Education Week - January 30, 2013 - (Page 6)

6 EDUCATION WEEK n JANUARY 30, 2013 n New Scrutiny as Head Start Centers Recompete for Aid By Christina A. Samuels The announcement that a new wave of more than 100 Head Start grantees will need to recompete for their federal funding has redoubled attention on the federal government’s efforts to ensure the effectiveness of the $8 billion preschool program that serves about 1 million lowincome children. The 122 grantees notified this month that they would be part of the “designation renewal” process join 132 others that learned in December 2011 that they would have to compete for funds that, in some cases, they have managed for decades. The results of that first competition have not yet been announced; the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ office of Head Start has the option to take money away from current grantees and distribute it among new providers. “Providing robust, open competition for Head Start funding will not only provide opportunities for new organizations to offer services, but it also increases the number of low-income children in highquality care,” said Yvette Sanchez Fuentes, the director for the Head Start office, in a statement. But advocates for the 48-yearold Head Start program—even some who were in favor of a mechanism to weed out poorlyperforming programs—say they have reservations about the way the federal government has launched the competition process. They say some grantees are being told they need to fight for continued funding because they’ve failed to meet minor compliance issues. “The conversation we kept having is, really, how do you measure that overall quality? I don’t think the system quite has that down,” said Yasmina S. Vinci, the executive director of the National Head Start Association in Alexandria, Va., a private nonprofit organization representing the nation’s 1,600 Head Start providers. Awaiting Word The federal Head Start office was supposed to release the results of the first competition late last year; that announcement has now been put off until some time this spring. In December, that office re- leased a report on Head Start effectiveness that noted that while the program produced initial positive impacts, those gains rapidly dissipated by the time the children reached 3rd grade, leaving Head Start students indistinguishable from their counterparts who were not enrolled in the program. That report matches the results of an earlier study that showed most of the benefits of Head Start for children appeared to fade by 1st grade. The report renewed a drumbeat of criticism, including from the Heritage Foundation, a Washington think tank, which says the government should get out of the business of providing early-childhood programs, or should give the money directly to low-income families so that they can find their own preschool providers. The Head Start community “feels very beaten up,” said Ms. Vinci, of the National Head Start Association. Other studies of different early-childhood programs suggest that good programs offer long-term benefits to students that can’t be measured with a snapshot at 3rd grade, she said. The competition process was mandated in the Head Start Act of 2007. The office of Head Start selected an evaluation tool called the Classroom Assessment Scoring System to monitor programs. Known as class, the tool measures Head Start programs in three domains: emotional support, classroom organization, and instructional support. Head Start grantees that have had their licenses revoked or that have had other management or fiscal problems are told to compete for continued federal funding. Grantees that score too low in one or more domains on the class tool must also compete. But some grantees say those measures are being used in too exacting a fashion. Ronald Walker, the superintendent of the 8,000-student Geary County district in Junction City, Kan., said that his school system’s Head Start program of 275 children was penalized for several reasons: A bus driver was brought on staff a few days before his background check was completed, and a student’s dental checkup was not done in the time federal regulations stipulate. Those two issues caused the center’s monitoring system in general to also be deemed out of compliance, a third strike against the program. “It might be time for Congress to take a look at the entire process, and maybe allow effectiveness to be defined in a different manner,” said Mr. Walker, whose district in northeast Kansas serves primarily the children of soldiers based at nearby Fort Riley. “Any program becomes ineffective when you have a thousand pages of regulations.” Tim Nolan, the chief executive officer of a Head Start grantee in Waukesha, Wis., said the center was asked to compete for funds because it was a hundredth of a point below a cut-off score in the domain of classroom organization. Before being notified that it had to compete for renewed funding, Mr. Nolan’s center, which serves 275 students in Head Start and 102 infants and toddlers in Early Head Start, had hosted a week-long visit from Head Start evaluators in October 2011 and was found fully compliant. Several weeks later, a single evaluator returned to the center Natalie Rauwolf, 9, winces as she receives a flu shot from nurse Anna Fiore at the Dean West Clinic in Madison, Wis., this month. give students five straight days out of school—enough recovery time to