Policy-Induced Disparities in Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Teacher Qualifications
by Rene P. Rosenbaum - 2017
Background/Context: Research reveals the Head Start program has made impressive gains in increasing the qualifications of its teachers since the passage of the Coats Human Services Reauthorization Act of 1998. These gains have been attributed to the initiatives implemented by the Administration of Children and Families to increase the qualifications of Head Start teachers nationwide. The slow growth in the credentialization of Migrant and Seasonal Head Start program teachers and the resultant teacher qualifications disparity gap that has resulted, on the other hand, has been attributed to the unique characteristics of Migrant and Seasonal Head Start families and programs.
Purpose: The study documents the widening annual teacher qualifications disparity gap between Head Start (HS) teachers and Migrant and Seasonal Head Start (MSHS) teachers since the passage of the 1998 Head Start Act and asks if the teacher qualifications disparity is a Head Start policy-induced outcome. It is hypothesized in this regard that the way the workforce provisions to increase the qualifications of Head Start teachers were written into the legislation and the actions taken by the ACF in response are contributing factors to the growth in the MSHS teacher qualifications disparity gap.
Research Design: The qualitative case study analyzes Head Start data to confirm the growing teacher qualifications gap between HS and Migrant Head Start programs. To examine the cause of this growing disparity a review of the literature was conducted, the provisions of the 1998 and 2007 Head Start Acts were examined, as were the programmatic initiatives by the Administration of Children and Families to help Head Start programs increate their share of teachers with early childhood education degrees. The Large Program Effect is introduced as an analytical construct to illustrate the effects large HS programs had on the HS teacher labor market and on the MSHS teacher qualifications disparity gap.
Conclusion: The article offers an alternative explanation to the growing teacher qualifications gap grounded in the legislative provisions of the 1998 and 2007 reauthorizations of the Head Start Act and the programmatic actions taken the ACF to implement major HS teacher labor market reforms. The findings suggest two course of action, one meant to reverse the policy-induced disparities the other to avoid their perpetuation in the future.
The recent surge in research investigating child care and early childhood education (ECE) program quality in the U.S. has revealed that children are better prepared for school when their teachers have higher levels of education and specialized training (Alexandre, Makow, Jung, & Barnett, 2013; Epstein, 1999; Hart & Schumacher, 2005; McCabe & Ackerman, 2007; National Research Council, 2000). This research has prompted national interest in policies to improve ECE programs by strengthening their teachers academic qualifications (Jenkins, 2014; Tout et al., 2010; U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2011; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1999). Policy to improve the degree qualification of teachers in Head Start (HS), the U.S. governments largest preschool school program for the poor, is a prime example. The 1998 and 2007 reauthorizations of the Head Start Act contained provisions and authorized funding to improve teacher education and authorized the United States Department of Health and Human Services (USDHHS) to help Head Start programs increase their share of teachers with college degrees in ECE. The legislation enabled the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) to implement various programs, including the 10-year-long Head Start-Higher Education Partnerships Grant (HEG) program to strengthen the college credentials of Head Start teachers (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2000). At the passage of Coats Human Services Reauthorization Act of 1998, only 32% of teachers had at least an AA degree (Office of Head Start, 2014). By comparison, the share of ECE public school and private nonprofit childcare educators with Bachelor degrees was 66% and 87% respectively (Epstein, 1999).
Head Start has made impressive gains in increasing the qualifications of its teaching staff since the passage of the Coats Act. However, as the data will show, the disparity in degreed teachers between Migrant and Seasonal Head Start that existed at the time of the passage of the Act has only worsened. But research on this problem is limited. Despite the significant increase in quality research on the Head Start program, local Head Start programs that serve migrant and seasonal children and families are often excluded (The CDM Group Inc., 2008). The current sentiment among Head Start program researchers is that these Migrant and Seasonal Head Start (MSHS) programs differ structurally, culturally, and linguistically from traditional HS programs geared toward a more general low-income population. The differences are thought to impact local program operations, suggesting the need to study this HS subpopulation both separately and differently from families in traditional HS (Fishman & Wille, 2014; The CDM Group Inc., 2008).
Similarly, the differences between MSHS families and programs and the more traditional families enrolled in HS is thought to explain the relatively low share of MSHS teachers with ECE degrees (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2004; U.S. General Accounting Office, 2003). Although GAO researchers found characteristics unique to migrant and seasonal farmworker families and programs account for the low share of ECE degree-holding MSHS teachers, it is not clear these factors fully explain the huge differences between regular HS and MSHS programs in the share of teachers with ECE degrees observed in 2002, four years after the passage of the Coats Act. Nor are they likely to explain the even wider MSHS teacher qualifications disparity gap seen today, 17 years after the passage of the Coats Head Start Act and ACFs programmatic responses to its implementation.
This qualitative case study examines the impact of Head Start policy on the HS teacher labor market and the growing teacher qualifications gap between MSHS and HS programs. It investigates how the legislative mandates in the Head Start Acts and ACFs decade-long programmatic response to Head Start legislation impacted two performance measures of HS and MSHS program quality: (1) the increase in the share of HS and MSHS teachers with college qualifications in ECE, and (2) the increase in the share of MSHS program teachers with ECE degrees compared to that same increase in Head Start overall. The main research questions are:
How did the MSHS program fare relative to Head Start programs overall in light of the legislative changes in the Head Start Act and the programmatic response by ACF over a 10-year period to increase the qualifications of HS teachers?
