Volume 11, Issue 16

Friday, July 27, 2012

Hot Topics

This week, The Annie E. Casey Foundation released the 2012 edition of their Kids Count annual report, measuring states’ commitment to children and youth in four areas: education, economic well-being, family and community, and health. The report unfolds a mixed bag of results, with increasing rates of child poverty and parents without secure employment while education and health measures showed some improvement. In a press release, Foundation CEO and President Patrick McCarthy said, “While we’ve made progress in some important areas, we must work together to make sure every child, not just a select few, has the opportunity to succeed.” Echoing NIEER’s findings in The State of Preschool report that pre-K access and quality varies greatly from state to state, the Foundation’s associate director for policy reform and data Laura Speer noted, “[The data] also show that a child’s success depends not only on individual, family and community resources, but also on the state where he or she grows up.” The findings also reveal disparities based on race and ethnicity, including in regards to preschool enrollment. Due to differences in methodology, Kids Count data on preschool enrollment are not comparable to NIEER’s State of Preschool data, which reports enrollment in state-funded pre-K programs.

The Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics--which brings together 22 federal agencies to report data on child and family welfare--recently released its “America’s Children in Brief: Key National Indicators of Well-Being” report. The report provides data on a number of factors with important influence on early childhood education, including racial and linguistic demographics, poverty, parental employment, and time spent reading to young children. In a blog post for the New America Foundation, Clare McCann shines a light on the importance of these data: “In discussing early education, focusing solely on child care and schools lets a lot fall by the wayside. Children must be viewed in the context of their families and social worlds to determine what each child needs to succeed...” NIEER has also written on issues of health, economic mobility, and linguistic diversity

It started with Kevin Drum of Mother Jones writing about the results of a new study on early childhood interventions. Drum concluded that if lack of money is the only concern about investing in early childhood education, funding for K-12 should be diverted. “We'd be better off with 100% more pre-K and 20% less K-12 than we are with our current funding priorities,” he wrote. Matt Yglesias of Slate took that quote as the starting point for his own article questioning the effectiveness of pre-K versus K-12 education. Drum responded with a second article, outlining some more of his thoughts on why pre-K investment is a smart move.

Earlier this week, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke spoke on the importance of early childhood education in a prepared video statement for a Children’s Defense Fund conference. Citing scholarly work from NIEER researchers and others, Bernanke said, “Economically speaking, early childhood programs are a good investment, with inflation-adjusted annual rates of return on the funds dedicated to these programs estimated to reach 10 percent or higher. Very few alternative investments can promise that kind of return.” He also noted that the Federal Reserve has been a long-time support of preschool education; indeed, economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis having been publicly calling for investment in pre-K for years. 

The latest report from the Urban Institute shows that the federal government decreased spending on children’s programs by $2 billion from fiscal year 2010 to fiscal year 2011. With funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) due to expire, funding is likely to continue to drop for programs benefiting children, such as Medicaid, Special Education, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and Title I. This is the first time since the 1980s that funding for children’s programs has dropped and it occurred at the same time that the overall federal budget increased. Education programs took a particularly large hit with a $5 billion decrease in federal funding.

If automatic spending cuts are indeed triggered as called for in the Budget Control Act of 2011, programs benefiting children will suffer in other ways. A new report from Senator Tom Harkin’s office outlines how sequestration would lead to job losses in fields such as education and health. Senator Harkin estimates that approximately 46,000 employees currently employed through Title I, special education, and Head Start funds could lose their jobs. Amongst the other federal initiatives that could face across-the-board cuts are the Child Care Development Block Grant, the Maternal and Child Health Block Grant, Childhood Immunization Grants, School Improvement Grants, Improving Teacher Quality State Grants, and English Language Acquisition State Grants. The report includes state-by-state tables showing the impact of program cuts to each state. Anthony Miller, Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, also issued a letter to chief state school officers clarifying the potential effects of sequestration on education programs.

In a commentary for The Hartford Courant, early childhood education researcher Jeffrey Trawick-Smith points out that in many preschool classrooms, literacy activities outweigh those related to math. In fact, one study out of Vanderbilt University found that pre-K math pedagogy averages only 2.5 percent of classroom instructional time. This is despite evidence that early math skills have been found to be better predictors of school success than early literacy skills. NIEER’s researchers provide insights on teaching math to preschoolers in a 2008 policy brief (published by the Society for Research in Child Development) and a 2009 policy brief.

A host of studies released in the past two months highlight what works and what doesn’t when it comes to early reading skills. Researchers in Northern Ireland found that volunteer tutors had only limited effectiveness in teaching an array of literacy skills to 8- and 9-year-old children; a report out of New Mexico found that only 12 percent of third graders retained for lack of literacy skills gained those skills in the following year; and the Institute of Education Sciences reported that a curriculum designed for special education students in pre-K through second grade was not effective and perhaps even damaging to those students’ development of reading skills. Taken all together, this body of research indicates that children need early and effective instruction in order to become proficient in literacy skills. A NIEER policy brief describes some best practices for introducing literacy learning in the preschool classroom.

