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Head Start Collaboration
November 2019


What does the research say about successful models of collaboration between local educational agencies and Head Start that may help children become school ready?

Ask A REL Response

Thank you for your request to our Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Reference Desk. Ask A REL is a collaborative reference desk service provided by the 10 RELs that, by design, functions much in the same way as a technical reference library. Ask A REL provides references, referrals, and brief responses in the form of citations in response to questions about available education research.

Following an established REL Northwest research protocol, we conducted a search for evidence- based research. The sources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic research databases, Google Scholar, and general Internet search engines. For more details, please see the methods section at the end of this document.

The research team has not evaluated the quality of the references and resources provided in this response; we offer them only for your reference. The search included the most commonly used research databases and search engines to produce the references presented here. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. The research references are not necessarily comprehensive and other relevant research references may exist. In addition to evidence-based, peer-reviewed research references, we have also included other resources that you may find useful. We provide only publicly available resources, unless there is a lack of such resources or an article is considered seminal in the topic area.


Adams, D. B., Bierbrauer, J., Edie, D., Fisher, A., Riley, D., Roach, M. A., Robinson, A., et al. (2006). Report on baseline communities: Structure of collaborations and contractual relationships (Report B). Madison: University of Wisconsin—Extension. Retrieved from:

From the Document:
"An examination of characteristics of Wisconsin school districts that have a ''community approach'' to 4-year-old kindergarten (i.e., collaboration between the district's schools and child care or Head Start), including contractual agreements, type and frequency of collaboration activities, and provision of transportation for the children."

Del Grosso, P., Akers, L., Esposito, A. M., & Paulsell, D. (2014). Early care and education partnerships: A review of the literature (OPRE Report 2014-64). Mathematica Policy Research. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"This literature review, conducted by Mathematica Policy Research as part of the Study of Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships, assesses the current knowledge base for early care and education (ECE) partnerships, highlights promising models or components of models for these partnerships, and identifies gaps in the research. The review draws from 78 studies of ECE partnerships, including partnerships between Head Start and Early Head Start grantees and child care providers, school districts and child care providers and Head Start agencies, and other types of partnerships, including partnerships with informal caregivers and early intervention services. The review provides information about the characteristics of ECE partnerships; potential benefits of ECE partnerships to programs, providers, and families; common barriers; factors that may facilitate ECE partnerships; and gaps in the knowledge base. The findings from the review helped to inform a theory of change for Early Head Start-child care partnerships, which is included within the report."

Green, B. L., Patterson, L. B., Morris, M., Cochran, L. A., & Lambarth, C. H. (2015). Oregon Early Learning Division Kindergarten Readiness Partnership & Innovation Grants: Year 1 evaluation report. Portland, OR: Center for Improvement and Family Services, Portland State University. Retrieved from

From the Document:
"In July 2014, Oregon's Early Learning Division provided first-time funding for sixteen communities across the state to implement Kindergarten Readiness Partnership & Innovation (KRPI) projects. The KRPI projects share the common goal of improving children's school readiness and, ultimately, improving school success and reducing the achievement gap. To achieve these goals, grantees were given considerable local flexibility to implement innovative approaches in one or more of the following areas: 1. Supporting kindergarten readiness skills and smooth transitions to kindergarten; 2. Increasing family engagement in children's learning and connecting families and schools; 3. Providing professional development to early learning and/or elementary school professionals to improve knowledge and skills; and/or 4. Increasing alignment, connection, and collaboration in the prenatal to Grade 3 (P-3) system."

Moran, D., Shenganjo, T. & Fontana, J. (2018). Partnering for pre-K: Opportunities to scale up Pittsburgh's Collaborative Early Learning Mode. Philadelphia, PA: Research in Action

From the Abstract:
"Cities and school districts across the Commonwealth and country are seeking to combine the benefits of both community- and school-based early childhood programs through a "mixed-delivery model." In a mixed-delivery model, school districts shoulder the administrative burden of federal and state grants, subcontract a number of their seats to community-based partners, and provide additional seats in district classrooms. Pittsburgh has provided a mixed-delivery pre-K model since 2008. With a newly-created Early Childhood Education Task Force charged with moving the city toward universal pre-K, Pittsburgh is poised to build on its existing model during expansion. To do so effectively, city policymakers and stakeholders will need to answer several important questions: (1) How does the current mixed-delivery system work in Pittsburgh?; (2) What do district staff and partners perceive to be its benefits?; (3) What are inherent challenges of the model?; and (4) What current promising practices might help scale up the delivery of high-quality pre-K? This brief explores these questions in order to inform the Task Force's future efforts to craft an implementation plan that leverages existing partnerships and new funding to serve more children in the city's public pre-K programs. Research for Actions' (RFA's) research found that the benefits of Pittsburgh's mixed-delivery system outweigh the challenges and point to opportunities for scale-up. Drawing on revenues from both Pre-K Counts and the Head Start Supplemental Assistance Program has allowed Pennsylvania's second largest public school district to build strong and mutually beneficial relationships with the area's early childhood providers. In turn, these partnerships have increased their capacity to serve students in high-quality settings and offered parents choices in program hours and care settings. Pittsburgh Public Schools has also been at the forefront of efforts to braid public funding streams and create inclusive classrooms that serve economically diverse children and meet high performance standards."