What factors explain the widening annual teacher qualifications disparity gap between traditional HS teachers and MSHS teachers since the passage of the Coats Human Services Reauthorization Act of 1998?
Is this disparity a HS teacher labor market policy-induced outcome? It is hypothesized in this regard that the way the workforce provisions to increase the qualifications of Head Start teachers were written into the legislation and the actions taken by the ACF in response are contributing factors to the growth in the MSHS teacher qualifications disparity gap.
Before responding directly to these questions and testing this hypothesis, we briefly review the broader Head Start policy context in which this MSHS program quality disparity problem has arisen, as well as what literature is available to better understand its causes.
THE HEAD START POLICY CONTEXT
Understanding the Head Start policy context is essential to understand the role of HS policy as a causal factor in the widening MSHS teacher qualifications disparity gap. This policy context is interpreted here as a type of Head Start teacher labor market reform to improve program quality that has both private and public sector consequences. The discussion that follows highlight the distinct elements of HS policy deemed relevant to understand the HS labor market reforms and the current MSHS program quality disparity situation, as measured by the programs relative share of teachers with degrees in ECE. These policy elements include the Head Start program purpose and structure, the legislative action to reform the Head Start labor market to improve HS teacher qualifications, and the administrative response by the ACF to help HS programs achieve the workforce requirements and other labor market reforms specified in the Head Start Acts.
THE HEAD START AND MSHS PROGRAMS
Within the Administration of Children and Families, the Office of Head Start administers the Head Start program, which actually is comprised of four programs: Head Start (HS), Early Head Start (EHS), American Indian-Alaska Native Head Start1 (AINAHS), and Migrant and Seasonal Head Start (MSHS). The overall purpose of the program is to promote school readiness in low-income children by enhancing their social and cognitive development via comprehensive education, health, nutrition, and social services. These are delivered through grants to local public and private agencies to provide these services to economically disadvantaged children from birth to age 5, pregnant women, and their families. Launched in 1965 (Currie & Thomas, 1995) as part of President Johnsons War on Poverty, Head Start has served more than 30 million children and their families since it opened (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2012). According to the 2013-2014 HS Program Information Report (PIR) Summary Report, HS, EHS, and MSHS combined for 2,850 programs: 1,763 Head Start, 1020 Early Head Start, and 66 Migrant and Seasonal Head Start. These programs collectively served over 1 million children and employed over 60,500 teachers in 2014. The 66 MSHS programs served 30,902 mostly Hispanic children of migrant and seasonal farmworker parents and employed 1,143 teachers, about 2% (1.9%) of the Head Start teacher workforce total (Office of Head Start, 2014).
Migrant and Seasonal Head Start, like Migrant Education in the Department of Education and Migrant Health in the Department of Health and Human Services, has long been a federal concern (Rosenbaum, Smith, & Zhang, 2006). According to the Improving Head Start for School Readiness Act of 2007, migrants and seasonal families are those who work in agricultural labor doing pre-harvest, harvest, and post-harvest tasks. To obtain MSHS program eligibility, migrant families must meet annual poverty income guidelines, earn more than half of their annual income from agricultural work, and move at least once within each 2-year period in search of farm work. Seasonal farmworkers who do not change their residence within the 24-month period must be below the poverty line and base their income on seasonal agricultural work. The Migrant and Seasonal Head Start program was created in 1969 (Kloosterman, Skiffington, Sanchez, & Kiron, 2003) specifically in response to the needs of the children in migrant agricultural families who often face significant development and educational obstacles, including poverty, limited English proficiency, rural and social isolation, and health risks associated with intermittent medical care and pesticide exposure (U.S. General Accounting Office, 1999). Many of these barriers to migrant child education and development exist today. Mathur and Parameswaran (2012) recently concluded, the empirical evidence available today has uniformly affirmed that young children of migrant farm workers are among the most educationally disadvantaged groups in the United States (p. 1).
Even though the primary goal of the MSHS program is the same as that of regular HS and EHS programs, it functions differently in order to accommodate the needs of migrant children and families. It also differs in program quality, when measured by teacher qualifications, wages, and teacher turnover rates. In addition to having a lower share of teachers with ECE degrees, MSHS also pays its teachers a lower average annual salary compared to teachers in traditional HS programs. According to the 20132014 PIR National Summary Report, the average annual salary of a Migrant and Seasonal Head Start teacher with a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree was $23,539, compared to an average of $28,010 for teachers with similar degrees in Head Start overall. Lower MSHS teacher salaries may explain why teachers in these HS programs exhibit higher turnover rates, another indicator of lower workforce quality. A third of all MSHS teachers, compared to 28% of regular HS teachers, left for a similar job with higher compensation (Office of Head Start, 2014). This higher compensation was likely linked to the location of the early childhood education program and the provision of year-round employment.
