In Head Start programs, it’s the day-to-day program staff that do the heavy lifting.
- Teachers create safe, enriching learning environments AND measure it all simultaneously by collecting data
- Family Advocates and Home Visitors connect with, encourage, and engage with families (often 60+ on a single caseload) while also gathering reams of data
- Health Specialists shoulder the burden of assessing, educating, and connecting families with medical homes, services, and referrals, while measuring it all in real time (often within 45 non-negotiable days)
- ERSEA Staff find, screen, enroll, and track the families and their children at all stages of the process
- And a variety of other staff not specifically listed above support all these tasks and more
It’s accurate to describe all this as “two or three full time jobs at the same time”. And weaving it all together is the word data.
Here at Acorn Evaluation, we talk to a lot of Head Start and Early Head Start program staff, along with their managers and directors about data. As helpers, it is always in our best interests to measure what is in front of us: how the people we serve are feeling, what they need, what worries them, and where they are stuck. Where they are continually asking for support, clarity, and knowledge, and where they want to receive training that matters.
So many times, it all comes down to data.
We have a detailed Data Capacity Assessment we offer to HS/EHS Recipients that measures attitudes, competencies, and knowledge about all things data for staff. Among our many tools is a survey in which we ask teachers, family advocates, home visitors, and other program staff to agree or disagree with a series of statements. One of these statements is about the word data itself. The result below is fairly typical among thousands of Head Start program staff nationwide (this chart shows a sample of 278 average responses):
This finding often surprises the program director and their managers and directors. “But we’ve worked so hard to train them!” “Our culture around data is actually very positive!” Those things are true. But to someone working in the field, for whom data is compliance driven (has to be done ON TIME and IN FULL and OR ELSE) and used to describe so many different things, it is very accurate to agree with the statement “I am confused at times about what the word data means”.
So, we decided to go to work on just that issue.
We’re proud to announce the launch of NHSA Academy’s Head Start Data Essentials course, specifically developed for Head Start and Early Head Start staff. Developed by Dr. Greg Dixon, Chief Analytics Officer at Acorn Evaluation, this course is made up of six 30-minute online lessons, for a total of 3 instructional hours, and answers two critical questions: “Why do people care so much about data?” and “What does this all have to do with me?”.
We’re hopeful that the managers and directors that take responsibility for their data culture at Head Start and Early Head Start recipients nationwide will invest valuable T&TA and professional development funds into their program staff’s data literacy training. Directors can use NHSA Academy’s portal to batch order the course for their entire staff, who then log in on their own and make their way through the coursework independently on NHSA’s online learning management system.
This is an important opportunity. We’ve heard time and time again in the field that when it comes to data, staff were mostly expected to learn on the job, learn from a staff member who preceded them, or, attend one or two trainings and simply “be trained” at the conclusion. Head Start Data Essentials provides a foundation and context to every Head Start professional. What is data? What is data in context? What do data capacity, data collection, data quality, and most important, data transparency mean, and how do those terms affect me in my job?
We’re already off to a terrific start over the last full program year with our Data Literacy Credential program in partnership with NHSA Academy, where over 250 Head Start and Early Head Start managers and directors have or are currently completing a rigorous 15-week data literacy program. Much of Head Start Data Essentials was informed by these credential students, as they have helped us select and shape what is being taught, why, and how (several of our DLC participants are featured in the Head Start Data Essentials video curriculum).
If you’d like to learn more about this terrific program, reach out to NHSA Academy at firstname.lastname@example.org, or directly to me here at Acorn Evaluation at email@example.com. We’d be happy to discuss it with you!