3
Recognizing the Diversity of Children and Families in Head Start

Head Start provides the first exposure to a school-like environment for children from a growing range of ethnic backgrounds, children for whom English is not the primary language, and migrant and immigrant children. Estimates suggest that 20 percent of the children enrolled in Head Start nationwide speak a language other than English (Kagan and Garcia, 1991). Preliminary findings from ACYF's Descriptive Study of Head Start Bilingual and Multicultural Program Services (see p. 21) reveal that: only about one-third of the programs had an enrollment characterized by a single, dominant language, the number of languages represented by the programs range from 1 to 32, and about 72 percent of the programs had enrollments of between 2 and 3 languages.

Immigration, mostly from non-European countries, is proceeding at such a rapid rate that half of the growth in the school-age population between 1990 and 2010 will be attributable to the children of immigrants (Board on Children, Youth, and Families, 1995). Head Start will see many of these children and their families before they enter kindergarten. Head Start also includes 24 programs for migrants that serve approximately 30,000 children, including infants and toddlers.

The implications of the changing ethnic and linguistic composition of the families and children that Head Start serves for the research community are profound. The population's diversity affects sampling strategies, alters views regarding the appropriateness of measures and assessments,



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement



Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.

OCR for page 20
Beyond the Blueprint Directions for Research on Head Start's Families 3 Recognizing the Diversity of Children and Families in Head Start Head Start provides the first exposure to a school-like environment for children from a growing range of ethnic backgrounds, children for whom English is not the primary language, and migrant and immigrant children. Estimates suggest that 20 percent of the children enrolled in Head Start nationwide speak a language other than English (Kagan and Garcia, 1991). Preliminary findings from ACYF's Descriptive Study of Head Start Bilingual and Multicultural Program Services (see p. 21) reveal that: only about one-third of the programs had an enrollment characterized by a single, dominant language, the number of languages represented by the programs range from 1 to 32, and about 72 percent of the programs had enrollments of between 2 and 3 languages. Immigration, mostly from non-European countries, is proceeding at such a rapid rate that half of the growth in the school-age population between 1990 and 2010 will be attributable to the children of immigrants (Board on Children, Youth, and Families, 1995). Head Start will see many of these children and their families before they enter kindergarten. Head Start also includes 24 programs for migrants that serve approximately 30,000 children, including infants and toddlers. The implications of the changing ethnic and linguistic composition of the families and children that Head Start serves for the research community are profound. The population's diversity affects sampling strategies, alters views regarding the appropriateness of measures and assessments,

OCR for page 20
Beyond the Blueprint Directions for Research on Head Start's Families and highlights the importance of connecting Head Start researchers with others in the field who are studying bilingualism and second language acquisition, for example. This situation presents both an opportunity and a challenge to Head Start. On one hand, as a result of its long-standing efforts to serve a multicultural and linguistically diverse population, Head Start offers a natural laboratory for the study of these issues that lie at the intersection of ethnicity and development. As such, its program of research has the potential to be at the cutting edge of knowledge generation in this area. On the other hand, the empirical challenges involved in studying diverse populations are far from minor, and the political context in which this research occurs will place tremendous pressures on those engaged in this enterprise. With these tensions and possibilities in mind, the roundtable considered research on Head Start that is attuned to the diversity of the families it serves. ISSUES FOR RESEARCH The roundtable's discussion of research issues that are rooted in the ethnic and linguistic diversity of the Head Start population encompassed numerous topics, ranging from bilingual instruction to social development. Many of these topics are also discussed in a report of the Board on Children, Youth, and Families on cultural diversity and early education (Phillips and Crowell, 1994). Instruction in Bilingual and Multilingual Classrooms Questions regarding the language of instruction and interactions between language learning and content learning are understandably of great concern to Head Start staff. Staff members are increasingly confronted with the challenges of communicating with non-English-speaking children and their families; engaging in direct English language instruction; and encouraging the learning and social development of children whose language and culture they may not share. The English literacy of non-English-speaking Head Start parents, many of whom are experiencing growing pressures to enter the labor force, is also a matter of pressing concern to Head Start. To increase the responsiveness of Head Start programs to the cultural and linguistic needs of the families they serve, in 1993 ACYF initiated a three-year Descriptive Study of Head Start Bilingual and Multicultural