Stephens, S. A. (2014). Community-level challenges in implementing a mixed delivery prekindergarten system: A brief review of research and field experience: School Community Partnerships Project: Policy brief I. New York, NY: Center for Children's Initiatives.

From the Abstract:
"Over the past decade, states have dramatically expanded prekindergarten services (Pre-K), given the evidence that high-quality early childhood education can put children on a path to success in school and later life. To support the expansion, most of those states have adopted a mixed delivery system, developing the new educational opportunities in both public schools and early childhood programs in the community, a strategy that leverages the existing capacity, expertise, and public investments that support early learning and healthy development. Such a system has the potential to more rapidly expand the availability of high quality early education and also offers families a choice of preschool settings. Increasingly, educators and policymakers are looking at strategies to align learning experiences, enrich services and family supports, and build a unified early education system so that all children benefit equally regardless of setting. Great progress has been made on this front, but developing and implementing an integrated, coordinated state Pre-K system is challenging. The two worlds of public education and early childhood development are still far from aligned, operating with complex governance and funding sources, in addition to different strategies and approaches to practice. This paper provides a summary of specific challenges that New York communities have encountered as they developed and implemented a mixed system for providing prekindergarten services. By anticipating these challenges, school districts and community-based early education programs can develop strategies to support effective partnerships, successful program implementation, and improved school readiness for young children."

Valentino, R., & Stipek, D. (2016). PreK–3 alignment in California's education system: Obstacles and opportunities. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Policy Analysis for California Education.

From the Abstract:
"Empirical evidence that horizontal alignment of policies and practices from preschool through the early elementary grades sustains the effects of quality preschool and contributes to children's learning is scarce, as discussed above, but there are nevertheless good reasons to expect benefits to such alignment. Moreover, many districts and schools in California and throughout the country are working to strengthen preK-3 alignment. The purpose of this report is to document: (1) how key district and policy leaders in California conceptualize preK-3 alignment; (2) what kinds of policies and practices districts have implemented to achieve alignment; (3) what kinds of efforts and practices have been successful and the critical ingredients of their success; and (4) the main barriers districts and schools have encountered when attempting to achieve horizontal alignment between preschool and the elementary grades. To achieve this goal, researchers conducted interviews with individuals who play key roles in early childhood education (ECE) in California, including foundation representatives and state-, county-, and district-level personnel. This report presents a qualitative analysis of the interviews identifying trends in responses, along with two district case-studies. The interview questions were designed to address six topics: (1) definition and key components; (2) value; (3) practices; (4) best practices, barriers, and need for change; (5) transitional kindergarten (TK); and (6) local control. Participants defined PreK-3 alignment as a "continuum" with "shared goals and expectations" across grades. The case studies of Fresno Unified School District (FUSD) and Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) are included in this report because of their noteworthy practices to support early childhood education and PreK-3 alignment. Four best practices implemented by districts contributed to their success: (1) continuous parent involvement; (2) joint professional development between Pre-K, Head Start, Child Care, TK, and K-3 teachers; (3) strong leadership commitment and training for principals; and (4) efforts to create a uniform and continuous district assessments and longitudinal data system. PreK-3 Alignment Interview Questions are appended."

Other Resources

Dropkin, E. (2013). Partners for success: Case studies of collaboration between Head Start and pre-K. Alexandria, VA: National Head Start Association. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"Expanding access to high quality pre-K cannot be accomplished through just one model. Each model studied emphasizes the importance of meeting diverse needs through local collaboration and coordination. States should build from existing, effective models, rather than supplant them. Therefore, in order to expand access to high quality pre-K and based on years of experience in early childhood care and education, NHSA makes the following recommendations to states developing their early learning systems: 1. Consider successful models for partnership and design mixed and diverse delivery systems that utilize existing providers to allow faster scaling, higher quality, and locally-appropriate programs. 2. Facilitate the development of early learning systems by engaging strong, committed leaders and all stakeholders in thoughtful and deliberate pursuit of high quality for all children. 3. Draw on Head Start as a valuable resource with deep knowledge of comprehensive health and development, developmentally appropriate instruction, parent and family engagement, rigorous standards and performance monitoring, meaningful coordination, effective teacher preparation and more."


Keywords and Search Strings: The following keywords, subject headings, and search strings were used to search reference databases and other sources: Head start, (District OR local educational agency), Collaboration, Kindergarten readiness, Partnerships

Databases and Resources: We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and EBSCO databases (Academic Search Premier, Education Research Complete, and Professional Development Collection).

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

Date of publications: This search and review included references and resources published in the last 10 years.

Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority was given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations, as well as academic databases, including ERIC, EBSCO databases, and Google Scholar.

Methodology: The following methodological priorities/considerations were given in the review and selection of the references:

  • Study types: randomized control trials, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, and policy briefs, generally in this order
  • Target population and samples: representativeness of the target population, sample size, and whether participants volunteered or were randomly selected
  • Study duration
  • Limitations and generalizability of the findings and conclusions

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by stakeholders in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington, which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Northwest. It was prepared under Contract ED-IES-17-C-0009 by REL Northwest, administered by Education Northwest. The content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.