In Washington, D.C. there's no shortage of tinkerers who write about what they think Head Start was, is, and should be without ever fully experiencing an actual Head Start program. That is why I have been so excited over the past year to be involved in discussions about strengthening the culture of data and continuous improvement in Head Start. Those engaging and passionate discussions included a group of organizations who respect the importance of practitioner perspectives in advancing policy and practice.
"Moneyball for Head Start: Using Data, Evidence, and Evaluation to Improve Outcomes for Children and Families" was written by Sara Mead and Ashley LiBetti Mitchel of Bellwether Education Partners and was crafted in partnership with Results for America, the Volcker Alliance, and the National Head Start Association with valuable input from both Head Start program leaders and policy experts. Not only does the paper recognize the extraordinary contributions Head Start programs have made to the lives of children and families over the past fifty years, but it also looks forward to how local programs can pursue stronger outcomes by using data to understand strengths, while identifying and intervening in potential areas for improvement. While federal energy has been building around the collection and use of data for years, "Moneyball for Head Start" specifically submits a set of recommendations for the roles the federal Office of Head Start, researchers, philanthropists, advocates, and programs can play in achieving a strong and effective culture of data in every Head Start program.
We at the National Head Start Association are embracing our leading role in advancing the use of data on several fronts. There are a range of exciting opportunities to enhance data use in Head Start, from building a culture of data to identifying common metrics for aggregation, to identifying outstanding programs and practices and supporting the evaluation necessary to bring them to scale. Over the course of this year, NHSA is planning on hosting a series of meetings about Head Start and state data systems; convening a Building Evidence for Innovation Advisory Group in partnership with MDRC; developing a new measurement tool for family engagement with NORC at the University of Chicago; and planning to pilot shared measurement approaches with a group of strongly data-driven Head Start programs.
We invite thoughtful and honest feedback about the paper's recommendations. While a single report alone rarely yields sweeping change, the efforts of creative and committed individuals advancing both policy and practice can set Head Start on the path to a stronger future. As we approach the reauthorization of Head Start in the coming years, we see "Moneyball for Head Start" as an opportunity to discuss, reflect, and imagine what Head Start's future can be when the best minds from practice and policy come together - not to tinker but to have an inclusive conversation about the goal we all share. It is up to us to keep the national commitment to every Head Start child and do all we can to provide high quality services and partner with their families to advance their lifelong success.