THE 1998 AND 2007 HEAD START ACTS AND TEACHER LABOR MARKET REFORMS
The need to improve Head Start workforce quality nationwide first became a national priority in the Coats Human Services Reauthorization Act of 1998, wherein legislators included numerous provisions to reform the teacher labor market to ensure quality services for low-income children and their families. Among these reforms were new performance standards and measures, expanded program monitoring to incorporate evidence of progress on outcome-based measures, increased funding to upgrade program quality and staff compensation, and higher standards for HS teachers and teaching staff (Hart & Schumacher, 2005; Pai-Samant, Meise, Boller, Marton, & Rosenberg, 2006; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2001). The legislation also instituted a provision that established a national goal for HS teacher qualifications requirements program-wide. Section 115 of the Act mandated that not later than September 30, 2003, at least 50 percent of all HS teachers nationwide in center-based programs have (i) an associate, baccalaureate, or advanced degree in early childhood education; or (ii) an associate, baccalaureate, or advanced degree in a field related to early childhood education, with experience in teaching preschool children (p. 99). In addition, the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services was required to demonstrate continuing progress each year towards reaching the desired degree results in the teaching workforce (Coats Human Services Reauthorization Act of 1998).
To support the policy change, the legislation also increased funding to help Head Start grantees meet the new requirements. Specifically, the amended Head Start Act required that a certain percentage of the funding increase be earmarked each year to help achieve the teacher education mandates. The quality funds reached $356 million in fiscal year 2001, but by 2003, the pool had been reduced to $32 million. After 2003, as the amounts of new funding for Head Start stopped growing, so did the share of new funds devoted to quality improvement (Hart & Schumacher, 2005).
The labor market reforms in the 1998 reauthorization of the Head Start Act to improve teacher qualifications continued in the Improving Head Start for School Readiness Act of 2007, which raised the education goals once again. Section 648A of the Act, Staff Qualifications and Development, specifies that, no later than September 30, 2013, at least 50 percent of Head Start teachers nationwide in center-based programs have (i) a baccalaureate or advanced degree in early childhood education; or (ii) a baccalaureate or advanced degree and coursework equivalent to a major relating to early childhood education, with experience teaching preschool-age children (p. 110). Among its other provisions, this section of the Act also authorized funding for a Career Advancement Partnership Program that would award demonstration grants to Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic-Serving Institutions, and Tribal Colleges and Universities (Improving Head Start for School Readiness Act of 2007).
ACFS RESPONSE TO THE LEGISLATIVE MANDATES
With the passage of the 1998 Coats Act, the ACF mobilized the Head Start Bureau, now the Office of Head Start (OHS), to deliver various forms of assistance to help local Head Start programs implement the new legislative provisions to improve teacher qualifications. A centerpiece of the OHS strategy was a direct infusion of resources designated to increase teacher salaries and expand access to higher education courses and degree programs (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1999). Head Start grantees received $43,000,000 in funding in fiscal year 1999 for these purposes. Grantees also received an additional $1,300 per teacher without a degree to help address costs for substitutes, tuition, books, and salaries. Additionally, HS grantees were allowed to use a portion of program funds to provide development training to all staff members. The Head Start State Collaboration Offices were also directed to help HS programs work with postsecondary institutions on challenges associated with access barriers to ECE degree granting programs (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2001). Common local challenges included the ability to link CDA teacher training to academic college credit and courses leading to Associate of Arts and Bachelor of Arts degrees in early childhood education.
The need for local articulation agreements and other concerns were addressed through projects funded through the Head Start-Higher Education Partnerships Grant (HEG) initiative, a key part of the long-term strategy in the campaign to support teacher education. This program was intended to increase the number of HS teachers with degrees in early childhood education through the formation of partnerships between college and universities and HS grantees to develop academic and other training models. The program also funded professional development and training for HS teaching staff pursuing early childhood education degrees (Pai-Samant et al., 2006). The programs target population consisted of Head Start teachers serving African American, Hispanic, or American/Alaskan Native children and families. In practical terms, this meant fostering partnerships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), and Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) that had the capacity to prepare Head Start teachers who care for children and families within minority populations. As noted earlier, the authority to award demonstration projects to these minority institutions was made explicit in Section 648 of the 2007 reauthorization of the Head Start Act (Improving Head Start for School Readiness Act of 2007)
The HEG program actually predates the passage of the Coats Act. Similar grants for professional development and training of Head Start teachers were awarded to HBCUs in 1997, and similar grants had been awarded to HBCUs before then through the Head Start Bureaus Education Branch. However, with the passage of the Coats Act, the HEG program was expanded to include TCUs in 1999 and HSIs in 2000. With these expansions, the HEG program customized its grant program announcements to attract minority-serving educational institutions. Thus, the program to improve services to Hispanic children and families became the Head Start-Higher Education Hispanic/Latino Service Partnerships (HS-HEH/LSP) grant initiative.
With nearly 38% of all children enrolled in Head Start programs nationally in 2014 identified as Hispanic, the HS-HEH/LSP had the potential to reach teachers in many Head Start grantees, provided these grantees could partner with Hispanic Servicing Institutions. Of the 2,810 Head Start programs in 2014, only 180 did not have a Hispanic child enrolled and nearly three quarters of all programs had 10 or more Hispanic students enrolled (Office of Head Start, 2014). These Hispanic children and families were the focus of the HS-HEH/LSP in 2000, when the ACF announced it was making available approximately $1,000,000 annually for four years to support approximately six HS-HEH/LSPs. In 2005, the ACF pledged an additional $1.5 million a year for five years to the program. For 10 years, the HEG program strategy featured annual rounds of new grant completions that continued through 2009 (National Head Start Literacy Center, 2009).
