Volume 11, Issue 12

Friday, June 1, 2012

Hot Topics

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) recently released the latest edition of “The Condition of Education,” the annual report of trends and developments in P-20 education. Amongst the plethora of statistics gathered, NCES reports that the percent of 3- to 5-year-olds enrolled in full-day pre-K classrooms increased from 32 percent in 1980 to 58 percent in 2010; private preschool enrollment dropped from 6.3 million in 2001 to 5.5 million in 2009; nearly 1 million more public school students were identified as English language learners in 2009 than in 2000; and the percent of children and youth ages 3-21 with disabilities has decreased each year since 2005, with approximately 6.5 million (13 percent) of public school enrollees being served under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Public preschool programs rely a multitude of funding sources, but are still often underfunded or limited in the number of slots they can offer. A new report from ReadyNation suggests a new source of funding pre-K programs: social impact finance bonds. This “pay for success” model operates by offering private investors the opportunity to buy early learning bonds that will pay for pre-K services for children at risk of school failure. Investors would reap the economic benefits that come from investing in early childhood education, particularly the decreased costs for special education down the road. The report’s economic theories are discussed in layman’s terms by bloggers Tim Bartik at Investing in Kids and Paul Nyhan at Birth to Thrive.

A recent NPR article discusses a study examining if how a preschool teacher read to students could affect literacy outcomes. Researchers studied two groups of teachers working with at-risk preschoolers, with one group serving as a control group and the other making a few changes to how they read to students. These teachers used questions, phrases, and gestures to draw children’s attention specifically to the printed letters on the page and how words move from left to right to make up a story, with the hypothesis being that children who focused on such mechanics of reading would be at an advantage when it came to learning how to read themselves. Following the children through first grade, the researchers that this was indeed the case, although others caution that these effects may fade out over time. NIEER has more about literacy practices in the preschool classroom in this policy brief.

A new book from Harvard professor Paul Harris suggests that young children learn from dialogue with adults far more than was previously thought, especially regarding subjects for which they have no first-hand observations. While a preschooler’s’ endless stream of “why?” questions can try a caregiver’s nerves, Harris notes that these are not simply attention-getting ploys but information-seeking strategies. In an interview with Salon, Dr. Harris says, “When children ask questions and you answer them, that is actually a setting for a sustained dialogue, and they’re trying to get clear in their minds about a particular issue that’s confusing to them or bothering them.” But, Harris says, these sustained dialogues between caregivers and children ages 2 to 5 are often sacrificed for the sake of hands-on learning opportunities even when children may get more out of the dialogue. And, Dr. Harris also found that certain demographics lie behind the quality of interactions between caregivers and children - children from low-income families are less likely than those from middle-income families to ask questions, higher educated mothers were more likely to spend time in dialogue with their children, and children at home were more likely to have time to dialogue with an adult than those enrolled in preschool, suggesting that more individual teacher-child conversations are needed in the pre-K classroom.

It’s being dubbed the “Goldilocks effect” -- researchers from the University of Rochester who studied infants’ attention span found visual stimuli that were too simple or too complex held 7- to 8-month-old infants’ interest for less time than those of moderate complexity. The study’s authors conclude that “infants actively seek to maintain an intermediate level of information absorption, avoiding allocating cognitive resources to either overly predictable or overly surprising events.” This can inform pedagogical practice on how new information is presented to students, particularly as these findings are consistent with past studies, including those on how adults learn language skills.

Yesterday The Wall Street Journal wrote about the importance of preschool education for lessening the achievement gap and putting children on the right track toward college and career paths. The Journal quoted Los Angeles Universal Preschool (LAUP) CEO Celia Ayala as saying that children who attend pre-K “enter kindergarten ready to thrive” and over their lifetimes, these children will see “their income level will radically improve” as a result. A long-time pre-K advocate, Dr. Ayala wrote a piece for NIEER’s blog last year about the potential of preschool education to significantly benefit children from minority and immigrant backgrounds in particular.

New on Preschool Matters...Today!

In this blog post, NIEER Senior Research Fellow Jim Squires takes a look at state-funded pre-K in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.


The U.S. Department of Education released these guidelines to provide clarifications and assistance to state and local administrators and other stakeholders regarding the use of federal Title I funds to implement early childhood education programs.

This position statement, jointly released by the National Association for the Education of Young Children and the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media, examines best practices for using classroom technology to benefit the youngest learners.

This toolkit from ReadyNation (an initiative of America’s Promise Alliance) gives users a set of resources, including videos and briefs, to help convey the neuroscience behind early learning.

This report from the Brookings Institution discusses the reasons behind the achievement gap between children from low-income families and those from middle- and high-income families. The author also examines three potential interventions - home-visiting programs, preschool education, and smoking cessation campaigns - for lessening this gap and evaluates the effectiveness of each.

NIEER Activities

The State of Preschool 2011 co-author Jim Squires recently wrote opinion pieces about state-funded pre-K in Vermont and Massachusetts in the Burlington Free Press and The Boston Globe respectively.

NIEER’s Milagros Nores spoke to participants at the Education Writers Association about the benefits of investing in pre-K. Her presentation is available on our website.

Last week the Center for Partnership Studies (CPS) held a workshop on its Social Wealth Indicators Project, with opening remarks by CPS President Riane Eisler and Elizabeth Boris from the Urban Institute. NIEER Director Steven Barnett spoke on recommendations for preschool indicators.

Our State Preschool Yearbooks would not be possible without the help of state pre-K administrators, so NIEER researchers will once again join them at the annual meeting of the National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education (NAECS-SDE) next week in Indianapolis to learn about new developments in state pre-K. In the closing keynote address, NIEER’s Dr. Barnett will discuss findings from this year’s report.


