Volume 11, Issue 10

Friday, May 4, 2012

Hot Topics

The first round of competition for federal Head Start funding has opened for dozens of providers, including some of the 132 current grantees who must compete for funding after being cited for deficiencies in their programs. Education Week reports that grants will be issued in two waves for those grantees that must compete, timed with their current funding cycle, to avoid service interruptions for children. Yvette Sanchez Fuentes, director of the Office of Head Start at the Department of Health and Human Services, said in a piece for Politico that current grantees who must recompete can “step back, assess the program and develop ambitious plans for improvement.” The move is not without detractors, though. A group of Head Start providers have filed suit against the Department of Health and Human Services, arguing that how “low-performing” programs are determined was never adequately defined.  In a recent Huffington Post article, NIEER Director Steve Barnett argued that providers should only be required "to do the things that are essential for the well-being and development of the kids.”

David Sciarra makes the argument and calls on states to “to expand the legal right to education to include quality early education for all 3- and 4-year-old children, as well as full-day kindergarten” in this opinion piece in the Huffington Post.  Sciarra notes the “disturbing trends” found by NIEER researchers and recently published in the 2011 State Preschool Yearbook.  Though enrollment in state pre-K programs has soared over the past 10 years, just 28 percent of all 4-year-olds and only 4 percent of all 3-year-olds are enrolled.  Overall funding for state pre-K programs, when adjusted for inflation, dipped for the second straight year, by $60 million nationally.  These falling levels of funding in turn affect program quality.  Eleven states still do not offer pre-K at all.

May 9th is National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day, designed to promote the idea that mental health is inextricably tied to a child’s overall development and well-being. This awareness campaign is spearheaded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

NIEER has long maintained the importance of cognitive and social-emotional skills to not only healthy development but also to learning effectively. Through our work with the Tools of the Minds curriculum, we’ve stressed the importance of “mental exercise” to improve executive brain functions, including cognitive flexibility, working memory, and self-control. (More about executive function and its role in the classroom can be found in these articles from The Wall Street Journal and Newsweek.) NIEER also provides guidance to policymakers on promoting social-emotional development through preschool programs, the importance of mental health screenings, and how high-quality preschool education can promote mental health and  ameliorate behavioral problems in young children.

When Scholastic and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation surveyed more than 10,000 pre-K-12 teachers on the subject of student achievement, educators noted that while effective teachers are essential to pupil success, involved families are also important. As one elementary school teacher put it, “The education of a child involves three major components: teacher, student, and parents.” This teacher is not alone -- 98 percent of those polled considered parent involvement as having a “strong impact” or “very strong impact” on student achievement. And while the latest update of the MetLife Survey of the American Teacher found that job satisfaction for K-12 teachers is at a 20-year low, educators with higher job satisfaction are more likely to agree that family engagement is supported in their school. In addition, a recent OECD report entitled “What can parents do to help their children succeed in school?” notes that teenagers achieved higher scores on assessments if their parents read to them as young children--a family engagement activity that “involve[s] relatively little time and no specialised knowledge.” NIEER’s data indicates that some state-funded pre-K programs require specific family engagement policies, while many leave these decisions to local districts. Education Week hosts a roundtable where teachers can discuss thoughts on engaging parents in their children’s schooling.

When it comes to early language development, preschool-age children are just as likely to learn from their peers as their teachers. A study published in Child Development found that students with lower language skills showed remarkable improvement when taught in classrooms alongside students with strong language skills, compared to when they were taught in classrooms limited to only children with low skills. Meanwhile, those with strong skills did not suffer from having peers with lower abilities in the same classroom. In a news release, one of the study’s authors said, “If we really want to help lift kids out of poverty, and use preschool as a way to make that happen, we need to reconsider how we provide that education. Classrooms that blend students from different backgrounds are the best way to provide the boost that poor students need.” These comments echo one element of the rationale for providing universal preschool programs versus targeted ones.

This study builds on past findings, such as the similar findings from a 2002 study comparing the language skills of low-income preschoolers who attended economically diverse programs versus those who attended programs with only children from low-income families. Taken together, these findings can inform educational practices for all pre-K children, but may be especially helpful for those teaching the children of Hispanic immigrants as these children exhibit lower language skills as early as age 2, as noted in this New York Times article.

Results of a recent survey indicate that 80 percent of American voters would like to see national nutritional standards to limit calories, fat, and sodium in the food choices available in schools. Children and teens consume up to half of their daily calories during school hours, and vending machines and a la carte options are becoming increasingly prevalent. In addition to commissioning the poll, the Kids’ Safe & Healthful Foods Project (a joint initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation) share a video explaining the current state of food choices in schools and suggest that the often poor nutritional options contribute to childhood obesity. In the coming months, the federal U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is expected to release proposed nutritional standards for all food and beverages sold on school property. This is in addition to the USDA’s nutritional standards for school meals, which will be phased in over a three-year period beginning in the 2012-2013 school year. Most state-funded pre-K programs are required to follow USDA nutritional standards, as discussed in this blog post from NIEER.

When the regulations for the Race To the Top - Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC) were announced last July, one requirement was the provision of a tiered Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) across sectors of early education. With the announcement of the another round of funding for states that had previously applied, the role of QRIS in improving early learning programs will continue to be a hot topic in the field. In a series of guest posts on Sara Mead’s Policy Notebook, Louise Stoney addresses the use of QRIS across early education sectors, the need for meaningful standards, key questions in providing technical assistance, and building systemic capacity.

