Performance Standards

The Head Start Program Performance Standards (HSPPS) set forth the requirements local grant recipients must meet to support the cognitive, social, emotional, and healthy development of children from birth to age five. They encompass requirements to provide education, health, mental health, nutrition, and family and community engagement services as well as rules for local program governance and aspects of federal administration of the program.

Head Start Program Performance Standards History

The first set of Head Start program performance standards were published in the 1970s. Since then, they have been revised following subsequent Congressional reauthorizations.

In the Improving Head Start for School Readiness Act of 2007, Congress instructed the Office of Head Start to update its performance standards. Several years later, in 2015, former Secretary of Health and Human Services (and Head Start alumna!) Sylvia Mathews Burwell visited a Head Start program in Chicago to announce the release of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for the HSPPS.

She shared: “These proposed standards provide the building blocks for the success of future generations of Head Start kids. As a Head Start kid myself, I know firsthand the power Head Start has to instill a lifelong love of learning. By reducing the unnecessary bureaucratic burdens and applying the latest research and best practices in our Head Start programs, we will help more children onto the path of success.”

NHSA worked quickly to review and respond to the HSPPS NPRM. Designed for flexibility and based on firm research, the revised standards expanded full-day services and included numerous changes that required careful consideration and response from the entire Head Start and Early Head Start field. NHSA members developed recommendations before the NPRM release. The response was so intense that the 60-day deadline was extended by 30 days.

NHSA’s final comments were submitted in September 2015 and included sign-ons from 1,200 Head Start practitioners and advocates, including every national, regional, and state association.

NHSA’s Head Start Program Performance Standards Recommendations

NHSA and the Head Start community made the following core recommendations:

  1. Increases in dosage must be shaped by community need.
  2. The role of parents as family and program leaders must be strengthened.
  3. Local flexibility drives strong outcomes for children and families and must be accessible to every community.

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