When the new Head Start Program Performance Standards (HSPPS) were released last year, the word “data” was at center stage. This sent a clear message that the Office of Head Start (OHS) was serious about transforming the organization from one based on check-boxes and compliance into one that focused on demonstrated outcomes. In case anyone missed the message, the new Monitoring Protocol drives it home, with a hammer.
In this week’s webinar accompanying the release of the new monitoring protocol and its supporting documents, the OHS sent two clear signals: 1) data is now at the center of the monitoring process and 2) data is not just for nerds anymore. Head start grantees must explain how they use their data to support program outcomes across the entire program. Administrators will have to explain how they use data and show examples. So will field staff across the organization.
The new monitoring protocol is high stakes show and tell. Tell me how you use data in your organization to improve the lives of children and families. Show me some examples of the tools you use and walk me through how you use them.
Organizations that can’t do that, face the loss of funding.
Fortunately, the OHS is not asking for this to happen next Thursday. There is an implementation period in which organizations can show that they are on the right path.
Unfortunately, this new world is one that few staff, administrators, and program managers have been trained for. Sure, everyone knows the frameworks. Everyone knows the bullet points from those white papers on ECLKC. But how do you actually show this in practice? And even if you can, can your teachers? Your family advocates?
Even more important is the new emphasis on data quality. You can’t just show a number, you have to show how you know that the number really means something. Would you bet your funding on the real-world accuracy and completeness of what you get out of ChildPlus or PROMIS? Because you are.
On one hand, this is a revolution. On the other, this has all been done in the private sector for a long time. Data science has been improving the quality of everything from cars to software to socks for decades. That doesn’t mean this new revolution in Head Start will be easy, but it does mean there is help. Building a data-driven organization takes time, training, and a will to the change organizational culture.
A data science partner can help with all of these areas. Not every organization has the money that Uber, Google, and Amazon have at their disposal. Most firms seek out partners who can tackle the data science side of the work. Finding a partner with experience in data collection and aggregation, a partner used to working across silos, a partner that provides training and support, especially one that has experience with Head Start, can help to make the transition smoother.
My firm, Acorn Evaluation, is one such company. We have been helping Head Starts prepare for the data world. We know the challenges that the new HSPPS and Monitoring Protocols present for most Head Starts. We also know that the move to being a data-driven organization is possible. We have seen it happen in our clients. From administrators to family advocates to classroom teachers to home visitors, the right mix of tools, training, and technical support can help make data work for everyone across the organization. When the monitoring team comes, these organizations are ready for show and tell.
Can you say the same?