The Head Start reauthorization currently under way in Congress is raising some important questions about the purposes and nature of early-childhood-education programs. Among a number of controversial changes is a new focus on academics. Both the House and Senate versions of the bill would require new educational performance standards to be developed, based on recommendations from a National Academy of Sciences panel. The House bill includes a list of general areas of child development, and the Senate bill includes a long list of specific skills to be considered by the nas panel. Head Start programs would then be held accountable for making progress toward meeting these goals, and their funding would be withdrawn after some period of time if they failed.
The proposed focus on academics has been opposed by many early-childhood- education experts and the Head Start constituency. Opponents are concerned that attention to academic skills will dilute efforts to promote positive social and emotional development, and that the comprehensive health services that Head Start currently provides will be abandoned.