Beyond the authority to help Head Start grantees meet the 1998 and 2007 statutory requirements, the ACF exhibited its own leadership on the issue of workforce qualifications. Early on in its campaign it adopted a self-imposed initiative calling on each Head Start program to achieve the 50% degreed teacher benchmark by 2003. The ACF notified each Head Start program of the self-imposed goal saying that although the statutory mandate was that 50% of HS teachers nationally have degrees, it was expected that all programs would strive to achieve at least this level by the end of 2003 fiscal year (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2004).
The literature on ECE program quality has focused on different factors over the years. Inasmuch as the concern over the quality of non-parental care and education of young children has a research tradition that dates back to the 1970s, early on, structural (e.g., group size and child-staff ratios), cognitive, and social factors were deemed central determinants to program quality. Only in the 1980s and 1990s did attention shift to the early childhood workforce and other ECE labor related issues as contributing factors (Epstein, 1999).
While the economics of early childhood education is gaining traction, the labor economics literature related to the Head Start teacher labor market reforms to improve Head Start teacher qualifications is quite limited. To a large extent, the progress being made by AFC in improving the ECE degree qualifications of Head Start teachers has been the concern of the federal government. This authors literature search identified three government studies and an academic study that focus on ACFs programmatic efforts to increase the ECE degree qualifications of Head Start teachers. The findings from these studies identify the key programmatic responses employed by ACF to achieve the national mandates. They also provide rich insights into barriers of MSHS programs that hinder their ability to reduce the qualifications disparity gap.
A particularly useful study in this review was the 2004 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General report that assessed the Departments efforts, led by the ACF, to increase the qualifications of Head Start teachers in accordance with the 1998 revisions in the Head Start Act. The report identified five factors to explain significant annual increases in the qualifications of Head Start teachers since the passage of the Coats Act: (a) program directors hired degreed teachers to fill vacancies; (b) supports, such as the Head Start-Higher Education Hispanic/Latino Serving Partnership program, to help teachers with Child Development Associate certificates and Associate of Arts degrees obtain their Bachelor of Arts degrees; (c) Quality Improvement Funds to improve compensation and help retain teachers; (d) relatively lower turnover rates; and (e) attitudes of the program directors concerning the value of degreed teachers in Head Start (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2004). In addition to these HS policy induced ACF factors, federal funding for Early Head Start dramatically increased in 2009, with the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that provided an additional $1.1 billion to Early Head Start services (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2011). Thus, the rapid increase in the share of Head Start teachers with college degrees that has occurred since the passage of the Coats Act reflects both the financial support for Head Start from Congress, and effectiveness and sustained leadership by the ACF in its efforts to comply with the legislative mandates. The rapid increase in Head Start teacher qualifications also reflects the support for Head Start training from some States and higher education institutions at that time, but those considerations are outside the scope of this study.
The Government Accounting Office report from 2003 (U.S. General Accounting Office, 2003) is the only study found to investigate the factors contributing to the HS teacher qualifications disparity gap. Among other things, the report investigated the sources of the uneven growth since the passage of the Coats Act through 2002 in the share of HS teachers with degrees across different HS regions and programs. Whereas 52% of the teachers in HS nationwide had at least an Associate of Arts (AA) Degree in ECE by the end of 2002, only 21% of the MSHS teachers did so. As noted earlier, ACF officials reported that the MSHS programs limited increase over the 1999 to 2002 period reflected difficulties hiring bilingual teachers with degrees in rural areas because programs were seasonal and migrant families moved frequently. In addition, they noted the need for MSHS teachers to take Basic English courses before they could begin an ECE degree program (U.S. General Accounting Office, 2003).
The other report conducted by the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services sheds light on the challenges Early Head Start programs have in employing only teachers with the required credentials, as well as in providing training to currently employed teachers (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2011). Since MSHS programs operate EHS programs, the discussion has relevance to the challenges MSHS programs face. According to the report, over 80% of EHS programs reported challenges in hiring only teachers with the required credentials. Many programs reported that they could not find teachers with the required credentials, raising questions about the supply of degreed teachers available for employment in Early Head Start. Programs also identified several challenges to training teachers. Eighty percent reported difficulties in findings substitutes so that regular teachers could continue their studies. Managing teacher work and college class schedules was reported a challenge by 66% of EHS programs (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2011).
