Volume 11, Issue 25

Friday, November 30, 2012

Hot Topics

In one of his first speeches post-election, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan described some of the Obama administration’s plans for education over the next four years. While the focus was largely on K-12 education, Secretary Duncan did note that early childhood education “would have a prominent place in his second term,” according to Education Week. Speaking at a policy forum hosted by the Council of Chief State School Officers, Secretary Duncan also discussed reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and waivers to the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

While we’re busy collecting and analyzing data for the next State Preschool Yearbook in our series, you don’t need to despair for your early ed policy fix: The Ounce for Prevention has provided updates on policies affecting early child education and care programs designed for children from birth to age 5. Focusing on 16 states, the Ounce presents a visually appealing yet detailed profile for each state. Profile pages address policy priorities and changes, budget changes or proposals, political challenges and opportunities, coordination with elementary and secondary education, and the impacts of Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge grant.

The Advisory Committee on Head Start Research and Evaluation, established two years ago by U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, recently released their final report containing recommendations for the future of the federal Head Start and Early Head Start programs. In a letter accompanying the report’s release, Secretary Sebelius lays out 3 broad recommendations: a data-driven focus on school readiness and other key outcomes; the use of evidence-based practices; and improving continuity of services and aligning early childhood services from prenatal through age 8. Specifically, these recommendations are based on the committee’s review of studies on the effectiveness of the two programs. The recommendations are provided alongside a prioritization scheme for their implementation and are based on four elements of the Head Start/Early Head Start experience: cultural and linguistic responsiveness; family and community engagement; health and mental health; and quality teaching and learning. Several NIEER research fellows and Scientific Advisory Board members served as members on the Advisory Committee. This report comes at a time when some are wondering about what the future of Head Start will look like, especially given the recent Head Start recompetition process and fears about the looming fiscal cliff. NIEER Director W. Steven Barnett has written in the past about possible reforms to strengthen the federal Head Start program.

We’ve all been there: We put in some much time and effort in picking out the perfect gift for the young children in our lives and once they’ve opened those presents, all they want to do is play with the cardboard boxes they came in. One Ohio teacher took this lesson in children’s interests to heart and conducted an “experiment” of his own by removing toys from his preschool classroom and giving the children cardboard boxes and other reused building materials to play with instead. The results? Peter Kaser, the teacher behind this idea, told NBC News that “Not one of them complained about not having a toys and it was actually really cool because some of the quieter kids actually got to show leadership roles in projects.” Teachers at the school have seen benefits ranging from the flexing of problem-solving skills to smoother transitions with less anxiety when parents drop their children off in the morning. Kaser also emphasized that the project allowed children to use more creativity in their play, as he explained his motivation for the removal of the toys to The Huffington Post, “I just spent so many years looking at all my teaching materials and thinking that so much of them have a preassigned value to them. I wasn’t getting the imagination out of the children that I wanted.”

Kaser’s story hit the national press at the same time that The Journal of Pediatrics published the results of a small study finding that how infants play affects their neuroendocrine responses. Specifically, the randomized experiment had infants either watch a DVD or engage in interactive play with blocks for equal amounts of time and then researchers collected saliva from infants to measure their cortisol levels. Cortisol, or the “stress hormone,” is a delicate balancing act in which levels too high can be unhealthy while levels too low have been connected to antisocial behavior and consequent conduct problems. The researchers found that infants who viewed videos were more likely to have lower levels of cortisol than those who played with blocks.

A recent study followed a group of young Canadian children over several years, measuring body mass index at regular intervals to determine if children were at normal weights, overweight, or obese. Published in The Journal of Pediatrics, the study’s results indicate that children between ages 18 months and 4 years who attended center-based child care centers were more likely to be overweight or obese as 4- to 10-year-olds than those under parental care at home. Children cared for by relatives or nannies were also more likely to become overweight or obese. These findings held true even after accounting for other factors such as family income. Because nutrition is so essential to healthy development, NIEER tracks the extent to which center-based preschool programs offer nutritious meals and snacks as well as provide children and parents with information about nutrition.

60 Minutes recently featured a segment on infant and child development research out of Yale University, specifically at its Infant Cognition Center. To tease out how much of morality is innate versus learned, Yale researchers have conducted a series of experiments involving scenarios acted out by puppets followed up by infants’ selection of a puppet to play with after viewing this show. Approximately 80 percent of infants opted for the puppet that portrayed positive behaviors like helping another puppet. That is, unless the puppet helped out another puppet that the child viewed as dissimilar to his or her own self. In that case, infants’ preference was for the puppet who exhibited negative behaviors and refused to help the other puppet. This lead researchers to deduce that stereotyping - and the harmful effects of it - occurs innately. Studies with older children found that as they aged, children were more likely to be altruistic, suggesting that parenting and education played a significant role in developing a sense of fairness. These findings led 60 Minutes reporter Lesley Stahl to conclude that infants and children are just like adults - “a mix of altruism, selfishness, justice, bigotry, kindness” - while others, like pediatrician and author Claudia M. Gold, found the interpretations troubling.