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.

Thursday, June 14, 2012 - 3:00pm

This webinar will walk participants through using ReadyNation's materials to discuss the brain science behind early childhood development.

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.

Friday, July 13, 2012 - 10:00am

Canterbury, England - This conference provides participants with an opportunity to examine and reflect on current provisions for infants in child care. 

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."

Monday, July 16, 2012 to Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Ann Arbor, MI - This data workshop will focus on large national studies and how these datasets can be used to influence research and policy in the early childhood education field.

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.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012 to Friday, November 9, 2012

St. Louis, MO - This international Parents as Teachers conference provides participants with the opportunity to network with each other and learn from workshops and presentations.

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 31, 2012
(The Wall Street Journal)

Can finger-painting, cup-stacking and learning to share set you up for a stellar career?  Research says yes, according to Dr. Celia Ayala, chief executive officer of Los Angeles Universal Preschool, a nonprofit that funds 325 schools in Los Angeles County, Calif., using money from tobacco taxes.

Thursday, May 31, 2012
(The Birmingham News)

Alabama state government could save millions of dollars in future prison and crime costs by investing more in pre-K education, according to a report released today by the nonpartisan, anti-crime organization Fight Crime: Invest in Kids.

Thursday, May 31, 2012
(Schooldays.ie (Blackrock, Co Dublin, Ireland))

The government-funded Growing Up in Ireland study is to be extended in order to include new research into the benefits of universal free preschool places.

Thursday, May 31, 2012
(KYW Newsradio, Philadelphia, PA)

Quality preschool for lower-income children hangs in the balance as the Pennsylvania budget is debated, and an advocate for it makes the case that this program benefits all of us.

Thursday, May 31, 2012
(The Florida Times-Union)

The increases are due to a state rule that took effect in December requiring teachers to have specific degrees to instruct the toddlers and pre-kindergarten students. Until now, Georgia has been one of the few states to allow untrained adults in the preschool classrooms.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012
(WAVY TV, Portsmouth, VA)

Days before a North Carolina appeals court takes up whether every needy child must be given pre-kindergarten education, state lawmakers are walking back from language that prompted a lawsuit.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012
(Early Years blog at Education Week)

Arkansas needs to expand access to quality prekindergarten and child-care programs to serve more of its most vulnerable families, according to a new report.  The report "Pre-k: Access to Success in Arkansas" was prepared by senior policy analyst Paul Kelly of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, a nonprofit advocacy organization.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012
(Bloomberg Businessweek)

A coalition of companies and organizations urged government policymakers to erase a shortage of preschooling for underprivileged children, saying about one-third of the state's pupils leave kindergarten ill-prepared to begin first grade.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012
(The Florida Times-Union)

The payoff in public education is greatest at the youngest years. For public education that means pre-K programs.  While Florida has increased access dramatically, quality has not kept pace.

Sunday, May 27, 2012
(St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

When written in the late 1990s, the guidelines for the new Missouri Preschool Project declared on their first page that grant applications would be funded for three years.  The phrase "three-year period" was even highlighted with bold print, drawing special attention to the fact that the grants were intended as a short-term infusion for public school districts to start, expand or improve their preschools.

Saturday, May 26, 2012
(The Register-Herald, Beckley, WV)

Under West Virginia’s Universal Pre-K, preschool programs must be made available for each 4-year-old in the state by the 2012-13 school year.  In Raleigh County, where school-based pre-k programs began as early as the mid-1990s, pre-k is available at each of the 19 elementary schools and through other partnerships, like Happy Kids and Head Start, said Janet Lilly, director of elementary education.

Friday, May 25, 2012
(KARK TV, Little Rock, AR)

Arkansas has made access to quality early childhood education a priority over the last two decades, but high-quality programs for low-income families are either at full capacity or their funding has been stagnant for years.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012
(The News & Observer, Raleigh, NC)

Out of more than 1,000 questions asked during 20 primary presidential debates there was not one on an issue that military leaders have called a matter of urgent national security, economists have called critical to America’s competitive future, law enforcement officials have called a key tool in reducing crime and educators have called vital to academic success. The issue – early childhood education.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012
(The Dispatch, Columbus, MS)

Only 53 of the state's 152 school districts offer preschool, serving 11 percent of the state's four-year-olds. Those districts, like Columbus, rely on a mixture of federal and district funds to provide services they say are critical precursors to future academic success.

Monday, May 21, 2012
(Democrat and Chronicle, Rochester, NY)

New York’s school system needs to put more resources into classrooms for its youngest students, even as it develops stronger programs to prepare older students for college and the future.

Monday, May 21, 2012
(WZVN TV, Naples, FL)

Next year the school district is adding four new programs for exceptional education services at Heights Elementary, Tortuga Preserve Elementary, Harns Marsh Middle, and Challenger Middle.  Pre-Kindergarten teacher at Veterans Park Academy for the Arts in Lehigh Acres, 33-year-old Harold Price, did not have those types of services growing up.

Sunday, May 20, 2012
(Detroit Free Press)

Despite the growing support, the change still has opponents, who point out that the schools would lose funding. And some educators say the change isn't necessary and may end up hurting children who won't have access to a good preschool program while they wait to enroll in kindergarten.

Friday, May 18, 2012
(Idaho Press-Tribune)

The cornerstone of the P16 project is its preschool program for kids ages 3 to 5, which prepares them for school before they enter kindergarten or first grade.  The students learn to count and recognize the alphabet, but perhaps even more important, they learn appropriate classroom behavior — how to listen to the teacher and share with other students, for example.