The last study included in this review focused on the labor market for Migrant Head Start teachers, the characteristics of the workforce, and on what these factors mean for making HS-HEH/LSP partnerships and other programs work to increase the degree qualifications of HS teachers (Rosenbaum, Smith, & Zhang, 2006). The study documents characteristics of teaching staff and the structural, cultural, and language barriers teachers face in continuing their ECE degrees, as well as the way this information can be used by both the Head Start programs and the institutions of higher education to facilitate teacher education. From the perspective of the HS-HEH/LSP partnership, program leaders have to contend with teachers who have limited access to ECE degree programs to continue their college education or who would rather work year round than just during the summer. In the northern part of the U.S., where the number of Spanish speaking teachers is relatively low, MSHS programs often face a challenge in hiring and retaining bilingual teachers. Finding substitute teachers and managing teachers work schedules to allow them to get training also presented challenges, as mentioned in the Inspector General report on the EHS program. Despite these challenges, consideration of the barriers to teachers pursuing their education when designing a HEH/LSP program made the partnership a stunning success.
The 2003 GAO study that documented disparities across HS programs was commissioned by the House of Representatives to examine the extent to which Head Start had met legislative mandates concerning teacher qualifications as stipulated in the Coats Act. However, the evidence of a teacher qualifications disparity gap in that report is outdated and the wider MSHS teacher qualifications gap claimed to exist today still needs to be confirmed. Hence the question: How did the MSHS program fare, relative to HS programs overall, in light of the teacher labor market reforms implemented in the Head Start Act and of the programmatic actions by ACF over a 10-year period to increase the qualifications of HS teachers? The section that follows present the methodology used to answer this question.
MEASUREMENT OF THE MSHS TEACHER QUALIFICATIONS GAP
To calculate the MSHS annual teacher qualifications disparity gap, the author compared the annual change from 1998 to the present in the percent of teachers with AA, BA, and advanced college degrees for the nations Head Starts programs in total and for the MSHS program in particular. One immediate outcome of the Coats Act that helped with this task was the collection of data on teacher ECE degree qualifications by type of HS program. Prior to the 1998 reauthorization of the Head Start Act, the Office of Head Starts Program Information Report (PIR), a self-reporting document that records annual program data, collected data on teaching staff qualifications, but it did not collect data by Associate and Bachelor of Arts degrees in ECE. Our annual review of PIR data shows the first PIR report to collect teacher qualifications data by Associate and Bachelor of Arts degrees in ECE was 1999, the first year after the reauthorization of the Head Start Act.
Because data on ECE teacher degree qualifications has been collected since the passage of the Coats Human Services Reauthorization Act of 1998, this author was able to use the data to assess changes in teacher credentials in HS programs from then to the present. Because all HS grantees are required to submit a PIR for each program, the data from these reports on staff qualifications are both consistent across Head Start programs and across years. Moreover, the data are universal in reach as they reflect the universe of Head Start teachers in the 2,850 regular HS, EHS, and the MSHS programs in operation across the nation in 2014. The data were obtained from the Office of Head Start/Head Start Enterprise System website at https://hses.ohs.Administration of Children and Families.hhs.gov/pir/welcome.
To determine the extent to which Head Start and Migrant and Seasonal Head Start teachers improved their degree qualifications, PIR data on teacher qualifications were aggregated by year and type of program. For purposes of this study, the analysis of PIR data on teacher degree qualifications was divided into two time periods. The first covers from 1998 to 2010, when the HS-HEH/LSP competitive grant program to improve Head Start services to Hispanic children and families came to an end. Annual changes in the number of teachers with Associate of Arts degrees and above in the HS and MSHS programs were then calculated and the difference used to measure the annual qualifications disparity gap. The second period covers from the passage of the Improving Head Start for School Readiness Act of 2007 to the present. Because this law stipulated Bachelor of Arts (BA) requirements, the share of teachers with BA degrees was calculated and used to measure the Bachelor of Arts qualifications gap over that period.
The findings from the analysis of the data on HS teacher qualifications are documented in the section that follows. The results confirm the existence of an AA degree MSHS Program teacher qualifications gap for the period 1998 to 2010, and a BA degree MSHS Program teacher qualifications gap for the period 2007 to 2014.
FINDINGS OF A MSHS TEACHER QUALIFICATIONS GAP
THE AA DEGREE TEACHER QUALIFICATIONS GAP, 19982010
The calculations for period one displayed in Table 1 confirm the observation made by others that Head Start made significant progress in increasing the ECE degree teacher qualifications since the passage of the Coats Human Services Reauthorization Act of 1998. After the financial commitment by Congress and the actions by ACF to improve Head Start program quality by increasing teacher qualifications, it is not surprising to find the data show annual increases in degreed teachers across all HS programs, including the Migrant and Seasonal Head Start program. As a result, the national goal of having 50% of all HS teachers with at least an Associate of Arts degree in early childhood education was attained by 2002, a year earlier than mandated in the 1998 reauthorization. By 2010, 76% of HS teachers had at least an AA degree. By contrast, the change in degreed teachers in MSHS program was much slower, not reaching the 50% goal until 2009, six years after the national mandate was achieved.
