|Published Monday, September 13,
Zigler decries proposed
localization of Head Start
In a speech given Friday afternoon at the
Becton Center, Edward Zigler of the Bush Center for Child
Development and Social Policy at Yale provided his audience with
what he called "47 minutes of horror and three minutes of light,"
forecasting a troubled future for the national Head Start program
while urging its supporters and teachers not to give
Zigler was a member of the federally sanctioned planning
committee that founded Head Start in 1964 and later served as
director of Head Start under President Nixon. Friday he spoke on two
legislative issues that he said greatly threaten Head Start's
mission to serve underprivileged preschool-aged children. The
proposed devolution of federal Head Start funding and administration
from its current centralized model onto individual states and the
creation of the National Reporting System -- a standardized test of
the cognitive and linguistic abilities of Head Start students --
could imperil its mission, he said.
Zigler said while he does
not care who administers Head Start in the end, he feels that giving
Head Start funds directly to state governments would be a great risk
to the program's students unless governors would agree to impose
quality control standards as strict as those of the current Head
"You have to have a lot of trust to hand that
money to 50 governors," Zigler said. "That's a great risk to poor
kids, and Head Start now serves 900,000 kids a
President Bush proposed shifting funding for Head
Start to the states in July 2003, and the issue became a key feature
of last year's fiercely partisan House debates on Head Start
reauthorization. The measure was approved for eight trial states --
including Connecticut -- in a vote that pitted Republican supporters
against every Democrat in the House, with several Republicans
dissenting. Zigler said he was disappointed by the outcome of the
"You can get a lot of scars in this business if you
stick at it, and this was certainly one of them," he
Zigler also argued against the National Reporting
System, or NRS, a test he said was flawed due to its focus on
analytical skills. The problem with such a test, Zigler said, is
that teachers who fear losing their jobs may begin teaching to the
test rather than to the student. This means they will pay less
attention to the emotional and mental health of the
The test, he warned, could change Head Start from a
holistic program to a purely academic one, thus becoming a detriment
to its students.
In his closing remarks, Zigler encouraged
Head Start supporters to not give up hope.
"You have good
years and bad years. We had eight wonderful years under Clinton and
four, well, four years under Bush. You've just got to keep working
hard to get what you want," Zigler said. "Stay here for the long
Linda Michaels, director of the West Haven Head Start
program, said she strongly agreed with Zigler's assessment of the
challenges Head Start faces today. She also stressed the importance
of the upcoming election.
"If we lose the Senate, Head Start
might disappear," Michaels said.
For Mary Ellen Myers, a
teacher for West Haven's Head Start program, the issue of testing
hits closer to home.
"Having to give a standardized test to a
four-year-old child is a horrible experience," she said. "I'm
mandated to do it, but it's a horrible experience."
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