allow absentee rates to return to normal. Since the closure, the district scrapped an informal policy that kept children in school if they felt sick but weren’t running a fever. “That policy probably didn’t help us out any,” Mr. Heustis said, because the flu can set in so quickly, sick people may feel fine in the morning and awful later, even if they have no fever at first. Now, “if you have flu-like symptoms,” he said, “we’re sending you home.” Nearly every state already has reported widespread influenza activity to the cdc , triggering pleas from that and other agen- cies that people get vaccinated. Part of the challenge is the nature of flu vaccine, which must be given yearly to be effective. That condition can make it seem like a chore for those who can’t be vaccinated at school or work. While the vaccine is free for many, cost may be another obstacle, said Mr. Allen of the cdc. Vaccines also worry some people, and there’s a lingering myth about the flu vaccine. “Some people feel that the influenza vaccine would give them the illness, and it does not,” Mr. Allen said, although it may trigger soreness and a slight fever that pales in comparison to the flu. That minor discomfort is worth it, Grantees Chafe By Nirvi Shah A rough flu season is prompting schools around the country to shut down briefly because dozens of students, in some cases, have the illness or something like it. While no one tracks how many schools close because of the flu— or, in public-health parlance, “influenza-like illness”—stories of closures are cropping up nationwide. And flu season is only at about its midpoint. “The bottom line is that the flu season continues. And it’s shaping up to be a worse-than-average season,” Dr. Tom Frieden, the director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a press call with reporters Jan. 18. “There’s still time to vaccinate, and ... early treatment is critically important.” As of Jan. 18, 29 children in the United States had died because of the flu this season, the cdc said. While the virus is particularly deadly for children and adults with underlying medical conditions, some of the deaths were of healthy youths. The strain of the virus making rounds now is the one that led to the deaths of 153 children during the 2003-04 flu season, Dr. Frieden said. “We’re only in the middle of our season, and even a single death in a child is one too many.” At least three deaths this season were of teenagers and an infant in New Jersey. And a Maine 1st grader who had not been vaccinated died in early December. Maine’s education and health departments issued an alert this month about outbreaks of influenza-like illness across the state, which have affected at least 17 schools and resulted in “substantial absenteeism.” The agencies encouraged schools to review policies on illness with staff members and schedule school vaccination clinics. Closing a school is a local decision made by a school or district in connection with the local health department, said Curtis Allen, a spokesman for the Atlanta-based cdc. Schools must balance the risk of keeping children in school with the social and economic disruption caused by a closure, he said. Vaccine Complications In the 1,145-student Westville, Okla., school district, the tipping point was reached in mid-January, Superintendent Terry Heustis said. Two weeks before the winter break, Mr. Heustis said, his monitoring of student absences went into overdrive. After the holiday ended, the rate just kept rising. By Jan. 16, 110 elementary students were absent, and another 20 went home sick during the school day. In addition, 12 staff members were absent and three more went home sick—including the school nurse. By 1 p.m. that day, Mr. Heu- Amber Arnold/Wisconsin State Journal/AP Flu-Related Absenteeism Prompts School Closures stis said, 200 of his district’s students, or nearly 20 percent, were out because of some kind of illness. “It wasn’t hitting us hard in the junior high and high school, but we all share one campus, one cafeteria, one library,” he said. “It was just a matter of time.” Mr. Heustis consulted with the state and made the decision to shut the district down that Thursday and Friday. With a teacher work day scheduled for the following Monday, the closings would

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - January 30, 2013

Education Week - January 30, 2013
Grad Rate At Highest Since 1970
Teachers Differ Over Meeting Nonfiction Rule
States Soon to Weigh Science Standards
News in Brief
Report Roundup
New Scrutiny as Head Start Centers Recompete for Aid
Flu-Related Absenteeism Prompts School Closures
FOCUS ON: CAREER READINESS: Internships Help Students Prepare for The Workplace
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: Competitions Connect Tech. Startups With Educators
School Choice Advocate to Lead Private Schools’ Group
INDUSTRY & INNOVATION: Digital Technologies Fuel Continued K-12 Acquisitions
Blogs of the Week
‘i3’ Raises Ante in Evidence, Research Push
GOP Players in Congress Step Forward On K-12
Policy Brief
Inauguration 2013
State of the States
LAURA C. MURRAY: Mental Health Is Part of the School Safety Equation
HELEN BRUNNER: Why Equal Internet Access Is an Education Essential
VICKY SCHIPPERS: Let’s Overhaul How We Teach History
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
CHARLES J. RUSSO: Armed Teachers And Guards Won’t Make Schools Safer

Education Week - January 30, 2013