Introducing a New Framework: Early Learning Across Settings from Birth to 5

Sangeeta Parikshak

By Amanda Bryans and Sangeeta Parikshak

I don't know how or why my mother signed us up for Head Start, but I think it was one of the best decisions she ever made for us. My father dropped out of school in the 9th grade to support his younger siblings. He is a Korean War veteran, and I believe he realized education was the way for us to avoid the back-breaking labor that he was doing to support his family. My mother is a high school graduate and was a very good student, but she did not have the option of college. She married my father at a young age and started a family; however, I believe she knew we had great potential and wanted to give us every opportunity to better our lives. I truly believe Head Start provided me with the foundation for all of my learning tools and educational ambitions.

Of the eight children in my family, four of us attended Head Start. I was the first, followed by my sister Dawn, my brother Sam, and my brother Luke. Of the four children in my family that attended Head Start, all four graduated from high school, three graduated from college, and two obtained post-graduate degrees. Of the four that did not attend Head Start, three graduated from high school and one obtained a college degree.

- County Court Judge Ed Casias, former Head Start student

Part of Head Start's legacy over the last 50 years has been the continual push to improve our work; to make sure that we bring the best that we know to the children who need it the most. As we introduce our new Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Framework: Ages Birth to 5 (HSELOF), the stories of the children we serve and the outcomes that are achieved help us remember our roots and continued purpose. We thank Judge Casias for sharing his Head Start story. Let his story and so many more fill us with purpose, thoughtfulness, and energy as we continue our work.

When the original Head Start Child Outcomes Framework was published in 2000, it was a groundbreaking document. It focused Head Start programs on the key elements of school readiness for low-income children using the latest early childhood research available at the time. It also was instrumental in moving states to develop their own early learning standards, many of which mirrored elements of the Framework. The Improving Head Start for School Readiness Act of 2007 required an increased role of the Framework. It mandated that Head Start programs implement a research-based curriculum aligned with the Framework.The Office of Head Start revised the Framework in 2010 to reflect these requirements, as well as to include new research on the most important elements of school readiness.

Over the last five years, the Head Start universe has expanded in dramatic ways. New research has improved our understanding of the enormous capacity of young brains. In particular, it has brought to the forefront the importance of high-quality interactions, teaching, and learning to fully nurture them and provide chances for success in school and beyond. The children served by Head Start have become more diverse, with more cultures and languages, a larger proportion of infants and toddlers, and new mixes of service delivery options. For example, 45 percent of grantees are now operating both Head Start and Early Head Start services. Furthermore, with the announcement of the new Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships, we have the chance to deliver high-quality comprehensive services to all eligible children in Head Start and child care.

The changes in our field compel the need for an early learning framework that embodies the most up-to-date research and addresses the needs of children from birth to age 5. The new HSELOF is designed to provide continuity for birth to 5 programming for all children. It highlights the influence and importance of a child's unique background, including culture and language, on their development. The HSELOF 2015 is the next generation in a succession of frameworks that have focused on key domains that are important for success in school.

This new framework provides a structure for selecting and aligning curriculum and assessment, as well as designing instruction and learning experiences for all children, including those with disabilities. Specifically, it identifies goals for children's learning and development and provides examples of learning along a developmental continuum. These examples encourage programs to develop individual goals for each child and contribute to agency efforts to successfully meet school readiness goals. It's important to highlight that the proposed revisions to the Head Start Program Performance Standards (HSPPS) do not change the current requirements regarding the use of the Framework already in the Act and in Part 1307 of the HSPPS. When used in conjunction with the HSPPS to provide comprehensive services, The HSELOF will help programs support children's success in school and in life.

Amanda Bryans is the Education and Comprehensive Services Division Director, Office of Head Start. Sangeeta Parikshak is a Society for Research and Child Development fellow at the Office of Head Start.

Introducing a New Framework: Early Learning Across Settings from Birth to 5. HHS/ACF/OHS. 2015. English.

Last Reviewed: July 2015

Last Updated: July 7, 2015