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Mel Gravely

OHS Announces Update to Designation Renewal System

Photo courtesy of ECLKC

Starting October 27, 2020, a new rule governing the Head Start Designation Renewal System (DRS) will go into effect. The Office of Head Start (OHS) states that the new rule will reduce the burden on high-performing grantees and focus on better identifying the lowest-performing grantees.

The Designation Renewal System was first launched in late 2011, which for the first time required programs that weren’t meeting quality criteria set out by the Department of Health and Human Services to reapply for their funding. The DRS system came as a result of the 2007 bipartisan legislation reauthorizing Head Start (Improving Head Start for School Readiness Act). This transformative legislation set in motion a variety of changes for Head Start, including DRS and the 2016 new performance standards.

DRS meant that Head Start funding was no longer a rubber stamped certainty for programs. In the first round, over 130 programs across the country were required to recompete for funding. While most were able to regain their funding by working with their regional offices through guided improvement measures, some unfortunately were not.

The changes seem to be working. In 2019, the New York Times reported that recompetition is one of several factors that is leading to increases in Head Start quality over the past decade.

Despite these gains, OHS says that it is not insensitive to the additional burden that DRS has put on some grantees, particularly high-performing ones.

Therefore, the new rule is meant to redefine some criteria to ensure that the federal government can more easily identify and target grantees with “lower performance or systemic problems”… particularly when it comes to “interactions between Head Start children and their teachers.”

The new rule emphasizes the importance of the child-teacher relationship by raising the “minimum expectations for all grantees regarding quality of the classroom learning environment.” The regulation sets specific quality thresholds for each domain of the CLASS assessment. Grantees that fail to meet these higher quality thresholds will be designated for quality improvement and possibly recompetition.

Moreover, because these quality thresholds are being set with clear targets, the new regulation eliminates the requirement of competition for grantees with the lowest 10% of CLASS scores. Instead, programs will be required to meet the targets, not some arbitrary and relative percentage.

“These changes provide clear and consistent quality measures grantees are required to attain in order to receive continued Head Start grant funding,” said Office of Head Start Director Deborah Bergeron in a press release on the new rule. “The revised DRS encourages Head Start agencies to focus on continuous quality improvement rather than just compliance.”

To read more and view these new CLASS quality targets, visit Designation Renewal System on ECLKC.

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