New on Preschool Matters...Today!

April 22-28 celebrated the Week of the Young Children (WOYC), with a theme of “Early Years are Learning Years.” In this blog post, NIEER provides some resources related to WOYC’s six focus areas of raising public awareness, public policy and advocacy, reading and writing, violence and child abuse prevention, child health, and creativity and play.

NIEER Assistant Research Professor Milagros Nores discusses her recent trip to Colombia and the work being done there to invest in early childhood education.

NIEER Policy Research Coordinator Megan Carolan uses data from The State of Preschool 2011 to discuss pre-K education access for Hispanic children and English language learners.


This framework from the National Center on Parent, Family, and Community Engagement for the Office of Head Start provides early childhood education program administrators and caregivers with effective strategies for promoting parental involvement in their children’s learning and schooling.

This is the fourth report from the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment’s 5-year longitudinal study on efforts to expand ECE educators’ opportunities to obtain bachelor’s degrees and supports for that process. In this report, those who have successfully graduated discuss the value of their degrees and what institutional supports they received.

The updated edition of this publication from the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Public Health Association, and the National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care and Early Education provide readers with a comprehensive listing of the practices and policies for early childhood education and care programs to ensure the well-being of children in their care. Amongst the specific topics covered are: caring for children with special health needs and disabilities, providing appropriate nutrition and food services including working to prevent childhood obesity, maximum group sizes and child-to-staff ratios, and curbing the spread of infectious diseases.

In this brief from Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, the authors summarize the current state of preschool in Illinois, where the state-funded program Preschool for All has been cut several years in a row despite evidence of pre-K’s positive educational and life outcomes.


Monday, May 14, 2012 to Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Chapel Hill, NC – At this conference, participants will learn the latest research findings related to inclusive policy, professional development, and practice.

Thursday, May 17, 2012 to Saturday, May 19, 2012

Wheeling, IL - This conference provides professional development for early childhood leaders, offering opportunities to validate their work and also explore new and innovative ways to lead successfully.

Sunday, June 10, 2012 to Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Indianapolis, IN - The goal of this conference is to deepen participants' understanding of the expanding early childhood knowledge base and develop skills that improve professional practice.

Monday, June 18, 2012 to Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Tallinn, Estonia - This conference will explore research on children's need for undirected time and space for play.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012 to Thursday, June 21, 2012

New York, NY – Join caregivers, teachers, family child care providers, trainers, special educators, librarians, and others for this three-day institute.

Sunday, July 1, 2012 to Tuesday, July 3, 2012

St. Louis, MO – Featuring researched-based, classroom-proven approaches, this conference will cover hot topics in education including response to intervention, implementing Common Core, and bullying prevention.

Sunday, July 15, 2012 to Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Baltimore, MD – The theme of The CAYL Institute's conference is "What Really Works? Impact and Innovation for Young Learners."

Wednesday, November 7, 2012 to Saturday, November 10, 2012

Atlanta, GA - This early childhood education conference offers hundreds of presentations and exhibits to the tens of thousands of educators that attend.

Friday, November 16, 2012 to Saturday, November 17, 2012

Melbourne, Australia – The theme for the CEIEC "Honoring the Child, Honoring Equity 12" conference is "Troubling truths: bridging divides for equity."

Early Education News Roundup

Thursday, May 3, 2012
(Quincy Herald-Whig, Quincy, IL)

Community leaders see a skills gap among many of their job applicants and believe that shortchanging early education programs will only make the situation worse in the future.

Thursday, May 3, 2012
(Centre Daily Times, State College, PA)

Rigorous studies tracking children from preschool into adulthood reveal that investments in quality early learning have tangible, sizeable benefits. Children from high-quality programs are less likely to need special education or be retained a grade in school. They’re more likely to succeed academically, graduate from high school, pursue higher education, and earn higher salaries and benefits.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012
(The Post-Standard, Syracuse, NY)

Money is well-spent on pre-k. Studies document increased graduation rates, lasting increases in IQ, better performance on achievement tests, increased readiness for reading and math, better social skills and increased earning potential.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012
(KTVU, Oakland, CA)

Some 62,000 children statewide are at risk of losing access to early childhood programs like CCSF's child care and development centers because of $500 million in proposed cuts to such programs in this year's state budget.

Saturday, April 28, 2012
(The Saratogian, Saratoga Springs, NY)

Demand for free preschool programs is on the rise, but funding for such programs, which local educators argue are vital for child development and future learning, is flat or on the decline.

Friday, April 27, 2012
(The Oklahoman)

In the equation of enrollment, funding and quality, the focus should be on preparing students for success. High enrollment and money alone don't ensure a top-notch program. We need to make sure we're getting the best return on investment for any state dollars spent.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012
(Financial News & Daily Record, Jacksonville, FL)

Early learning, an area in which Florida was considered a trailblazer, is now at a crossroads, with a national study finding its value limited and Gov. Rick Scott rejecting a revamp bill that roiled the legislative session, opting instead for an administrative fix.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012
(Bridge Michigan)

A new report on the nation’s efforts to provide quality early learning shows Michigan was one of the few states to increase preschool funding last year.  The bad news: We still serve only 18 percent of 4-year-olds and no 3-year-olds, putting Michigan in the bottom half of states in accessibility to pre-k programs.