Mapping Teacher Turnover and Student Homelessness in Head Start

What did a team of graduate students learn by digging into the PIR?

By Victoria Jones, Senior Manager of Data, National Head Start Association

NHSA recently worked with a group of graduate students from Heinz College at Carnegie Mellon University to create data visualization tools analyzing two critical trends in Head Start programs across the country. Using publicly-available data from the Program Information Report (PIR) and other sources, the team of students created two dashboards to take a deeper dive into data focused on at-risk populations of Head Start children and staff turnover.

There’s still much more to learn from this analysis, but check out what these bright young minds have taught us about these trends so far:

The first dashboard focuses on particularly vulnerable populations of Head Start children: those experiencing homelessness and those in foster care. Head Start is committed to supporting children and families experiencing homelessness. The Head Start Program Performance Standards include specific standards dedicated to supporting the unique challenges that children and families experiencing homelessness face in order to ensure healthy development and school readiness. However, it can be challenging for programs to reach families who are highly mobile.

The students created graphs comparing state-by-state how these populations are supported by Head Start. One so-called “heat map” shows what percentage of the Head Start children in each state are experiencing homelessness or in foster care. For example, nearly 1 in 6 children served by Head Start (16.3%) in Vermont are experiencing homelessness, compared to less than 1 in 100 in Mississippi. In Montana, nearly 1 in 10 Head Start children (9.7%) are in foster care.

Interested in your state’s specific numbers? You can go to the live dashboard here and hover over your state.

By contrast, the chart below combines PIR data with other publicly-available data sets to illustrate the extent to which Head Start is meeting the needs of these populations in their state. In some states, like Vermont and South Dakota, Head Start is serving almost 30% of the children experiencing homelessness. In Delaware, only 1% of the state’s homeless children are served by Head Start.

Check out the rest of the dashboard here.

Increased turnover demands that programs dedicate more resources to maintaining its workforce. The greater the churn, the more funds, human resources, and time must be spent on orientation, background checks, and training for new staff. The result: a major drain on resources for the program and a drag on morale for existing staff.

But the impact doesn’t end with the program and its staff. These effects combined can impact the continuity of care for Head Start children and can compromise their social and academic outcomes, a result no child deserves.

To identify where this challenge is most severe, the student team created a dashboard to look at patterns of teacher turnover. One critical graph they made shows the teacher turnover rate by state. We see a lot of variability in teacher turnover rates, from 7% in Vermont to 34% in Nevada.

The rate of turnover also varies by program type:

So, what now?

What do we do with all of this information? For Head Start practitioners, these dashboards can help identify important questions or potential actions, such as:

  • Enrollment: Particularly in states only reaching a small portion of the population of children experiencing homelessness or in foster care, are there opportunities for programs to expand their enrollment of children in these communities?
  • Staff Support: What is driving the differences in teacher turnover by state or by program type? What can states with high turnover learn from those with low turnover?
  • Data Accuracy: Is this data accurate? How can we improve the accuracy of this information moving forward?

Check out the teacher turnover dashboard here and the enrollment dashboard here.

What questions come up when you look at these dashboards? How might you use this information in your program? We’d love to hear in the comments below, or send an email to Victoria Jones at

Victoria Jones is NHSA’s Senior Manager of Data. Victoria supports the Head Start field’s efforts to advance child and family outcomes by helping Head Start programs move towards a culture of continuous quality improvement. Her portfolio includes leading the Data Design Initiative, working on the Parent Gauge team, and contributing to other projects that directly support practitioners in the field.

NHSA is a nonprofit organization committed to the belief that every child, regardless of circumstances at birth, has the ability to succeed in life.

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