6
Extending the Benefits of Local Innovation

Throughout the presentations and discussions of family-level research on Head Start, the roundtable members were impressed by the high level of local innovation. They learned about creative strategies for involving all parents, encouraging the participation of fathers, addressing community violence, providing family literacy and self-sufficiency programs, teaching in the context of multilingual classrooms, and linking Head Start with other community services. They were also concerned, however, about the dearth of opportunities for sharing the insights gained from innovative practices across Head Start programs and among the many participants in the early childhood service sector. These two contradictory impressions led the roundtable members to give careful thought to how the research community might assist with understanding the process of local innovation within Head Start and then extending this experience to other programs.

The report of the Advisory Panel for the Head Start Evaluation Design Project (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1990) reflected similar interest in ensuring that research captures not only mainstream practices in Head Start, but also the innovative program strategies that are emerging, often in the context of small-scale demonstration projects. Similarly, the Advisory Committee on Head Start Quality and Expansion (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1993) refers



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Beyond the Blueprint Directions for Research on Head Start's Families 6 Extending the Benefits of Local Innovation Throughout the presentations and discussions of family-level research on Head Start, the roundtable members were impressed by the high level of local innovation. They learned about creative strategies for involving all parents, encouraging the participation of fathers, addressing community violence, providing family literacy and self-sufficiency programs, teaching in the context of multilingual classrooms, and linking Head Start with other community services. They were also concerned, however, about the dearth of opportunities for sharing the insights gained from innovative practices across Head Start programs and among the many participants in the early childhood service sector. These two contradictory impressions led the roundtable members to give careful thought to how the research community might assist with understanding the process of local innovation within Head Start and then extending this experience to other programs. The report of the Advisory Panel for the Head Start Evaluation Design Project (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1990) reflected similar interest in ensuring that research captures not only mainstream practices in Head Start, but also the innovative program strategies that are emerging, often in the context of small-scale demonstration projects. Similarly, the Advisory Committee on Head Start Quality and Expansion (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1993) refers

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Beyond the Blueprint Directions for Research on Head Start's Families frequently to promising innovations and strategies that are proliferating among individual Head Start programs, yet are not shared with others. The roundtable members concurred that efforts to transfer the insights gained from local innovations need to be an integral aspect of any future research agenda on Head Start. The ingredients that enable programs to be innovative, local uses of research to facilitate innovation, and the process of extending effective strategies to a wider network of Head Start programs all require careful documentation. To promote such innovative activities, the roundtable members identified a set of questions—all amenable to exploration by research—that need to be understood if the benefits of local innovation are to be exported to a broader network of Head Start programs: Why has the transfer of local innovation not occurred? What are the current obstacles to its taking place? How and to what extent do Head Start programs currently acquire knowledge about effective practices? How do they adapt such knowledge to their local needs and conditions? How and to what extent do they use research, including self-evaluations and local needs assessments, to inform the change processes entailed by innovation? How do programs institutionalize effective innovations so that the changes remain in place when specific projects (and funding) end? What enables programs to be innovative and entrepreneurial? What resources do these programs have access to? What skills and orientations appear to be essential? Can the skills essential for importing and implementing innovative ideas be taught? Can essential resources be replicated? What would enable innovative programs to share the effective and ineffective strategies they have tried and the lessons they have learned with other sites? What conditions enable Head Start programs to learn from the innovations of other programs? What is the best mode of communication across sites with respect to strategies? If these issues could be addressed effectively within Head Start, a challenging but very promising next step would involve combining successful, innovative practices from child care, school-based, special education, fam-

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Beyond the Blueprint Directions for Research on Head Start's Families ily support, and other forms of early childhood and family-focused interventions. This challenge calls for research that would facilitate the identification and dissemination of innovations not only for Head Start, but also for other areas of early childhood service delivery. Unlike the previous chapters of this report that offer specific examples of the types of research issues that would be profitable for Head Start to pursue, the discussions of knowledge exchange regarding innovative practices cut across each of the substantive topics for which specific research ideas were generated. For example, innovative practices in any of a number of areas could provide the focus for a companion program of research focused specifically on the questions outlined above: (1) creative responses to the infusion of cultural and linguistic diversity that Head Start programs are experiencing, (2) ways of coping with being situated in violent neighborhoods and with the behavioral and mental health problems that these neighborhoods can generate, and (3) innovative approaches to assisting Head Start families who are striving to increase their work effort. In effect, the roundtable's discussions of program innovation addressed the central role of research within Head Start. Although one critical mission of Head Start research is to document the effects of the program—the public accountability role—the roundtable members were also keenly interested in the role of research as a tool that directors and other program staff can use to understand and modify their own practices. Research, in this instance, holds the promise of becoming a partner in staffs' efforts to make their programs more responsive to the changing needs of the families they serve. Keenly aware of the important role that the synergy between researchers and program directors plays in conducting research, ACYF recently funded four university-based Head Start Quality Research Centers that will undertake, in partnership with Head Start grantees and ACYF, site-specific and cross-cutting research projects on Head Start quality program practices. These projects will include longitudinal studies of Head Start children and their families to examine how factors related to the quality of Head Start program practices affect the developmental progress of children and overall family functioning. While hopeful about utilizing research for self-improvement within the Head Start community, the roundtable members were neither sanguine nor naive about the many pressures that militate against this. Notable are a shortage of local capacity to collect and use data at the local program level, prevailing suspicions about whether research can be a use

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Beyond the Blueprint Directions for Research on Head Start's Families ful tool in program design and innovation, and time and resource constraints on all programs. Nevertheless it is fitting, precisely because of these many barriers, to conclude this report with a discussion of the role of research in highlighting and extending the benefits of local innovation. Without attention to how Head Start's research agenda can incorporate the study and extension of local innovation, the insights gained from the myriad research issues identified in these pages will have only a modest chance of affecting the quality of services that families receive when they become part of the Head Start community.