Table 1. Percent of HS Teachers with AA Degree or Better, 19972010
Note. Data computed from annual PIR reports data retrieved from the Office of Head Start, Head Start Enterprise System at https://hses.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/pir/
By 2010, the national challenge of meeting the teacher qualifications mandates in the Coats Act had passed, having been replaced with the challenge in the Improving Head Start for School Readiness Act of 2007 to have 50% of Head Start teachers nationally with BA degrees or higher in early childhood education by 2013. By then, as was the case with other HS programs, the MSHS program too had succeeded in reaching the national mandates called for in the Coats Act. However, other HS programs had increased their share of teaches with degrees at a faster rate. Thus, despite the passage of both the Coats Act of 1998, and Improving Head Start for School Readiness Act of 2007, and despite the implementation of the Head Start-Higher Education Hispanic/Latino Service Partnerships program in 2000, the result for the MSHS program was a wider AA degree teacher qualifications gap (Table 1). Indeed, what in 1998 was a 17.5 percentage point MSHS teacher qualifications disparity gap bloomed above 30% in 2002 and 2003 before gradually declining to a 25.6 percentage gap by 2010, still significantly higher than what the MSHS teachers qualifications disparity gap that existed was when the Coats Act was first passed.
THE BA DEGREE TEACHER QUALIFICATIONS GAP, 20072014
While the findings showing the MSHS teacher AA degree qualifications gap widening are surprising, perhaps less surprising but more significant is the widening MSHS teacher BA degree qualifications gap that has been observed since the passage of the Improving Head Start for School Readiness Act of 2007. As Table 2 shows, the growth in the share of MSHS teachers with a BA degree over the eight-year period was much slower compared to the growth rate in the share of teachers with ECE degrees in HS programs overall. Whereas the share of BA degreed teachers in MSHS grew nine percent during that period, the share of Bachelor of Arts degree teachers in Head Start overall grew nearly 19%. As a result, the disparity gap has grown larger, from a 25.1% in 2007 to a 35% difference in 2013. Although it is commendable that the share of teachers with BA degrees in HS programs continues in an upward trend, the increase in teachers with Bachelor of Arts degrees in MSHS has been frustratingly slow considering the commitment by the ACF to provide targeted assistance to those programs where the level of degreed teaching staff is low. While it is recognized that MSHS program teachers are most likely to have fewer earned college credits towards a BA degree in ECE, compared to regular Head Start programs teachers, the apparent lack of attention to the slow increase in teacher qualifications observed in Migrant and Seasonal Head Start programs nationally raises concerns about the growing inequality in this measure of workforce quality.
Table 2. Percent of HS Teachers with BA Degree or Better, 20072014
Note. Data computed from annual PIR reports data retrieved from the Office of Head Start, Head Start Enterprise System at https://hses.ohs.Administration of Children and Families.hhs.gov/pir
In summary, the result of lower growth rates in the share of Migrant and Seasonal Head Start teachers with degrees, when coupled with lower 19981999 baseline levels to start with, contributed to not only a lower share of MSHS teachers with degrees relative to Head Start as a whole, but also to a wider teacher qualifications disparity gap in the level of BA-holding teachers. The outcome is a MSHS program teacher qualifications gap that is wider today than it was in 2007, when the national goal calling for 50% of Head Start teachers nationwide to have at least a BA in ECE by 2013 was first established. As with AA degrees, even though the share of teachers with BA degrees grew in Migrant and Seasonal Head Start programs, the share grew faster for Head Start overall. Hence the questions of interest that remain are: What factors caused the Migrant and Seasonal Head Start teacher qualifications disparity gaps to widen since the passage of the Coats Human Services Reauthorization Act of 1998? And is this disparity a policy-induced outcome?
The qualitative analysis to explain the observed MSHS teacher qualifications disparity gaps is informed by a variety of sources about HS program characteristics, the legislative provisions to reform the teacher labor market, ACFs programmatic initiatives to meet legislative compliance, and the literature available on the factors that contributed to the impressive improvement in the degree qualification of HS teachers as well as to the widening teacher qualifications disparity gaps. Based on these considerations, and a simple application of the labor market concept to interpret the HS policy reform, the theory is advanced that, while MSFW family and program characteristics matter, the wider MSHS teacher qualifications disparity gap has its roots in HS policy. If this is true, how did this disparity occur, and what were the elements involved?
TOWARD A MODEL OF HS POLICY-INDUCED MSHS TEACHER QUALIFICATIONS DISPARITIES
This author maintains that the national goals in Section 115 of the 1998 Coats Act, Section 648A of the 2007 reauthorization, and the other provisions that ratcheted up the minimum HS teacher requirements, coupled with the actions taken by the ACF to implement the legislation, led to major HS teacher labor market reforms that triggered both private and public sector responses, the result of which was a rise in HS teacher qualifications nationwide. However, because the number of teachers in regular HS and EHS programs that acted to complete their degrees was much larger than the number of the MSHS teacher that also completed their degree, the teacher qualifications gap was also exacerbated.
The private sector response to the HS teacher labor market reforms in the HS legislation came from thousands of HS teachers reacting to the changing HS labor market requirements in the 1998 and 2007 reauthorizations of the Head Start Act. In 1998, less than a third of the nations 39,000 HS teachers had degrees in early childhood education (Office of Head Start, 2014) and like today, MSHS program teachers made up a very small percent of all HS teachers. Because the legislative changes ratcheted up the minimum HS teacher requirements, thousands of individual teachers in regular HS and EHS who did not have degrees decided to complete them on their own, perhaps initially incentivized by the financial support granted through the Quality Improvement Funds. Because HS and EHS are very large HS programs employing a very large share of the nations Head Start teachers, the private sector response to the labor reforms by teachers in these programs reflects what I call a Large Program Effect. This concept captures the large impact these HS programs have on the HS program overall, and in this case, on the Head Start teacher labor market and reaching the national goal to have at lease 50% of HS teachers nationwide with degrees. Indeed because regular HS and EHS employ the overwhelming majority of HS teachers, even if only a small number of their teachers has opted to earn degrees, it is likely their impact on the goal of having 50% of HS teachers nationwide with ECE degrees would have been greater than the impact resulting from having all Migrant Head Start teachers without degrees in early childhood education earn theirs.