OCR for page 20
Beyond the Blueprint Directions for Research on Head Start's Families Program Services. Its purpose is to identify the range of bilingual and multicultural services currently provided by all Head Start programs and to examine innovative service models. Phase I of the study involved a national survey of 2,006 Head Start programs to identify bilingual and multicultural services currently provided to children and families from bilingual and/or multicultural backgrounds. Phase II involved in-depth site visits to 30 Head Start programs that were identified as providing innovative bilingual/multicultural services. Preliminary results, suggesting that two-thirds of the programs serve children who are bilingual, point to the pressing need for further research in this area. Although most of the literature on second language acquisition and bilingualism is focused on school-age children, there is a growing body of research on younger children. This emerging research has demonstrated, for example, that the acquisition of first and second languages is not a zero-sum process, as many parents appear to believe, but can be accomplished so that the development of both languages is supported. In focusing on the diversity of some Head Start programs, Claude Goldenberg cautioned that we must not overlook the commonalities across diverse populations. There are common dreams that all families share for their children. Research could help to identify elements of this common ground that might provide a basis for bringing coherence and community to multicultural Head Start centers. But many critical questions remain unanswered: When and how should English be introduced? Should native language instruction be phased out or retained as children learn English? What adjustments need to be made regarding instructional language for bilingual special education? What language characteristics and proficiencies of staff promote effective language and content instruction in multilingual classrooms? Given the roundtable's focus on Head Start families, the tension between ensuring that young children retain their newly acquired competence in their native language and preparing them for what are typically English-only kindergartens was of great concern. For these children, the school transition process is very important, given that many Head Start children are likely to experience a shift from bilingual Head Start classrooms to unilingual kindergarten classrooms.

OCR for page 20
Beyond the Blueprint Directions for Research on Head Start's Families Members of the roundtable also stressed the importance of infusing questions about the quality and effectiveness of Head Start with the issue of culture: Which programs work best for whom and under what circumstances? The answers that emerge from research on monocultural Head Start programs may not hold true for multicultural programs. Members of the roundtable also raised questions about the important competencies of support staff in Head Start who serve as mediators between children's home and school settings—a role that is made especially challenging when the language and culture of the home and the school are not similar. It is virtually impossible for any staff person to completely comprehend the language, cultural background, and family experiences of children from three or four widely divergent cultural backgrounds. What enables family support staff to be successful in bridging home and school environments? How are these staff best trained to accomplish this goal? How can parents and extended family members (e.g., grandparents) be involved in the program to make it more culturally diverse and relevant to their children's lives? The Social Implications of Children's Language Environments Beyond the core issues of language learning and instruction, the roundtable members examined the connection between language and social development. This issue is at the core of helping children to achieve social competence, an important goal of Head Start's comprehensive services (Stewart, 1994). Keeping this in mind, roundtable members explored questions such as: How does language affect social interactions in Head Start? Do children sort themselves by language? How does the language mix of the children in the program affect the development of social competencies? There is a dearth of research that addresses these issues in Head Start and in the fields of education and developmental psychology generally. Available research suggests that, by fourth grade, social groupings and intergroup conflicts among children are strongly patterned around linguistic differences (Kagan, 1986). Although this situation is largely invisible in the preschool years, programmatic decisions about preschool teaching and activities should be developed with an eye to the child's future learning and social integration. There is a substantial need for longitudinal studies of the social experiences of children of different cultural and linguistic groups.

OCR for page 20
Beyond the Blueprint Directions for Research on Head Start's Families In considering the best pedagogical approaches for bilingual children, the interests and literacy views of parents are also very important (Goldenberg, Reese, and Gallimore, 1992). As part of the Descriptive Study of Head Start Bilingual and Multicultural Program Services, parents are interviewed about their language preferences. Preliminary results suggest that non-English-proficient parents tend to believe that young children can learn only one language well at a time and that they prefer English instruction because they equate it with school success. Finally, the roundtable members considered the developmental dimensions of the 1994 amendment to the Head Start Act to create a new program of Head Start services for infants and toddlers. They raised issues regarding, for example, the impact that context has on early identity formation and the importance of linguistic continuity between home and Head Start for infants and toddlers who are just beginning to use language to communicate with adults. The Significance of Parents' Background Culture itself cannot be addressed as a simple variable. Studies of culture have to take into account the level of parents' schooling, families' economic status, and families' refugee or immigration status. The importance of parents' attained levels of formal education for their children's development has long been recognized. The roundtable's initial focus on family-level issues in Head Start, however, drew attention to several other, less well understood implications of parents' education levels. For example, the role of parents' own educational experiences in shaping their views of how children get ready for school, as well as the behaviors that derive from these views, are important to Head Start's efforts to integrate parents into its educational program. Luis Laosa described how his efforts to discern interactions among culture and other variables have challenged the view that the important proxies for culture are race, ethnicity, and language. His recent work with Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Central American families in Head Start has identified the dominant influence of parental schooling and exposure to violence on these families and their children.

OCR for page 20
Beyond the Blueprint Directions for Research on Head Start's Families It also became evident to the roundtable members that the impact on children's and families' participation in Head Start programs of immigration and immigrant status is substantially less well understood than is the impact of parent education. Among the important issues identified are: How does immigrant status affect families' willingness to apply for Head Start? How does the immigration experience itself affect the needs of Head Start families? How do Head Start programs meet the needs of these families? Migrant Families Migrant families have unique characteristics and are not homogenous as a group. These families are highly dispersed and linguistically diverse; frequently, but temporarily, change family configurations; and gradually shift from migrant to ''settled out'' status. Their living conditions are not only unstable but also often pose serious safety and health hazards. Because of migrant families' special circumstances, their trajectory of involvement with Head Start is different from that of other families participating in Head Start programs. Providing services to these families is an exceedingly difficult task. Involving parents, for example, entails special provisions for transportation, extensive hours of program operation, and adaptation to unpredictable work schedules. With regard to migrant centers—and indeed with regard to all Head Start programs—Carole Clarke highlighted two critical questions for research: What characteristics distinguish more and less effective support staff in the programs? What kinds of training will facilitate the staff's effectiveness in their work with a culturally diverse population? Many issues affecting migrant families warrant research attention. The issues are extremely complex, and the pragmatic demands of conducting research on migrant families with young children are daunting. A particularly salient issue concerns the programmatic implications of the climatic and economic unpredictability that characterizes the lives of migrant families. ACYF will soon complete a descriptive study of Head Start migrant programs and the eligible migrant population. This study, A Descriptive

