Volume 11, Issue 19

Friday, September 7, 2012

Hot Topics

Over the past few weeks, the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA) has formally presented its public policy agenda for 2012 several times. The agenda includes numerous policy recommendations on six main issues: education, civil rights, immigration, economic security and improvement, health, and government accountability. An accompanying report contains NHLA’s recommendations regarding early childhood education, which include increased government support for federal initiatives such as Head Start and IDEA, additional supports to ensure effective teaching practices tailored to the needs of English language learners (ELLs), and the establishment of a universal preschool program. NHLA made these recommendations in light of the fact that Latino children attend preschool at lower rates that other children, something NIEER has pointed out in the past. And, NHLA is not the only group making such recommendations - the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) also recently called for increased investment in early childhood education when releasing a series of reports about best practices for serving preschool-age Latinos and ELLs as well as their families.

Years of research have indicated the importance of pretend play for children’s healthy development as one component of a supportive environment, a stance that NIEER has supported in the past. But a new review of the current research questions strong causal claims about the unique value of pretend play. After examining 40 years’ worth of studies, researchers at the University of Virginia note a lack of supporting evidence for an exclusive cause-and-effect between imaginative play and abilities including creativity, intelligence, and problem-solving, executive function, and social skills.  As is often the case, it is difficult to tease out direct causal relationships when many factors go into a child’s development, particularly if a study’s methodology is not rigorous. Readers should note that the study does not conclude that pretend play is not an important contributor to child development. The lead investigator, Angeline Lillard, noted that pretend play is important to the healthy development of young children.

A new study suggests that children who are shy do not excel in the preschool classroom to the same degree as their more outgoing peers. Published in the Journal of School Psychology, the study examined how social-emotional development and problem behaviors affect children’s learning in the preschool years. Led by the University of Miami’s Rebecca Bulotsky-Shearer, researchers assessed 4,417 children in Head Start programs for emotional and behavioral problems at the beginning of the program year and assessed their literacy and math skills throughout the year. Children who were classified as socially disengaged and withdrawn exhibited increases in both literacy and math skills throughout the year but had started the year at a disadvantage academically compared to other children in the classroom, thus leaving them behind their more well-adjusted peers. The researchers surmise that this is because shy children “initiate fewer social interactions with teachers and peers, and … these interactions are crucial to the learning process in early childhood classrooms, where instruction is highly socially mediated by teachers and peers.” In addition, externalized behavioral problems that are disruptive to the classroom tend to receive more attention from teachers, whereas shy children may simply fall under the radar. The study’s authors conclude with policy recommendations to support social-emotional development and address behavioral problems in the classroom, two topics addressed by NIEER policy fact sheets.

A new report from the Center for American Progress makes comparisons between the United States, China, and India regarding economic investments in human capital. The authors find that the U.S. made significant infrastructure investments in public health and education in the past, thereby promoting economic growth, but such investments have since stagnated. They write in the report’s executive summary, “To position the United States for the future, substantial investments are needed in research, infrastructure, and education. ... The overwhelming economic evidence points to education—and human capital investments, generally—as the key drivers of economic competitiveness in the long term. … And educational investment is particularly important in early childhood development and learning, according to growth economists. The return on investment from interventions such as prenatal care and early childhood programs is higher than for virtually any class of financial assets over time … ” However, many preschool-age children are not enrolled in preschool and there is no national plan to offer universal preschool or otherwise increase access to early childhood education programs. The report, titled “The Competition that Really Matters: Comparing U.S., Chinese, and Indian Investments in the Next-Generation Workforce,” and its findings have had a high profile in the press, including an op-ed column in The New York Times.

Long-time readers of NIEER’s online newsletter are aware of Leandro v. State, North Carolina’s decades-long court case on education funding in which Superior Court Judge Howard Manning, Jr. ruled that children are entitled to a preschool education based on the state’s constitutional requirement to provide a basic education for all children. When the state slashed the number of children who could be served in North Carolina’s pre-K initiative in 2011 to help balance the budget, Judge Manning ruled that this was unconstitutional and must be remedied. However, Judge Manning’s ruling was challenged by the state legislature, and the Court of Appeals began hearing arguments in June of this year.

The ruling from the State Court of Appeals came down at the end of August, upholding Judge Manning’s previous ruling in 2011 that the legislative changes limiting access to a pre-K education for low-income children violated the state’s constitution. However, the ruling did not include specific mandates on where the state should go from here regarding pre-K expansion or legislation, and the North Carolina General Assembly still has the option of appealing to the state Supreme Court. Nevertheless, early education advocates are viewing the ruling as a win for disadvantaged young children. As detailed in this litigation update from the Education Law Center, Leandro is just one of many legal challenges to the constitutionality of state education policies including funding, and the need for quality preschool education features prominently in a number of cases.


This three-part series from the Early Head Start National Resource Center examines key developmental skills that help infants and toddlers learn, including self-regulation, attention and curiosity, and persistence and problem-solving.

This newly launched web page from the U.S. Department of Education provides a multitude of resources about involving families in their children’s education.

Following up on their 2009 report “Why Isn’t Johnny in Preschool?”, this report from Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI) provides case studies of parent-led pilot programs working to increase enrollment in early childhood education programs.

