jaw-dropping

Federal Head Start reauthorization puts city's status in jeopardy

Chancellor Dennis Walcott prepares to read to a group of 4-year-olds at the Bank Street Head Start center in November. (GothamSchools)

New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) is at risk of losing a $190 million grant, after the federal government included it on a list of 132 substandard Head Start agencies across the country this week.

Head Start is the half-century-old federal preschool program for low-income children. ACS, among the oldest and largest Head Start agencies in the country, did not meet the “quality thresholds” set by the federal Office of Head Start, according to a list made public Tuesday by the Administration for Children & Families, which oversees the program.

Educators and advocates said the announcement could mean major upheaval for ACS, which serves 120,000 children and families in New York City and oversees contracts for 250 Head Start centers.

“It would have a huge impact,” said Nina Piros, director of early childhood programs for University Settlement, which runs two Head Start centers on the Lower East Side under a contract with ACS. “If ACS does lose its grant, then delegate agencies will be out of business, to put it mildly,” she added, referring to the centers that contract with ACS.

“There’s a lot of jaws that dropped,” said Steven Antonelli, administrative director of the Head Start program at the Bank Street College of Education.

The potential loss of funding could disrupt a new initiative, EarlyLearn NYC, which is meant to streamline funding and improve the quality of the city’s early education programs. This fall, the city required all of its childcare programs, including the Head Start centers it oversees, to reapply for funding. But now that the city itself must reapply for its federal grant, “the implications could be pretty dramatic,” said Nancy Wackstein, executive director of United Neighborhood Houses of New York, a multi-service agency based in the city.

“If they don’t control the allocation of Head Start funds, then that would mean that they could not implement the EarlyLearn model,” she said.

ACS is not the only large Head Start agency, known as a super-grantee, whose funding is threatened. The Los Angeles County Office of Education, which bills itself as the largest Head Start agency in the nation, was also included on the list, along with nonprofits and school districts in 38 states. Virginia has the greatest number of agencies that must reapply for their federal contracts, with 11; Ohio has 10, and New York isn’t far behind, with nine.

The agencies on the list serve nearly 148,000 children, according to the Administration for Children & Families.

The announcement is part of a new Obama administration initiative to increase quality by forcing Head Start programs that don’t meet certain standards to “re-compete” annually for their grants.

Head Start has faced criticism in recent years over the quality of its programs, and a federal study last year found that academic gains made by children in the program disappear in elementary school. Many Head Start grantees have received federal funding for decades with little turnover in providers, except when serious safety or financial concerns have arisen.

“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 high-quality care,” Yvette Sanchez Fuentes, the director for the Office of Head Start, said in a statement.

Officials at both ACS and the Los Angeles County Office of Education said the reasons they had been included on the list had nothing to do with the quality of their programs, however. In ACS’s case, the federal government, in a 2009 audit, flagged the program for “administrative deficiencies” that had to do with healthcare insurance for workers at Head Start centers.

In Los Angeles, interim Head Start director Keesha Woods said that the Office of Head Start had audited the agency in search of fraud last year. Although no fraud was discovered, the agency was cited for “inconsistencies” in how its two dozen subcontractor agencies filled out paperwork.

W. Steven Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research, questioned the method that the federal government used to measure the quality of agencies. “I think the weak point really is that they’re not using direct measures of children’s gains as one of the criteria for deciding who needs to be re-competed,” he said.

Michael Fagan, an ACS spokesperson, said the agency would reapply for its grant: “We remain proud of the Head Start services we provide to children and look forward to being successful in the process.”

It’s unclear who might apply to compete with large agencies like the ones in New York and Los Angeles. More competition could provide openings for companies like New York City-based Acelero Learning, the first large-scale for-profit to run Head Start centers.

Steven Antonelli of Bank Street said the competition could provide opportunities for smaller agencies, like his own, to apply directly to the federal government for funding. Although he said the competition could create chaos as local agencies seek funding under the EarlyLearn NYC program while also trying to get their own federal grants, the news is “exciting,” he said.

“We’ve wanted to have a direct grant for a long time,” he said. “This is a huge opportunity.”

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education-news outlet based at Teachers College, Columbia University.

 

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.