Volume 11, Issue 2

January 27, 2012

Hot Topics

This month Developmental Psychology published results from a follow-up study with the participants of the 1970s Abecedarian Project, which involved children from low-income families being randomly assigned to receive a early childhood education intervention or not. Conducted by the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, the new study examined outcomes at age 30 from 101 of the 111 children in the original project. Those who had attended preschool were four times more likely to have college degrees and be consistently employed full-time. They were also less likely to need public assistance.
Also working with the now-adult participants from the Abecedarian Project, a new study specifically looked at the health benefits of pre-K, focusing on three health measures and 11 behavioral risk factors. Researchers from the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University examined the study participants on a number of health issues, such as health problems since adolescence, tobacco and drug use, depression, hospitalizations, and access to primary care, and found that those that had been enrolled in pre-K as children were healthier and exhibited less risky health behaviors than those that did not. These differences were seen as early as age 21. Dr. Peter Muennig, one of the study's authors, noted that early childhood education "interventions may be more cost effective than many traditional medical and public health approaches to improving population health."
One in eight low-income parents are watering down infant formula in an effort to keep their youngest fed. That's even with the help of government food assistance programs, according to a new survey conducted by the Pediatric Primary Care Center of the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. Of the 65 percent of surveyed families who ran out of infant formula monthly, others dealt with the problem by feeding their infants less often. This is a troubling trend, given that poor nutrition early in life can set children on a path toward health and cognitive problems. NIEER discussed some of the issues surrounding food insecurity and preschoolers in this blog post a few months ago.
MSNBC reports that a recently released study found babies use their eyes as well as their ears to learn language. The study, conducted by researchers at the Florida Atlantic University, involved infants aged four to 12 months viewing videos of women speaking in the infant’s home language. The youngest infants would focus on the speaker’s eyes while older infants (those beginning to babble on their own) would watch the speaker's mouth. Once infants became more confident in their native language around 10 months old, they would again focus on the speaker's eyes.

The study also had infants view videos of women speaking a foreign language. The results were similar except that infants would continue to focus on the speaker's mouth until they were 12 months old, indicating that they were less familiar with this language and trying to get a handle on it. The study's authors conclude that the results can be beneficial in diagnosing autism earlier because if infants are still focusing on lip reading in their native language after their first birthday, they may not be developing language skills properly.
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) is currently considering re-writing its definition of autism. APA's plan is to establish a new category known as "autism spectrum disorder" and include previously separate disorders – Asperger's syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder – within this category. To meet a diagnosis under the revised definition, a person would have to display three social communication and interaction deficits as well as a minimum of two repetitive behaviors. In addition, these symptoms must be present in early childhood and impair daily life. Both proponents and critics of the change say that the new definition will reduce the rate of diagnoses. Critics fear that the proposed changes will make it harder for those currently diagnosed with autism to continue receiving special services such as early intervention and educational programs. If accepted, the changes will go into effect in May 2013.
Sara Mead, blogging for Education Week, compared Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC) scores with state-funded pre-K enrollment data from NIEER's The State of Preschool 2010 and suggests there is a negative correlation between the two. States that received high scores from RTT-ELC reviewers were more likely to be those that did not enroll a large percent of their 3- and 4-year-olds in state pre-K. Of the nine RTT-ELC winners, none enrolled even 20 percent of their preschoolers, and six enrolled less than 10 percent. Florida, Oklahoma, Vermont, and West Virgina – the four applying states with the highest enrollment percentages – all received less than 220 points on their applications out of a possible 280, while winning states all received more than 240 points. Concludes Mead, "Early Learning Challenge is NOT about pre-K."
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan suggested in an interview this month with Education Week that the next Race to the Top competition would bypass states and directly involve districts. An additional $550 million would be up for grabs, but Duncan did not specify details yet on what qualifications would be used to score districts. However, he did muse that early childhood education could be a component.

New on Preschool Matters...Today!

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's (OECD) recently released report and this week's roundtable, in which NIEER Director Steve Barnett participated, are the focus of this blog post.

NIEER Activities

Dr. Alissa Lange, Assistant Research Professor at NIEER, recently joined a Rutgers project to collaborate with the local community. She plans to design and implement a series of math and science story times at the local library to engage children 3 to 6 years old in these important subject matters.
This month NIEER received an additional grant from the Jacobs Foundation to press on with a study of pre-K effectiveness and school readiness in Colombia. Dr. Milagros Nores, Assistant Research Professor at NIEER, heads this ongoing study.


