helpless children and families are in danger of falling through. Moving Head Start to the states will not remedy this situation. A strong federal commitment to increased funding of critical services for children would give Head Start programs the tools they need to collaborate and bring benefits to suffering children.

QUALITY OF SERVICES

Performance Standards.

The key to quality in Head Start is a set of program performance standards that spell out what programs need to do to ensure that Head Start children meet the high expectations Congress has set for them. Quality services are crucial to Head Start’s success. As long as I have worked in early childhood education, I know that quality is easier said than done. Nonetheless, Head Start has accomplished what to many might have seemed impossible. Head Start has actually created a proven formula for high quality services and developed a system to ensure that programs deliver the quality that Congress, parents and the community expect. Standards and delivery make all the difference in Head Start.

Let me be clear—program performance standards are not a dusty bureaucratic document that sits on a shelf. At KCMC, the program performance standards are a living document that daily tells us what we should be doing to ensure that children are learning and being prepared for success in kindergarten.

Literacy and Pre-Reading Skills.

Given the increased focus on literacy skills for young children in Head Start, I will describe some of the ongoing efforts we have made at KCMC to address children’s cognitive development. We certainly believe that this is a key area of our work. We find that when we address the comprehensive needs of children—such as their home environment, their health care and nutrition needs—Head Start children come into the classroom eager to learn and excited about developing new skills, such as reading.

Our on-going assessments show that Head Start children in Kansas City are developing the important literacy and pre-reading skills they need. Their success is no accident. At KCMC we have taken very deliberate steps based on Head Start program performance standards, and guided by the best research available, to address the literacy of Head Start children. We have an extensive literacy plan that consists of three elements: professional development, resources and materials, and experiences and activities.

With a private foundation grant, we have established a Literacy Lab that manages an integrated agency-wide early literacy program that embraces staff, parents and volunteers. Through professional development, we provide core curriculum training for staff twice each program year on ways to emphasize language, literacy development and the assessment of children’s literacy skills in their classrooms. All teachers go through additional trainings to ensure that we are keeping up with the most up-to-date research on how best to address the cognitive development of young children.

We also work to ensure that all Head Start classrooms have access to materials and resources that address literacy and language development. For example, we operate the James Threatt Resource Center, which houses resources and materials for program enhancement in areas of language and literacy, and which provides staff support and meeting space for regularly scheduled teacher and parent training sessions.

We also participate in an innovative and exciting program that is being implemented nationwide. This initiative, called Jump Start, partners with local college students to work one-on-one with children on literacy activities and with parents to provide Adult Basic Education opportunities.

Finally, KCMC works to ensure that literacy is integrated into all aspects of our work with children and parents. We provide opportunities for literacy activities during home visits and parent conferences. Through the First Books Program, children take home free books that come with a packet of suggested activities for parents to use when reading with their children. Recently, we launched a program called Males Reading to Children as an effort to encourage and support fathers, uncles, stepfathers and grandfathers to help their young children in developing strong literacy skills.

All of these efforts are reinforced though ongoing outcomes assessments in literacy and early learning. This assessment is tied to our curriculum as well as the Head Start Outcomes Framework to ensure that children are successfully developing these skills before they enter kindergarten. We also conduct classroom assessments using the Early Childhood Environmental Rating Scale and the Infant Toddler Environmental Rating Scale two times a year to ensure that overall classroom quality supports children’s development.

As you can see, we work extensively at KCMC to address literacy and pre-reading skills of Head Start children. The work we do is successful for two reasons that can not be ignored—first we address critical health and nutrition needs of children so that they come to the classroom ready to learn—and second, we ensure that literacy and language development is purposeful and planned.

Qualified Staff and Professional Development.

Setting high standards for teacher credentials ensures high quality teaching and consequently, success for children. In Head Start, Congress required that at least 50 percent of teachers must have an Associate degree in early childhood development or a related field by 2003. In my program, we have exceeded this goal and are working to help our teachers achieve even more. Of the 39 teachers at KCMC, I am proud to say that 19 (49 percent) have BA or BS degree, 15 (or 38 percent) have an AA degree and one teacher has a Master’s degree in early childhood development. Thirty-five of 39 members of our teaching staff have met or exceeded Head Start requirements. This success resulted from Head Start’s commitment to improving education and its delivery of financial resources for salaries, course reimbursement, and leave time for teachers.

In Missouri, you don’t find comprehensive standards nor financial commitment to professional development in the child-care system. Child-care teacher credentials are not uniform throughout Missouri, and, in fact, "teachers" in my state can work in child-care centers without any training in early childhood development.

Challenges to Quality.

If we are going to continue to build a strong teaching staff, which is central to providing high quality early educational services, we must continue to raise the bar and provide the resources so that we can not only hire, but also retain qualified teaching staff. Nationally, teachers in Head Start make on average, $21,750 a year. In my program, a teacher holding a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education earns $23,000 to $30,500 a year, a respectable salary but still much lower than the $29,000 to $32,000 comparable teachers earn in our public schools. Head Start reauthorization should continue to raise the bar on teacher credentials and provide the resources to help make this possible.