This annual report from Save the Children examines each state’s disaster preparedness plans for children in child care centers and schools, looking for four basic safety standards and finding that only 17 states met all four in 2012.

NIEER Activities

NIEER Director Steve Barnett recently returned from Guatemala where he visited programs, met with policymakers and educators, and spoke at several universities.  In Guatemala, as elsewhere in the world, many children are not developing to their full potential due to a lack of quality early educational experiences, formal or informal.  One of Dr. Barnett’s Spanish language presentations on the importance of public investments in early education is available here.   


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, September 19, 2012 - 3:00pm

This webinar will explore best practices in choosing and implementing curricula for preschool through third grade.

Friday, October 5, 2012 - 8:00am

Dearborn, MI - This conference will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Perry Preschool Study and provide attendees with opportunities to learn more about pre-K evaluations.

Saturday, October 6, 2012 to Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Fort Lauderdale, FL – The theme for this year's National Black Child Development Institute conference is “Fulfilling the Promise:  Our Children Deserve the Best.”

Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - 3:00pm

This webinar will examine how observational tools are used to improve teacher effectiveness in pre-K through third grade classrooms.

Sunday, October 28, 2012 to Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Portland, OR - At this conference, participants will learn about evidence-based best practices in the education field.

Sunday, November 4, 2012 to Wednesday, November 7, 2012

State College, PA - This conference examines theories behind early childhood education, focusing on a wide range of underpinning concepts, including those that are frequently marginalized in the field.

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.

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."

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, December 5, 2012 - 3:00pm

This webinar will explore issues related to child assessments in preschool through third grade, including case studies from schools and districts with comprehensive assessment systems.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013 - 3:00pm

This webinar examines the preschool through third grade approach and how to build a comprehensive infrastructure to support that continuum.

Friday, March 1, 2013 to Saturday, March 2, 2013

Denver, CO - This conference will explore a variety of issues related to early childhood education and care.

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.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013 to Friday, April 19, 2013

New York, NY - The 10th annual Young Child Expo & Conference will bring together early childhood professionals and parents to learn the latest information about early childhood development.

Early Education News Roundup

Thursday, September 6, 2012
(The Connecticut Mirror)

An estimated 4,965 children -- or one of  every six 3- and 4-year-olds -- in the state's poorest and lowest-achieving districts do not attend preschool each year because the existing state-subsidized preschool programs are full, according to a report prepared by the State Department of Education.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012
(Asbury Park Press)

If it’s true that everything we need to know we learned in kindergarten, early childhood education plays a pretty important role in our lives, educators say. Where children decades ago may have spent hours poring over writing and math texts and worksheets, experts today say that how children learn is as important as what they learn, and social development has to be a part of the big picture.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012
(The Holland Sentinel, Holland, MI)

Putting our youngest students on the same funding formula basis as older ones would be a big step at eliminating this silly and damaging disconnect between what we know to be true — and what Michigan government does instead.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012
(Get Schooled blog at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Pre-k is funded by the Georgia Lottery, which also underwrites the HOPE Scholarship. A new report by the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute questions the funding ratio used to dispense lottery dollars to pre-k and HOPE.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012
(Hartford Courant)

Who should pick up the bill when suburban parents send their preschool children to magnet schools as part of an effort to reduce racial isolation?  As it is now, the state pays most of the bill, about $13,500 per student at preschools run through the Capitol Region Education Council, with school districts paying about a quarter of that.

Monday, September 3, 2012
(Pioneer Press, Saint Paul, MN)

Districts are investing in early-learning programs with an eye on long-term savings. Students who attend preschool programs have better achievement and need fewer special services in later grades.

Monday, September 3, 2012
(Orlando Sentinel)

Youngsters in Florida's pre-kindergarten program this month will take a new test of early literacy, language and math skills, sitting one-on-one with their teachers to answer questions and point to pictures.  The kids are to take the Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten Assessment again at the end of their pre-K year —hopefully showing improvement on how well they identify letters, count objects and answer questions.

Saturday, September 1, 2012
(The Spokesman-Review, Spokane, WA)

Numerous studies show a clear and immediate advantage of full-day over half-day kindergarten; there are significant gains in math and reading by the end of the school year, especially among low-income children and second-language learners, leaving students better prepared to start first grade.

Friday, August 31, 2012
(Rome Sentinel, Rome, NY)

It’s a common, and fair, question: Does spending money on public preschool programs really pay off for taxpayers?  It’s also a question that can be answered definitively: Yes.

Thursday, August 30, 2012
(Iowa State Daily)

To fit into recent state and federal educational reform efforts, Iowa State’s newly created School of Education has a new focus: early childhood literacy.

Monday, August 27, 2012
(WZZM, Grand Rapids, MI)

Earlier this year, the State of Michigan gave public schools the option: offer full-day, everyday kindergarten, or lose half their state funding for each kindergarten student in their district.  Many school administrators weren't necessarily against the move, but against the timing.

Saturday, August 25, 2012
(The Indianapolis Star)

Why so much certainty about the value of preschool? The scientific research, conducted over decades and collected in a variety of settings, clearly shows the value of high-quality preschool programs, especially for children from low-income families.