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Center for Policy, Data, and Research
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What are Performance Standards?

The Performance Standards guide daily best practice in programs across the country.

What's new?

The 2007 reauthorization of Head Start called for new Standards. In September 2016, new Standards were announced.


Questions about the new standards?

Find answers to the questions that have been most frequently submitted to NHSA about the new Head Start Program Performance Standards.


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We want to hear from you! Your experiences, insights, comments, and concerns are critical to shaping our efforts around advocacy and support. Please take a moment to answer parts or all of our survey.

The Final Rule

On September 1, 2016, the Administration announced the Final Rule implementing new Head Start Program Performance Standards. Overall, the Standards represent a strong vision for the future of Head Start as an innovative, research-based model rooted in the commitment to helping whole families succeed. NHSA is pleased that our comments, representing practitioners interests and needs are, in large part, reflected in the Final Rule. 


Head Start Program Performance Standards were first published in 1975 and are in place to ensure that all programs provide high quality of services. Revised standards were called for in the 2007 Head Start Act and were released as a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) in the summer of 2015. NHSA submitted comments informed by extensive conversations with the Head Start community and the input of the Performance Standards Working Group - which offered recommendations in 2014 for how the Administration should rethink and reframe the Standards. The Final Rule was released on September 1st, 2016.

The Notice of Proposed Rule Making

The NPRM, or Proposed Rule, was the first step in the biggest overhaul of Program Performance Standards in the history of Head Start. The long-awaited Proposed Rule was designed for flexibility, user-friendliness, and based on firm research. Inevitably, with so much change, both NHSA and practitioners across the country were enthusiastic about some of the proposed changes and in strong opposition to others.

After three months of webinars and calls with Head Start practitioners and stakeholders, NHSA submitted final comments on the NPRM on September 17, 2015. NHSA's comments ultimately included sign-ons from 1,200 Head Start practitioners and advocates, including every national, regional, and state Head Start Association.

Our Three Priorities

Through the intensive NPRM process, three priorities for discussion and change arose-- the proposed Standards around extended duration, family engagement, and local flexibility.

1. Full Day/Full School Year

Full day/Full school year (sometimes called "dosage" or "duration") refers to the proposed Standards to increase program service hours, meaning that programs serving 3 and 4 year olds would need to increase their service days to operate at least 180 days per year and at least 6 hours per day. While expanding access to full-day Head Start is an important goal, funding resources, as well as other resources, are critical to this change. Without additional funding and flexibility, expanding access to full-day, full-school-year preschool in this way would be disruptive to many communities. Expanding access to full-day, full-school-year programming is a good goal where it best suits community and family needs and when adequate resources are available. In our comments, NHSA recommended that full-day be one program option that programs are encouraged to consider as they make local decisions about program design and that programs be allowed to align their calendars with partner LEAs or offer a minimum of 1,020 hours for Head Start, distributed across days as best meets local need. 

2. Family Engagement

The Proposed Rule included only requirements for general approaches to family engagement, de-emphasized the development of a single written plan, and no longer prescribed Parent Committees. Family engagement is integral to the Head Start model, and Family Partnership Agreements initiate lasting relationships with family service staff and inspire parent involvement in a child’s education, the education system, and the Head Start community. NHSA's comments recommended that family engagement should be strengthened through continued requirements for Family Partnership Agreements and stronger Shared Governance. 

3. Local Flexibility

In reality, no two Head Start programs are the same. All Head Start programs are empowered and strengthened by the flexibility that they have to do what they know is best for their unique children, families, and community. The Local Design Option (LDO) for program models are often the most appropriate for programs that serve families whose experiences of poverty, homelessness, health concerns, or hunger require specialized programs. To that end, there should be simple, explicit processes for LDOs and sufficient time to implement and assess the outcomes of these options over a five year grant cycle. With regards to full day full school year, NHSA recommended that, in preparation for programs' next five-year grants, the application process involve a thorough review of the Community Needs Assessment and the design of a five year grant with full-day, locally-designed, and family child care slots justified by the needs of the community, with flexibility to shift slots among the models over the course of the grant if needs or resources change.