COMPREHENSIVE SERVICES

Providing comprehensive services can sound easy. However, in order to make a difference for children and families who come to us, it is essential that we have the standards that require, and the resources that support, an extensive array of comprehensive services. These requirements are at the foundation of Head Start’s success. They are the ABCs of our children’s early learning and development. They are the tools that make it possible for us to reach our poorest children and bring positive change to their lives.

Let me tell you about the families that we serve and the barriers they face. Nationally:

Nearly 28 percent of parents with children in Head Start—more than one in four—have less than a high school diploma or GED.

Almost half of Head Start parents make less than $12,000 a year.

Almost a quarter of children served in Head Start come from homes where English is not the primary language spoken at home.

Official reports show that about one in five Head Start children "have been exposed to community or domestic violence in their lives."

Almost one in every six Head Start children has one or more disabilities—generally a speech or language impairment. Nearly half of all children’s disabilities were identified after these children entered Head Start, indicating that Head Start is critical in both identifying and serving children with special needs.

On average, the early literacy skills of children entering Head Start are significantly below—a full standard deviation below national norms.

In my program, children look much the same.

  • 31% of KCMC Head Start parents have less than a high school diploma or GED.
  • 54% of KCMC Head Start parents earn less than $15,000 a year.
  • 57% of KCMC Head Start children are enrolled in CHIPS.
  • 53% are African-American
  • 77% of KCMC Head Start children are from one-parent homes.
  • 33% of KCMC Head Start parents are unemployed.

The fact that the needs of poor families are so complex is why Head Start is housed in the Department of Health and Human Services and why it should not be moved to the Department of Education.

As a director, I have had the opportunity to see many children and families leave our program confident, educated, healthy and proud. We develop lasting relationships with many families, especially those parents with multiple children who may be a part of Head Start's program for several years.

One such parent, was Michelle, who enrolled her son August into the Head Start Program. A few years earlier Michelle had been involved with Head Start as her two daughters went through the program. She said her experiences with her daughters had been so positive she knew Head Start was the place for her family.

At the application intake she expressed two concerns with August’s health—a speech problem that she seemed to notice and a permanent injury that occurred during birth that had left August unable to have full use of his right arm. She wanted August to be in the same, supportive, educational environment as her daughters. In addition to the educational services delivered by our staff knowledgeable in early childhood education, Head Start children also receive yearly dental, physical, hearing and vision screenings. Children also participate in a developmental screening, which can often provide early indications of any health and developmental concerns so they can benefit from early intervention. Families participate in two home visits and two parent/teacher conferences each year.

Knowing that these services were available for August, Michelle felt comfortable discussing her concerns with the family advocate and together they began the process of identifying what August needed to be ready to learn and succeed in Head Start’s program. Though KCMC’s community partnerships, the family advocate was able to refer Michelle to Children’s Mercy Hospital where August underwent a thorough speech evaluation. Children’s Mercy Hospital found that August did indeed have a speech impediment, and connected Michelle to the Clay County Health Department. The Department worked in conjunction with the Head Start Mental Health and Disability Consultant to provide speech services for August during the summer prior to entering the Head Start program.

Once August began our program in the fall, staff at KCMC continued to work on services he needed by collaborating with North Kansas City School District to expedite an Individualized Education Plan, which is currently in place.

August is doing exceptionally well in Head Start. He is scheduled for surgery on his arm this month. Michelle is actively involved in Head Start. She frequently volunteers and serves on the Head Start’s parent committee and the advisory board. Her praise for Head Start is unending. She also reports that her two daughters are at the "head of their class" academically and socially. She attributes this success to Head Start – and the fact that Head Start addressed the needs of the whole child, and the whole family.

Michelle’s story demonstrates the transformational impact that Head Start has when it delivers high quality, comprehensive services to children and families. Inherent in the Head Start is the belief that when children get services that meet their needs and parents are treated as full partners, then children can indeed overcome the many barriers they face and can enter school ready to learn.

Challenges to Comprehensive Services.

If Head Start is moved to the states, it is unlikely that the current level of comprehensive support will be maintained. First, most state prekindergarten programs do not require supports as comprehensive as Head Start. Second, there will be no national performance standards. Third, with state cutbacks in many social programs, the quality of Head Start will be jeopardized as states seek to serve more families without investing additional resources. It is essential in this environment to maintain Head Start’s program performance standards that require the delivery of a broad rage of services for our poorest children.

ACCOUNTABILITY

Finally, let me discuss briefly how Head Start programs are held accountable to the high standards set by Congress. As an administrator, I know that standards are only meaningful if there are clear and consistent ways to measure progress, track success, and enforce necessary changes that need to occur to guarantee that high quality services are being delivered to children in every Head Start classroom.

