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William F. Goodling Even Start Family Literacy Program (I-B-3)


The Even Start Family Literacy Program provides low-income families with integrated literacy services for parents and their young children (birth through age 7). The purpose of the program is to break the cycle of poverty and illiteracy for low-income families. The basic premise behind Even Start's family literacy approach is that the four components of adult education, early childhood education, parenting education, and interactive literacy activities for parents and their children build on each other and that families need to receive all four services in order to bring lasting change and improve children's school success. Based on an analysis of the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey data from 1997, about 4,350,000 families were considered eligible for the program, as defined by age of children in a household and the educational attainment of the children's parents. Almost two million of these eligible families were living in poverty. Even Start serves about 30,000 families in any given year.

Early childhood education is important because young children who have good vocabularies and who are taught early reading skills before they start school are more likely to become good readers and achieve academic success throughout their school careers. In addition, parents play a critical role in the language and intellectual development of their children. Children who have parents who talk and play with them and who read to them have an important advantage. Parents who are competent readers are more likely to have good jobs and be able to help their children in school. Thus, Even Start provides educational services for the family, rather than for just parents or children.

WHAT'S NEW--The No Child Left Behind Act

Even Start was reauthorized in December 2000 as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2001 (P.L. 106-554). The No Child Left Behind Act incorporated the following December 2000 changes.

Focuses on What Works

  • Requires local projects to use instructional programs based on scientifically based reading research and preventing reading difficulties. Program elements now require the use of scientifically based reading research in instructional services and the inclusion of reading readiness activities for preschool children to ensure that children enter school ready to read.
  • Requires projects to offer instructional services during the summer months. While year-round services are not new, projects can no longer fulfill this requirement with summer enrichment services only. This requirement should help to alleviate the summer fall-off phenomenon, the documented loss of reading skills that can take place when children do not practice during the summer months.
  • Strengthens staff qualification requirements. By December 2004, a majority of the instructional staff must have obtained an associate's, bachelor's, or graduate degree in a field related to early childhood education, elementary or secondary school education, or adult education, as well as meet state qualifications to provide these educational services (if applicable). All new instructional staff hired since December 2000 must meet these qualifications when hired. In addition, by December 2004, the local project administrator must receive training in operating a family literacy program, and all paraprofessionals who provide support for academic instruction must have a high school diploma or the equivalent.
  • Requires local projects to build on existing, high-quality community resources. An important part of the Even Start program is building on existing resources in communities for both support and instructional services. Before its reauthorization, the law simply required local projects to build on existing services to avoid duplication. The law now explicitly requires projects to build on existing services only if they are of high quality.

Increases Accountability for Student Performance

  • Strengthens the accountability of local projects. States were required to develop, by June 30, 2001, indicators of program quality to use in monitoring, evaluating, and improving Even Start programs.

Other New Requirements

  • Requires local projects to provide equitable services to private school school-aged children.
  • Requires local projects (school districts) to meet the maintenance of effort requirement.

How It Works

Even Start is primarily a state-administered discretionary grant program in which states hold competitions to fund integrated family literacy services. The U.S. Department of Education allocates Even Start funding to states by formula. States award subgrants to partnerships of local school districts and other organizations.

Key Requirements

States are required to establish review panels that will approve applications (to the extent of available funding) that meet the following requirements: are most likely to be successful in implementing the program purpose and all of the program elements; demonstrate that the area to be served by the program has a high percentage or a large number of families who are in need of family literacy services; provide services for at least a three-year age range of children; demonstrate the greatest possible coordination between all service providers; include cost-effective budgets that demonstrate the ability to provide the required local match; are representative of urban and rural regions of the state; and show the greatest promise for providing models that may be adopted by others.

Local Even Start projects must provide four high-quality, intensive core educational components (early childhood, adult education, parenting education, and parent-child activities) taught by qualified staff, as well as support services, year-round. In addition to center-based programs, projects also must provide some educational services to families in their homes. Projects must base instructional services on scientifically based reading research. Projects have to collaborate with other agencies to build on educational and support services that already exist in their communities and provide an increasing local funding match. Projects must identify, recruit, and serve those families most in need of services, as well as screen and prepare these families for participation in the program. Projects also have to provide training to their staff, provide for an independent local evaluation, promote the continuity of family literacy services for families, and encourage the active participation and retention of participating families.

How It Achieves Quality

Even Start programs will achieve quality through new requirements to use scientifically based research evidence to design program activities, especially reading-readiness activities for preschool children. The new state indicators of program quality will allow states to make informed decisions about continuation funding for subgrantees based on whether or not they are showing sufficient progress.

How Performance Is Measured

At the state level, performance is measured through the new required indicators of program quality. These indicators must be used by states to monitor, evaluate, and improve local projects within the state. The law requires the following specific indicators for adult participants covering both the literacy and economic self-sufficiency purposes of the program (although states may develop additional indicators if they choose):

  • Achievement in the areas of reading, writing, English language acquisition, problem-solving, and numeracy;
  • Receipt of a high school diploma or a general equivalency diploma;
  • Entry into a postsecondary school, job-training program, or employment or career advancement, including the military.

The law requires the following specific indicators for child participants:

  • Improvement in ability to read on grade level or reading readiness;
  • School attendance;
  • Grade retention and promotion.

In addition, the law requires an independent national evaluation to document the performance and effectiveness of Even Start projects. Local projects are also required to conduct an independent local evaluation and use the evaluation for program improvement.

Key Activities For The State Education Agencies

State education agencies (SEAs) must:

  • Establish a review panel to approve subgrant applications.
  • Use state indicators of program quality to monitor, evaluate, and decide whether to continue local projects.
  • Cooperate with the national evaluation of local programs.

In addition, SEAs can:

  • Develop and implement guidelines for the new requirement to use scientifically based reading research in instructional programming.
  • Monitor qualifications of program staff.
  • Provide guidance on state indicators of program quality.

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Last Modified: 09/14/2007