Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Christina Weiland quoted in The New York Times regarding the measurement of teaching quality in Head Start programs


Professor Christina Weiland was quoted in a February 4 article in The New York Times written by Jason DeParle. “Cleaner classrooms and rising scores: With tighter oversight, Head Start shows gains” follows the regulation and oversight of Head Start programs, which were founded in 1965.

A national study of Head Start, started in the early 2000s, found modest cognitive benefits that faded out within a year. Critics noted that Head Start’s decentralized structure allowed wide variation in quality. Congress passed a bipartisan law requiring periodic audits of classroom quality, with groups in the lowest 10 percent forced to compete to keep their grants.

The monitoring began in 2012 with an observational tool called CLASS, which is devised to measure teaching quality. Developed at the University of Virginia, it quantifies three aspects of a teacher’s performance: instructional support, emotional support and classroom organization. In essence, it gives the government a report card on each of its nearly 1,600 Head Start programs.

A nationally representative sample of programs shows rising CLASS scores, especially in “instructional support,” where Head Start is weakest. (It is easier to nurture preschoolers than to instruct them.) On a scale of one to seven, average scores rose to 2.4 in 2014, from 1.9 eight years earlier. The share of programs above a three — minimally acceptable — rose to 25 percent, from 4 percent.

But CLASS measures teachers, not students: Whether better instruction will improve the children’s long-term performance remains unknown. Christina Weiland, a preschool expert at the University of Michigan, called the scores “a great sign” but warned that “they’re not strongly predictive” of how children do in school. “That’s why it’s hard to say it’s a resounding success.”

Dr. Weiland noted that it was time-consuming and expensive to test preschoolers and said policymakers and educators had been hesitant to introduce a culture of testing at such a young age.

Christina Weiland is Assistant Professor

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