A recent OHS study described how Higher Education Grantee Partnerships
(HEG) support Head Start teachers as they pursue postsecondary early
childhood education degrees. Through interviews with HEG and Head Start
staff, researchers learned the strategies used to address the special
challenges of Head Start staff members and how best to meet their learning
To learn this information, Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. and Xtria,
LLC, conducted an in-depth study of 15 of the 54 grantees (five from
each of the three HEG consortia). Selection of the 15 grantees was based
on key variables and random selection within each consortium of one
experienced grantee, one first-time grantee, one grantee offering distance
learning, one grantee with small enrollment, and one grantee with large
The study found that Head Start staff members face unique challenges
while pursuing their degrees. Many are balancing the demands of career,
family, and education and require more time to complete their degrees.
They feel overwhelmed and seek additional supports to help them succeed.
The report indicates that the HEGs in the sample and partnering Head
Start managers have learned to offer the type of support that can overcome
Support by HEGs and HS Grantees
The HEGs in the study offered the following types of assistance for
- Tuition assistance
- Academic advising, which includes
guidance with education plans, help with registration, access to
financial aid, and help with course selection and course
- Workshops to help staff improve their
math, writing and computer skills
- Assistance transferring credits
- Child care
- Cohort groups to encourage peer networks
- Translators/interpreters to provide
written translation and simultaneous interpretation and to help
with writing tasks
Supports offered by Head Start grantees in partnership with the HEGs
were intended to complement those offered by the HEGs. Head Start grantees
- Flextime for participating staff to
allow them to attend courses, complete coursework, or study for exams—
- Flextime usually was arranged by hiring a
- Motivational support—mentoring and
acknowledging staff successes.
- Cohorts of staff members as a
peer support network—most cohorts began their coursework together.
- Financial and professional development opportunities upon
degree completion, such as an increase in salary and/or a
Distance Learning Options
Some HEGs that offer distance learning provide online courses with
assistance for distance learning students. One HEG strategy for success
is to provide special computer workshops and computer support on campus
and at the Head Start center. The staff enrolled in online distance
learning courses also occasionally met in a local classroom and had
small discussion groups to increase interaction and enhance learning.
Another HEG support strategy was to modify
the content of standard early childhood education classes by placing
a focus on Head Start issues. For example, one instructor discussed
Head Start practices and approaches to educating young children
during her lectures, and required readings related to Head Start
families and issues. Other instructors pointed out course content
that was particularly relevant to the Head Start Program Performance
Standards and encouraged staff to draw from
their Head Start experiences when participating in class discussions,
projects, and other assignments.
Most Head Start staff felt the courses were relevant to their
work with children, and they were able to give examples of how the
coursework helped them in their jobs. Head Start staff typically found the
general education requirement courses such as math, English, biology
and history difficult and less relevant to their Head Start work. To
overcome that problem, HEGs helped Head Start staff select from a menu
of courses the ones that could be most useful to their work. For example,
some selected a nutrition course to fulfill a biology requirement and
others chose a children’s literature course to fulfill an English requirement.
Generally, Head Start staff members were satisfied with their experiences with
the Higher Education Grantees. By advancing their education, they gained
self confidence and experienced a sense of accomplishment. Staff felt
it was worth the effort. They reported that their enhanced skills helped
them provide better quality care to Head Start children and families
and enabled them to act as role models for their own children and for
others in their communities.
Pai-Samant, S. N. Meise, S. Caverly, K. Boller, K. Marton & L.
Rosenberg. Implementation of the Head Start Higher Education Grantee
Partnerships for Improving Head Start Teacher Education. 2006.
Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.