February 15, 2012 - February 16, 2012
Washington, DC - At this second summit on home-visiting programs, participants will explore the policy and practice behind the topic.
March 10, 2012 - March 10, 2012
New York, NY - This event will feature workshops and speakers discussing the developmental needs of children and how educators can effectively teach the youngest learners.
March 14, 2012 - March 16, 2012
Salt Lake City, UT - At this conference, participants will learn about and discuss research and best practices involving the use of technology in early childhood education.
March 25, 2012 - March 27, 2012
San Diego, CA - This conference draws together national and international participants to discuss issues of relevance to family literacy.
March 28, 2012 - March 31, 2012
Washington, DC - This conference will challenge attendees to consider how to provide a positive childhood experience for the youth of the world.
April 12, 2012 - April 14, 2012
Dublin, Ireland - This conference will provide participants with the opportunity to engage in an interdisciplinary discussion about the development of Froebel's educational philosophy.
April 16, 2012 - April 21, 2012
Nashville, TN - This annual conference will feature valuable sessions for all those who work to ensure vulnerable children and families have what they need to succeed in school and life.
April 30, 2012 - May 3, 2012
Greensboro, NC - This conference provides professional development for early care and education leaders dedicated to improving access to and the quality of early childhood programs.
May 10, 2012 - May 12, 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.
June 10, 2012 - 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.
June 18, 2012 - June 19, 2012
Tallinn, Estonia - This conference will explore research on children's need for undirected time and space for play.

Early Education News Roundup

January 26, 2012
The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, LA
A plan to rework Louisiana's uncoordinated system of prekindergarten and early childhood education programs is tucked in the list of Gov. Bobby Jindal's education agenda for the upcoming legislative session. The proposals would grade preschools, streamline governance and yank funding for underperforming programs.
January 25, 2012
The New York Times
Like President Obama, many reformers focus their dropout prevention efforts on high schoolers; replacing large high schools with smaller learning communities where poor students can get individualized instruction from dedicated teachers has been shown to be effective. Rigorous evidence gathered over decades suggests that some of the most promising approaches need to start even earlier: preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds, who are fed and taught in small groups, followed up with home visits by teachers and with group meetings of parents; reducing class size in the early grades; and increasing teacher salaries from kindergarten through 12th grade.
January 25, 2012
Fronteras: The Changing America Desk, Phoenix, AZ
There is a wealth of evidence that early education is key when it comes to narrowing the achievement gap between Latino children and their peers. But across the country and this region, access to quality affordable preschool is lacking.
January 24, 2012
From Mozart in the womb to Chinese lessons in preschool, there are many parents eager to give their kids a jump-start on the sort of smarts our modern-day lifestyle equates with success.
January 22, 2012
The News Dispatch, Michigan City, IN
State Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage, has authored legislation for the 2012 session that aims to give every Hoosier child the benefits of a kindergarten education. Parents would need to register their children for at least a half-day kindergarten program by the fall term of the school year in which the student turns 6.
January 22, 2012
The Christian Science Monitor
She is not alone in her concerns. In recent years, child development experts, parents, and scientists have been sounding an increasingly urgent alarm about the decreasing amount of time that children – and adults, for that matter – spend playing. A combination of social forces, from a No Child Left Behind focus on test scores to the push for children to get ahead with programmed extracurricular activities, leaves less time for the roughhousing, fantasizing, and pretend worlds advocates say are crucial for development.
January 21, 2012
Battle Creek Enquirer, Battle Creek, MI
We understand the budgetary constraints that all governments face. But cutting back on efforts to ensure a better educated populace surely will backfire. Strong schools help create a skilled work force, which in turn yields contributing, taxpaying citizens.
January 20, 2012
The News & Observer, Raleigh, NC
Poor children who get high-quality day care as early as infancy reap long-lasting benefits, including a better chance at a college degree and steady employment, according to a UNC-Chapel Hill study that followed participants from birth to age 30.
January 19, 2012
The Salt Lake Tribune
Early-childhood education, whether it takes place in the home or in a preschool or both, is the foundation of a productive academic experience. Like the foundation of a house, it must be put in place properly or the structure that follows is undermined. And trying to repair it later is usually futile.
January 19, 2012
Orlando Sentinel
About 2,100 of Florida's pre-kindergarten providers — 35 percent of the total — likely will be on probation this year because not enough of their graduates tested ready for kindergarten this past fall, state data shows.
January 18, 2012
The Beacon-Villager, Maynard, MA
While early education advocates on Tuesday cheered the receipt of $50 million in federal grant money to support pre-kindergarten programs, officials acknowledged that funding remains the key impediment to access for many families across the state.
January 17, 2012
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
The expansion in public prekindergarten programs has slowed and even been reversed in some states as school districts cope with shrinking budgets. As a result, many 3- and 4-year-olds aren't going to preschool.
January 17, 2012
Miami Herald
A sweeping new state audit has found widespread problems with a more than $1 billion program responsible for helping the state's pre-school children.
January 17, 2012
Rutgers Focus
Figueras-Daniel – a research project coordinator for the National Institute for Early Education Research at the Rutgers’ Graduate School of Education who is working on a doctorate in education policy – has seen firsthand the positive impact dual-language immersion programs have on preschoolers. Early exposure to a second language enhances cognitive abilities, such as self-regulation skills.


This publication from the Harvard Family Research Project provides an overview of resources – including journal articles, presentations, and webinars – to help guide states and districts in implementing family engagement policies.
This issue brief from the New America Foundation provides an analysis of fiscal year 2012 funding appropriations for federal education programs.
This report from the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) provides state-by-state information on developments in early childhood education including new legislation or initiatives, significant funding increases or decreases, and other policy changes.