A Longer Day in Head Start: An Ethnographic Case Study of How Staff and Parents Navigated Extended Service Duration at a Local Center

Date of Award

Fall 2020

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Leslie J Couse

Second Advisor

Eun Kyeong Cho

Third Advisor

Andrew D Coppens


From the beginning, Head Start has maintained an enduring policy goal to extend the number of hours young children from low-income families spend in local programs. In 2016, the Office of Head Start published a long-awaited revision of the Head Start Program Performance Standards with the provision for center-based extended service duration. The standard outlined a tiered approach for local agencies with center-based sites to increase the number of hours offered to children annually. This ethnographic case study explored how staff and parents navigated and negotiated this policy change in a center-based site during the first two years of implementation. The study included 23 staff and parents who shared their perspectives and experiences during field observations and interviews to elevate the daily life, routines, and decision-making embedded in the shift from a half-day to a full-day program. Local and federal document review provided local, national, and historical context that undergirded the policy change. The study provided insights into how thoughtful changes to operations and daily practice unfold amongst the diverse needs and realities of families, staff, and children that exist in local centers every day. Staff and parents’ experiences and perspectives can improve quality and determine how best to meet local needs. The methods utilized in this study filled this gap through the focus on staff and parents’ lived experiences, knowledge, authority, and voice regarding the nuances of service duration.

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