Head Start: The Family and Child Experiences Survey (FACES)

2006-2022
Prepared for
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation

Since its founding four decades ago, Head Start has served as the nation’s premier federally funded early childhood intervention. Focusing on children in the years before formal schooling, often from families with multiple risks, it has served as a natural and national laboratory for a wide range of basic, prevention, early intervention, and program evaluation research. The Family and Child Experiences Survey (FACES) was launched in 1997 as a periodic, longitudinal study of Head Start’s performance. The study is designed to be a reliable source of data for describing the skills of Head Start children; the experiences of the children and families served by Head Start; the quality of Head Start classrooms; and the qualifications, credentials, and opinions of Head Start staff. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, funds the study.

FACES 2006 and 2009 Cohorts

Mathematica conducted five-year studies of the 2006 and 2009 FACES cohorts, each comprising about 3,400 3- and 4-year-old children newly enrolled in 60 Head Start programs around the country. Our studies followed each cohort from entrance into the Head Start program through one or two years of program participation, with follow-up in the spring of kindergarten. Researchers gathered comprehensive data through direct child assessments in multiple domains; observations of Head Start classrooms; and interviews with Head Start parents, teachers, and administrators.

Subcontractors for the 2006 and 2009 cohorts were Educational Testing Service and Juárez and Associates. 

FACES 2014-2018

Mathematica recently redesigned FACES to provide key data more rapidly and with greater frequency and to help researchers examine more complex issues and topics in greater detail and efficiency. Using a Core Plus design provides more flexibility in incorporating special topic or methodological studies. FACES is no longer longitudinal, but now studies all enrolled children within a program year. In fall 2014 and spring 2015, we assessed the school readiness skills of 2,400 3- and 4-year-old Head Start children in 60 programs, conducted surveys with their parents, and asked their Head Start teachers to rate their social and emotional skills. In spring 2015 we visited 180 programs (including the original 60) to conduct surveys with program staff and observe 720 classrooms; we will do so again in spring 2017. We conducted a Plus study, the Family Engagement Plus Study, in spring 2015 in the 60 programs participating in child-level data collection in the Classroom + Child Outcomes Core study. In addition, a first-ever study of the children and families served by tribal Head Start programs (Region XI) is also under way—American Indian and Alaska Native Head Start Family and Child Experiences Survey (AI/AN FACES). Data collection occurred in fall 2015 and spring 2016. A nationally representative sample of 21 Head Start program and 37 centers are participating in AI/AN FACES. It assesses the school readiness skills of nearly 1,000 children and surveys their parents and Head Start teachers. The FACES project has also supported piloting of program functioning measures and developing design options for supporting AI/AN early childhood needs assessments.

Mathematica will prepare a series of analytic reports documenting the demographic characteristics, home environments, and school readiness skills of Head Start children and the quality of Head Start classrooms, teachers, and programs.

Educational Testing Service and Juárez and Associates are again serving as subcontractors for Mathematica.

FACES 2019

FACES 2019 is the current phase of this important endeavor. FACES 2019 will follow a similar structure as FACES 2014; it has a Core Plus study design that provides data on a set of key indicators more rapidly and with greater frequency (Core studies) and serves as a vehicle for studying more complex issues and topics in greater detail and with increased efficiency (Plus studies). It also aligns the study of Region XI American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) Head Start with the Core study in Regions I–X.

Mathematica and its partners, Juárez and Associates, Educational Testing Service, and consultants Margaret Burchinal and Martha Zaslow, will develop the instruments and data collection procedures for two Core studies and work with a Workgroup with tribal stakeholders for AI/AN FACES. For the Core studies, we will select and recruit a nationally representative sample of 180 Head Start programs and 360 Head Start centers in Regions I–X. We will assess the school readiness skills of 2,400 children and survey their parents and Head Start teachers in fall 2019 and spring 2020 (Classroom + Child Outcomes Core from a subsample of 60 of the 180 programs). We will observe 720 Head Start classrooms and survey Head Start staff in spring 2020 and spring 2022 (Classroom Core in all 180 programs).

In AI/AN FACES, we will select and recruit a nationally representative sample of 22 Region XI Head Start programs and 37 centers. We will assess 800 children and survey their parents and Head Start teachers in fall 2019 and spring 2020. We will observe 80 Region XI AI/AN Head Start classrooms and survey Head Start staff in spring 2020.

Future planning will determine the nature of any Plus studies. Mathematica will analyze the data from each round of the study and prepare a series of products. We will also prepare data files and data file documentations so that these data are available to the community of researchers for secondary analyses. 

Survey Methodology Highlights

Technological innovations in data collection increase the accuracy and timeliness of data management and analysis. These include computer-assisted direct assessments of the study children, as well as web instruments for teachers to use when reporting on children’s social and academic skills and accomplishments. In fall 2014 we introduced a dual-screen administration for child assessments, a web option for parent surveys, and computer-assisted telephone surveys.