Head Start has established not only extensive performance standards, but also a comprehensive system of evaluation and monitoring to ensure that these standards are met. The Head Start system for accountability reviews programs once every three years to ensure that the integrity of federal dollars is protected and that our nation’s poorest children do not miss a single opportunity to grow and develop. Head Start’s accountability reaches far beyond the typical desktop monitoring done in state preschool programs. A team totaling as many as twenty-five reviewers spend a week reviewing every aspect of a Head Start operation—curriculum, family and community partnerships, human resources/program development, teacher qualifications and professional development, comprehensive services, health and mental health, disability services, language and cultural appropriateness—to name a few.

A recent Department of Health and Human Services monitoring report shows that 85 percent of programs evaluated in 2000 were found to be delivering high quality services and meeting the needs of children. Head Start programs that do not demonstrate success in providing high quality, comprehensive services in line with program performance standards are given an opportunity to improve. When they do not, they lose their funding.

Recently, Head Start announced a plan to conduct a national assessment of all four-year-old children in Head Start in order to provide more accountability to the program. In my opinion, the Administration’s proposal takes us in the opposite direction of where Head Start needs to go to improve services for young children.

Head Start programs are currently required to assess children three times a year. At KCMC, for example, we learned through the assessment process, that in one classroom children were not getting a chance to interact with other children in small groups or to participate in pretend play settings. With this information, we informed the teacher about how to change her lesson plans and modify the curriculum to ensure that children in her class get opportunities to develop these important socialization skills.

The assessment system we use is not a single test—but a daily process we follow to ensure that children are achieving their goals. Our assessments include a wide variety of methods to examine and document the progress of our children, including gathering work samples, observing learning opportunities and documenting progress in reports for parents, and in conducting direct assessments. These assessment systems allow our teachers to gather information on where children are developmentally and to identify ways to strengthen our programs for the benefit of children and families.

The new assessment planned by the Administration is a narrow one that only collects data from a direct test of children’s knowledge. This test only asks questions related to literacy, language and numeracy. Child development experts agree that a single direct assessment does not produce quality data on learning. Further, using this information for program accountability rather than using it to inform and improve teacher practices and curriculum goes against what I feel is the true purpose of a quality child assessment. Using this type of test to hold programs accountable could create a host of harsh incentives—such as the temptation to only enroll children who face few barriers to learning or to recruit children who will test well—potentially ignoring children (i.e. those with language barriers or learning disabilities) who most need Head Start’s services.

Challenges to Accountability.

We in the early childhood community should not be rushed into changing how we assess four-year-olds without a long and careful deliberation by a broad group of early childhood experts in order to avoid dangerous pitfalls that will have ramifications for all young children in America. I fear that this proposal could create a high-stakes testing environment that will change the nature of early childhood education to one that is too narrowly focused on a few aspects of children’s learning and development. I assure you that many of the best minds in the country agree that this is an inappropriate practice and an unwise use of information in a program that works with the nation’s most vulnerable three- and four-year-olds. The correct action should be a deliberative and public process that brings early childhood experts together to assist in developing an assessment that addresses these concerns.

In closing, let me reiterate that from my experiences and knowledge of Head Start and how it affects children and families—this program is a national treasure and an unqualified success. Head Start is working effectively now. While we as directors, staff, parents and legislators should never stop striving to improve the program, we should permit Head Start to continue to move forward on its current course to ensure that all eligible children receive these invaluable services and comprehensive support.

Currently, I have up to 100 children at one center waiting to receive these critical services. Everyday, we have to turn children and parents away because we have no room for more.

Early Head Start should also expand so we can reach young children as early as possible. Head Start programs can also use additional flexibility to meet their community’s needs—whether it is to address the huge demands for infant and toddler care or to help children in families with incomes slightly above the poverty line.

Finally, we should continue to move forward in strengthening the credentials for Head Start teachers so that we can develop a workforce that is trained to provide services to our most vulnerable citizens and which is appropriately compensated for the incredible work they do.

As state budgets are cut and services are scaled back, we need Head Start now, more than ever before, as a stabilizing early childhood force in poor communities. Programs with which we collaborate are also in crisis. We need more federal support for Head Start and other early childhood programs, not less.

Every day we at KCMC work with community partners to change for the better the lives of children and families. It has been my life’s work to ensure that all children get the support they need to achieve and succeed in school and later in life.

There are clearly ways to make Head Start better and I look forward to working with the Committee to discuss changes that will ensure that this 40-year-old program may continue to grow and improve. I do not believe that sending the program to the states, eliminating its program performance standards and allowing comprehensive services to be diluted are the changes we should be considering. I urge you to take a wiser and more compassionate course. In this reauthorization, we should seize the opportunity to once again affirm the success of this national treasure, to rally the nation to continue to advance Head Start’s mission, and to expand the program’s benefits to every poor child and family across this nation.

Thank you.