Head Start

Head Start and Early Head Start are federally funded programs that promote school readiness of children ages 0-5 from eligible families through education, health, social and other supports and services. In 1965, project Head Start was launched as an 8 week summer program serving 561,000 children as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s economic opportunity initiative.

  • They are administered by the Office of Head Start, within the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
  • The 1975 Head Start Program Performance Standards, developed in 1975 and revised in 2016, defined high quality services in early childhood education, parent engagement, social services, and health.
  • The effectiveness of these standards and their implementation by local programs was documented conclusively by a federal study that showed Head Start narrows the achievement gap in reading readiness and writing skills between children from low-income families and all other children; and supports the social and emotional development of Head Start children; 

 Facts and Impacts

  • Head Start children make progress towards norms in language, literacy, and math. Head Start children also score at the norm on letter-word knowledge by the end of the year. (Aikens et al., 2013; Bloom and Weiland, 2015)
  • Early Head Start children show significantly better social-emotional, language, and cognitive development. Children who attend Early Head Start and transition to Head Start are more ready for kindergarten than children who do not attend Head Start.  (Love et al., 2002)
  • The Head Start Impact Study found Head Start children scored better than a control group of children in all measured domains of cognitive and social-emotional development. (U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, 2010)
  • Head Start children in foster care or other non-parental care are more ready for school. (Lipscomb et al., 2013)
  • Head Start children have better social skills, impulse control, and approaches to learning. Head Start children also decrease their problem behaviors, such as aggression and hyperactivity. (Aikens et al., 2013)
  • Obese, overweight, or underweight children who participate in Head Start have a significantly healthier BMI by kindergarten entry. (Lumeng et al., 2015)
  • Children in Early Head Start are more likely to be immunized and have services for children with disabilities (Love et al., 2002).
  • Head Start children are more likely to receive dental checkups and have healthy eating patterns than non-participants. They have lower body mass index (BMI) scores and are less likely to be overweight compared to children in other non-parental care. (Lee et al., 2013)
  • Children show additional gains in social-emotional development as a result of participating in Head Start at both 3 and 4 years old. (Aikens et al., 2013)

Head Start is built upon the understanding that the development of young children is deeply influenced by the family, by their community, by their health -- as well as the educational experiences to which they are exposed. These support innovative strategies with other state and local early childhood initiatives and collaborative partnerships with various entities, including the state of Tennessee's pre-K program.

Tennessee's Head Start programs serve approximately 20,000 children and their families every year with comprehensive education, social and health programs for children, and programs for family and community engagement with the goal of facilitating school readiness. Head Start classrooms are operated by government, private, faith-based and community based organizations in nearly every county in the state directly or through Child Care partnerships or other collaborative arrangements.  Head Start operates in pre-school centers staffed by loving, well-trained teachers, family support advocates, and others staff most of whom hold a college degree.

Tennessee Head Start also targets children in families experiencing homelessness, children in foster care, as well as children with disabilities.

Head Start Affiliations

Head Start State Collaboration Office

Head Start Collaboration Offices (HSCOs) exist "to facilitate collaboration provide a structure to leverage their common interests around young children and their families to formulate, implement, and improve state and local policy and practices.” These partnerships are intended to:

  • Assist in building early childhood systems
  • Provide access to comprehensive services and support for all low-income children
  • Encourage widespread collaboration between Head Start and other appropriate programs, services, and initiatives
  • Augment Head Start's capacity to be a partner in state initiatives on behalf of children and their families
  • Facilitate the involvement of Head Start in state policies, plans, processes, and decisions affecting target populations and other low-income families are formalized

*For more information contact the Collaboration Office at (615) 741-4849