In a way analogous to the individual Head Start teachers who led the private sector labor market response to the HS labor market reforms, the ACF led the public sector response. As in the case of the private sector response, the public sector response also reflected a Large Program Effect that helped widen the MSHS teacher qualification disparity gap. The Large Program Effect was evident, for example, in fiscal years 1999 and 2000, when the Head Start Bureau allocated some of the Quality Improvement Funds specifically to address the workforce provisions in the Head Start Acts. As a result of these programmatic expenditures, thousands of regular HS and EHS teachers earned degrees, most likely at a faster pace than did MSHS teachers, as suggested in the GAO report. The distribution of Quality Improvement Funds to teachers in HS programs of all types, with the same amount going to teachers, irrespective of the particular needs of each HS program, likely accounts for the huge jump in the AA degree qualifications disparity gap observed between MSHS and Head Start overall from 1999 to 2002, when the teacher qualifications disparity gap went from 18.5% to 30.4%. Because of the sheer size of the overall Head Start teacher workforce relative to that of the Migrant and Seasonal Head Start program, the national dissemination of Quality Improvement Funds by the ACF to each teacher working toward completing their degree propelled many more regular Head Start and EHS teachers than Migrant and Seasonal Head Start teachers to complete their Associate and Bachelor of Arts degrees.
A Large Program Effect is also evident in the HS-HEH/LSP grant program, another public sector response to the HS labor market provisions. The decision by the ACF to open the HS-HEH/LSP grant program competition to all Head Start programs that served Hispanic children and families made sense from the perspective of helping local HS programs with Hispanic children comply with the Head Start Acts. However, from the perspective of the MSHS program, this decision created a much larger and more competitive grant seeking environment for MSHS programs than if ACF officials had structured the grant competition in a way that took into consideration the teachers in those programs that had the greatest need for degreed instructors. Requiring HS grantees to partner with HSIs also worked to the disadvantage of MSHS programs. Because HSIs need to have at least 25% of the enrolled student body be Latino, most tend to be located in the Southwest part of the United States, where the Latino population is concentrated. Given the number of HSIs outside the Southwest is relatively small, MSHS programs in upstream migratory locations in northern states had fewer opportunities to partner with Hispanic Serving Institutions. Therefore by focusing on establishing Head Start partnerships with Hispanic Serving Institutions, which are mostly found in southern states, the ACF reduced the likelihood that Head Start-Higher Education Hispanic/Latino Service Partnerships with MSHS programs in northern locations could be formed.
By opening its programmatic initiatives to all HS programs, ACF managed to leverage the Large Program Effect, a desirable outcome given the need to address the national mandates to increase the share of ECE degreed teachers in a timely fashion. Its the importance of tapping into the large pool of teachers in regular HS and EHS programs that perhaps explains the evidence showing ACF gave preference to HS and EHS programs over the MSHS program in its HS-HEH/LP grant program announcements. For example, page five of the 2002 HS-HEH/LP grant announcement ACF invited universities and colleges to develop professional development and training programs in partnership with Head Start and Early Head Start program agencies. However, the first mention of Migrant and Seasonal Head Start programs was on page nine of that grant announcement (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2000). The priority given to regular HS programs in the federal grant program announcement suggests the strategy by the ACF to achieve the national mandates was focus on training teachers in Head Starts larger programs, irrespective of program need.
The Large Program Effect reflected in the private and public sector responses to the HS teacher labor market reforms that contributed to the MSHS teacher qualifications disparity gap is the result of the way the ACF designed its programmatic response to address the workforce provisions in the Head Start Act. Although the Large Program Effects is a structural design element useful in explaining the growing MSHS teacher qualifications gap, it can be argued that the teacher qualifications gap is also marked by elements of legislative and administrative neglect. The issue of disparities observed early on across HS programs and regions was not addressed in either the 1998 or 2007 reauthorizations of Head Start Act, or as part of ACFs self imposed staffing goal made early on to have at least 50% of teachers in each program with degrees. The legislature, and the ACF to a lesser extent, failed to consider the teacher qualifications disparity problem that existed across HS programs at the time of the Coats Act, or the ways to remedy and/or prevent it from continuing or growing larger in the future. As matters turned out, it was not until 2009 that the share of MSHS teacher with AA degrees in ECE exceeded the 50% mark and today, less than a quarter of MSHS teachers have a BA degree in ECE.
CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS
Despite the impressive gains made by the Head Start program since the passage of the Coats Act to increase the qualifications of its teaching staff, HS data also show a wider MSHS teacher qualifications gap. Migrant and seasonal farmworker family characteristics and Migrant and Seasonal Head Start program features were identified as important in explaining the teacher qualifications disparity gap in the early 2000s, but these factors become less important in explaining the MSHS teacher qualifications disparity gap that has only widened since the 1998 reauthorization of the Head Start Act, and the ACF decade-long effort to increase the qualification of HS teachers.
