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.