OCR for page 20
Beyond the Blueprint Directions for Research on Head Start's Families Study of the Characteristics of Families Served by Head Start Migrant Programs, will provide a profile of Head Start migrant families in the main migratory streams and generate information on unique issues related to serving migrant families through Head Start programs. The migrant study will document the availability and coordination of services for Head Start families during the migration process. It will also provide a national estimate of the number of children of migrant farmworkers who are eligible for Head Start services and of those children who are currently being served by Migrant Head Start programs. The findings from this study will effect policy decisions on Head Start migrant programs, as well as the new Early Head Start program for infants and toddlers; it is scheduled for completion in 1996. A related set of issues concerns the developmental consequences of the constant disruptions in relations with caregivers that infants and toddlers experience as families migrate. For example, transferring medical records from one Head Start center to another as families migrate is logistically very difficult to coordinate given the uncertainty of the families' migratory pattern. Consequently, immunization records may be outdated, and this may have potential negative consequences for the child's health. Roundtable members questioned whether there are ways in which Head Start programs can offer greater continuity of care to these children. Research on migrant families also needs to consider the highly disenfranchised status of these parents. What are the consequences when Head Start teaches decision-making skills to these families, offers them policy roles, and provides other experiences that enable them to assume legitimate authority roles? What are the ramifications of migrant families' subsequent involvement in the political process, or for their willingness and capacity to serve as advocates for their children as they become engaged in schools and other social institutions? Gregg Powell pointed out that migrant children have so far been an invisible minority within the population of Head Start children. There is a dearth of research on what happens to migrant children in Head Start and as a result of Head Start.

OCR for page 20
Beyond the Blueprint Directions for Research on Head Start's Families NEXT STEPS FOR RESEARCH The roundtable members identified five important directions for research in this area. They are grouped in terms of the three types of research agendas presented in Table 1. Descriptive, Quality, and Outcome Agendas 3-1. To identify current instructional practices in mixed-language classrooms and to assess the effects of language mix within a group of children on their linguistic, cognitive, and social development, conduct a descriptive study of classrooms in which two or three languages are represented among the children in varying configurations. For example, comparisons could be made between classrooms with approximately equal proportions of children per language and classrooms in which there is a dominant language and several other languages spoken by small numbers of children. 3-2. To enhance understanding of how children's home and Head Start environments interact to affect their development and to assess the effects of language practices within Head Start on parents from diverse ethnic and linguistic groups, supplement the descriptive study of classrooms and children with data on the children's home environments and parenting outcomes (e.g., the use of language at home, parents' beliefs about language acquisition and goals for language instruction in Head Start, parents' engagement with their children's schools and other community groups, and parents' aspirations for their children). 3-3. To assess the extent to which language, migrant status, and immigrant status are barriers to participation in Head Start, conduct a multisite community-based study of selection into Head Start that relies on a prospective design to determine which eligible families avail themselves of Head Start, why some do, and why others do not. Parents' knowledge of Head Start, perceptions of Head Start (including perceptions of eligibility), fit between parents' goals for children and their views of what Head Start offers, fears about possible ramifications of enrolling children in Head Start (e.g., deportation, loss of family control over children), and logistical and practical barriers are useful to consider. Quality and Outcome Agendas 3-4. To ensure the most effective use of family support staff with linguistically and ethnically diverse families, conduct an evaluation of current family

OCR for page 20
Beyond the Blueprint Directions for Research on Head Start's Families support and home visit practices in a subsample of Head Start programs (migrant and nonmigrant) that serve large proportions of non-English-speaking and/or immigrant children. Such a study would benefit from documenting the characteristics and backgrounds (including training) of family support staff, observing what the staff do and how well they do it, and assessing family-and child-level effects. To extend the utility of this type of research, consideration might be given to a follow-up evaluation study in which highly effective family support staff are trained to serve as mentors for new staff. Descriptive and Quality Agendas 3-5. To capture the processes by which Head Start programs adjust to the shifting demographics of families served and identify issues for future program intervention and research, conduct a small, descriptive longitudinal study of several Head Start programs that are changing from serving a relatively homogeneous population of families to a relatively diverse population of families. By capturing a few such naturally occurring transitions and obtaining evidence about the issues involved in adapting to change from a range of vantage points (directors, teachers, support staff, parents, children), substantial insights can be gained into how programs adjust to change over time, including what works well, what doesn't, for whom, and under what conditions.