A more important factor accounting for the growth in the teacher qualifications disparity gap is Head Start policy, particularly the legislative and administrative approach taken by Congress and the Administration of Children and Families to reform the Head Start teacher labor market in order to increase the qualification of HS teachers. The reforms consisted of incentives for teachers in HS to complete their ECE degrees if they had not done so. This produced a labor market response by a large number of regular HS and EHS teachers without degrees to complete their ECE degrees. Because the bulk of these teachers were in regular HS and EHS programs, their contribution to the national goal to increase the qualifications of teachers was significant, causing the MSHS teacher qualifications gap to widen. The public sector response in the form of ACF programs also triggered a Large Program Effect, further widening the teacher qualifications gap.
The contributions of the Large Program Effect on widening the MSHS teacher qualifications gap cannot be underestimated. Because regular Head Start and Early Head Start programs have workforces that are much larger than the MSHS program, both the teachers private sector labor market behavior and the Quality Improvement Funds program had a Large Program Effect that greatly increased the number of HS teachers with ECE degrees but that also widened the Migrant and Seasonal Head Start qualifications gap. The Large Program Effect was also evident in the Head Start-Higher Education Hispanic/Latino Service Partnerships program through which it contributed to the MSHS teacher qualifications gap.
There is another universal characteristic of the legislative and regulatory approach taken to improve teacher qualifications that contributed to the MSHS teacher qualifications gap. This was the lack of legislative and administrative regard for the disparities in teacher qualifications that existed across the Head Start programs (and regions). The language in the Coats Act focused exclusively on improving the qualifications of individual HS teachers to achieve the national mandate. Strict adherence to the legislative language by the ACF fostered a similar neglect of disparities in HS programs implemented by the ACF. By exclusively framing the national mandate in terms of increasing the qualifications of individual HS teachers serving minority children, ACFs programmatic initiatives to increase the ECE degree qualifications of teachers appeared blind to the disparity in the percentage of degreed teachers that exists by type of HS program, as well as to the challenges particular HS programs faced in increasing the qualification of teachers. Except for the self-imposed staffing goal the Administration of Children and Families failed to achieve, the activities undertaken by ACF to increase teacher qualifications targeted Head Start teachers independent of the type of HS program that employed them.
The effect of the Large Program Effect aside, the stance taken by the legislative and administrative authorities on the teacher qualifications gaps means that the ACF has knowingly not intervened sufficiently to allow MSHS programs to achieve shares of degree-holding teachers comparable to other HS programs. It is this observation, perhaps more than any other, which makes this case one of legislative and administrative neglect.
In summary, in as much as the Head Start reauthorizations were successful in raising the qualifications of the Head Start teachers, another outcome was a wider teacher qualifications gap. The question remains, given these labor market reform induced disparities, how can the MSHS teacher qualifications gap outcome be addressed? The findings from this investigation suggest two courses of action. One is meant to reverse the policy-induced disparities aggravated by national Head Start policy, and the other is to avoid the perpetuation of other policy-induced disparities across Head Start programs in the future.
First, despite the challenges Migrant and Seasonal Head Start programs face in increasing its teachers qualifications, it is important to recognize that when HS-HEH/LSP partnerships involving MSHS program have been formed, they have been successful (Rosenbaum, Smith, & Zhang, 2006). Given this success, the ACF should consider providing targeted assistance to MSHS programs through a HEG program that targets MSHS programs exclusively and provides them the option to partner with a higher education institution of their choice, not just Hispanic Serving Institutions. Indeed, in light of the benefits to the least well-off and to society that can come from granting MSHS children equal access to quality learning opportunities, the failure of political and administrative entities to seriously consider such a proposal is akin to saying that the children served by MSHS programs are less deserving of teachers with the same ECE degree credentials as children in other Head Start programs.
The findings from this study also suggest a way to avoid MSHS program disparities that can result from future Head Start program reforms. One way to mediate the Large Program Impacts and minimize legislative and administrative neglect and bias against the Migrant and Seasonal Head Start branch programs is to have MSHS program-type specific language in future Head Start legislation and in the programs implemented by the ACF. Given the educational needs of migrant children, such a strategy is justifiable on social investment and equity grounds, as well as on efficiency grounds.
There are more policy considerations deemed worthy of mention from a public policy administration perspective. The American Indian-Alaskan Native Head Start program was excluded from the analysis but this teacher qualifications disparity analysis is equally applicable to that Head Start program, which is also susceptible to the Large Program Impact effect. In addition, the MSHS program is one of about 12 federal programs that exist to service the needs of the migrant and seasonal farmworker population (Martin, 1993). If disparities currently exist between these programs and their parent, mainstream programs, there is the possibility Large Program Impacts might be involved. This is worth looking into given that migrant and seasonal farmworker concerns are the policy domain of the federal government.
For purposes of consistency in the data on Head Start teaching staff and clarity in the argument, the American Indian-Alaskan Native head Start program was excluded from the analysis.
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