A new study from the University of Montreal found a correlation between children’s early television watching habits and their later physical health characteristics. After studying more than 1,300 children longitudinally, researchers discovered a link between the amount of TV watched by 2- to 4-year-olds and increased waist size at age 10. They also saw a decrease in children’s athletic capabilities at this later age. On average, 2-year-old children participating in the study were watching TV more than 8 hours per week, despite recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) that children at this age should not watch any TV. The study found that 4-year-olds view an average of 14 hours of television each week, consistent with the AAP recommendation that children of this age watch no more than one to two hours of TV per day.

Resources

This brief from ReadyNation, a project of America’s Promise Alliance, looks at economist Timothy Bartik’s 2011 book Investing in Kids and relays some key points from it regarding the economic development role of early childhood education, particularly as regards early education’s workforce. 

This report from the Committee on Economic Development highlights the economic benefits of investing in early childhood education programs and calls on business leaders to become more active advocates of these programs.

This interactive site from the North Carolina Partnership for Children, Inc. provides facts about the benefits of investing in early childhood education, with a focus on North Carolina's programs.

This report from the National Center for Homeless Education, U.S. Department of Education, provides data on the number of homeless children enrolled in school during the 2010-2011 school year, finding the total was more than one million, including some 36,000 preschoolers. 

Calendar

Wednesday, September 19, 2012 to Friday, September 21, 2012

Panama City Beach, FL - This conference will explore how workforce data can inform the early childhood education field to improve policies and practices for serving young children.

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."

Wednesday, November 28, 2012 to Saturday, December 1, 2012

Los Angeles, CA - This training institute will provide attendees with the latest information on early childhood policy, practice, and science.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013 to Saturday, March 23, 2013

Clearwater, FL - At this conference, attendees will participate in workshops providing information on best practices for supporting children's social-emotional development.

Early Education News Roundup

Friday, July 27, 2012
(TIME)

Nationally, about three-quarters of 4-year-olds attend some type of public or private pre-k program. But experts estimate that fewer than half of Mississippi's 4-year-olds are in pre-k, most of whom attend federally funded Head Start programs, which target low-income families.

Thursday, July 26, 2012
(The New York Times)

The Congressional Budget Office estimated last year that the automatic cuts would slice $590 million from federal spending on Head Start, which will be more than $7.9 billion in 2012.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012
(Santa Fe New Mexican)

An emphasis on literacy at the pre-kindergarten and kindergarten levels might lead to fewer students struggling to read by the time they reach third grade.  And retaining children who cannot read by the end of third grade doesn’t really pay off in terms of improving their literacy skills.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012
(Early Years blog at Education Week)

The Annie E. Casey Foundation's annual Kids Count report is out and shows that 53 percent of U.S. children who were 3 and 4-year-olds did not participate in preschool in the three years spanning 2008-2010. While that means that fewer than half of our youngest learners were enrolled in a preschool program, that participation rate was an improvement over the previous three-year period, when 56 percent did not attend preschool, according to the report.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012
(The Providence Journal)

Rhode Island is expanding its prekindergarten program to three sites in Central Falls, West Warwick and Woonsocket.  The state education department, which oversees the program, says it will serve eight communities beginning in September. Statewide, 144 spots are still available.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012
(Real Time Economics blog at The Wall Street Journal)

Educating children starting at an early age increases their opportunities and benefits the larger economy, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said in a video prepared to be shown Tuesday.

Friday, July 20, 2012
(Asbury Park Press)

[Jamie Montanye’s] among a growing number of parents sending their children, particularly their boys, to kindergarten at 6 years old instead of the traditional age of 5.  It’s a practice known as “redshirting” — a term culled from the practice of postponing college athletes’ participation in competitive games.

Friday, July 20, 2012
(Lincoln Journal Star)

Stepping up the education of children in their first five years of life just makes good business sense, a representative of statewide business leaders told the Legislature's long-range planning committee Friday.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012
(Southeast Missourian)

The growth of preschool in the local districts and in schools elsewhere in Missouri may seem unlikely, considering state funding for early childhood education just took a hit during the budget process. But there are ways to make it happen, say local administrators, along with a commissioner of the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012
(Early Years blog at Education Week)

As states move to create or improve early education programs, policymakers need to start thinking about how communication technologies and interactive media can fit into the broad picture.  That's the message of a new report by Lisa Guernsey, director of the New America Foundation's Early Education Initiative, who frequently writes about technology and early education.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012
(The Arizona Republic)

Head Start critics say the preschool program is required to do too much with too little and is bogged down by more than 1,200 federal regulations.  “They ask it to do way more things than it can do with the money that they give it. And that’s a huge problem,” said Steven Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012
(Forbes)

The PNC Foundation focuses its philanthropic mission on education, especially early childhood education, and community and economic development, which includes arts and culture. Grow Up Great ... is a $350 million, multi-year, bilingual initiative that began in 2004 to help prepare children from birth to age 5 for success in school and life.

Monday, July 16, 2012
(The Daily Journal, San Mateo, CA)

Fewer spots will be available for the youngest possible students in the coming fall due to state cuts, but the changes will allow for most facilities to remain open.  Throughout California, early education programs have consistently been on the chopping blocks despite the continuous release of studies supporting the benefits of an early investment.

Monday, July 16, 2012
(The New York Times)

New York State’s program of special education services to prekindergarten children with learning, developmental or other disabilities clearly needs stronger oversight. The program has been beset by rising costs, conflicts of interest and outright fraud in private companies providing these services.