Head Start and Even Start:

Greater Collaboration Needed on Measures of Adult Education and Literacy

GAO-02-348: Published: Mar 29, 2002. Publicly Released: Mar 29, 2002.

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The Head Start and Even Start Family Literacy programs have sought to improve the educational and economic outcomes for millions of disadvantaged children and their families. Because the two programs seek similar outcomes for similar populations, GAO has pointed out that they need to work together to avoid inefficiencies in program administrative and service delivery. Questions have also arisen about the wisdom of having similar early childhood programs administered by different departments. Head Start's goal is to ensure that young children are ready for school, and program eligibility is tied to specific income guidelines. In contrast, Even Start's goal is to improve family literacy and the educational opportunities of both the parents and their young children. Even Start eligibility is tied to parents' educational attainment. Despite these differences, both programs are required to provide similar services. Both programs have some similar and some identical performance measures and outcome expectations for children, but not for parents. Head Start and Even Start grantees provided some similar services to young children and families, but how these programs served adults reflect the variations in the need of the parents. No recent, definitive information exists on the effectiveness of either program so it is difficult to determine which program uses the more effective model to improve educational outcomes for disadvantaged children and their parents. At the local level, differences in the needs of participants and the location of neighborhoods served by the two programs may mean some Head Start and Even Start grantees find only limited opportunities to work together. At the national level, the Departments of Health and Human Services and of Education have begun to coordinate their efforts, including the funding of state-level organizations to improve collaboration among groups serving poor children and their families.

Status Legend:

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  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Health and Human Services and of Education should direct the administrators of Head Start and Even Start to coordinate the development of similar performance goals and indicators for adult education and literacy outcomes. The effort should include the identification of indicators that specifically measure adult education and literacy.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: HHS has not indicated any action on this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Health and Human Services and of Education should direct the administrators of Head Start and Even Start to coordinate the development of similar performance goals and indicators for adult education and literacy outcomes. The effort should include the identification of indicators that specifically measure adult education and literacy.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Education has provided Head Start comprehensive performance measures for adult education programs developed for the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 and the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act (AEFLA), with the intent that Head Start use or disseminate these indicators to Head Start programs. The Head Start Bureau and Education's Even Start and Adult Education and Literacy offices convened a national forum to improve adult education instructional services. Adult Ed and Even Start have been working with the National Institute for Literacy and National Institute for Child Health to further improve programs of adult literacy.

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