New on Preschool Matters...Today!

In the second part of a two-part series, NIEER Researchers Megan Carolan and Jim Squires explore factors contributing to the significant growth of state-funded pre-K in the South.


This 10-part brief series from the National Education Policy Center examines the research base concerning various issues related to educational policy, including preschool, Common Core standards, and teacher evaluations.

This guide from the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, the Alliance for Childhood, and Teachers Resisting Unhealthy Children’s Entertainment discusses the research base on children’s use of technology and then provides recommendations for early childhood education and care centers that choose to use technology in the classroom as well as for those centers that choose not to use technology in school.

This report from Zero to Three explores how the quality of family child care (FCC) homes could be improved through the use of staffed FCC networks, which would help providers to receive supports and learn best practices to improve services for children birth to age 3.

This training curriculum from the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities (NICHCY) provides information about early intervention to help trainers to train others on how to implement Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to the benefit of infants and toddlers with disabilities.

Jumpstart for Young Children has announced the release of the Request for Proposal (RFP) for the 2012-2013 Research Grant Competition.  This research program provides small grants ranging between $7,500 and $10,000 for research that addresses significant questions on the processes and impact of Jumpstart for early language and literacy development and social-emotional development.  The deadline for proposals is March 22, 2013.  Additional information can be found on Jumpstart’s web site: www.jstart.org.

New on nieer.org

Previously, we reported on NIEER being a recipient of a federal grant to establish the Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes (CEELO). A full project description of CEELO, including its mission, goals, and key staff, is now available on our website for those seeking more information about this comprehensive center providing technical assistance to state education agencies.

NIEER Activities

NIEER Director Steve Barnett presented the key note address at an international conference on “Early Childhood: Secure Childhood. Promising Future" at Princess Nora University in Riyadh, Saud Arabia.  His presentation and paper jointly authored with NIEER Assistant Research Professor Milagros Nores was titled "Investing in early childhood education: A global perspective."  The conference illustrates the increased global attention to the need for societies to improve investments in early learning and development.  In his presentation, Dr. Barnett noted that high quality early care and education has the potential to generate tremendous benefits worldwide, but high returns depend on strong policy designs and implementation.  Large scale programs often fail to replicate the services and results of the models found to generate high returns. Successful programs begin with proven models and provide intensive, high-quality services. They also include such accountability measures as financial controls, data on attendance of children and teachers, and incorporate a continuous improvement process that ensures strong practice by teachers or home visitors and others working to support parenting.  Both a powerpoint and paper are available.

NIEER Assistant Research Professor Shannon Riley-Ayers is a featured speaker at the first virtual event from the Ohio Association for the Education of Young Children being held today. Also sponsored by Lakeshore Learning, the event features Dr. Riley-Ayers’s presentation “Effective Assessment in the Early Childhood Classroom: How to Use Assessment to Inform Instruction.” Dr. Riley-Ayers will discuss what the research has to say about preschool assessments, describing the key principles of assessment for young children, the characteristics of effective assessments, the various roles of assessment in early childhood education programs, and how to use assessment data to inform instruction and improve teaching and learning.

Directed by NIEER Assistant Research Professor Alissa Lange, a new study on reading fluency and technology is taking place during the 2012-2013 school year in Newark, New Jersey. This small-scale randomized controlled trial (RCT) evaluates the impacts of a reading fluency tool on the literacy skills of third graders who are behind in reading proficiency.


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.

Thursday, December 6, 2012 - 2:00pm

This webinar will explore how technology affects the early childhood education classroom, with recommendations for best practices.

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.

Early Education News Roundup

Thursday, November 29, 2012
(Savannah Morning News)

Gov. Nathan Deal says he’ll put money in his proposed state budget next year to restore all the days cut from pre-K programs.  Reducing them by 20 days, Deal noted in an interview Wednesday, was part of a bail-out for Georgia’s financially strapped HOPE scholarship program.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012
(The News Journal, Wilmington, DE)

To boost enrollment of at-risk children, the state has increased reimbursements to centers that improve their rating through the Early Success system. Last year, the state spending for early childhood education rose by $22 million, and the state received a federal Early Learning Challenge grant of $50 million.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012
(The Gazette, Montreal, Quebec, Canada)

Other Canadians might think Quebecers are crazy to spend more than $2 billion a year subsidizing early childhood education and daycare, but TD Bank Chief Economist Craig Alexander has come to their defence, saying that the investment will bring widespread and long-lasting economic and social benefits for children, families and society.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012
(The Advocate, Baton Rouge, LA)

Louisiana’s prekindergarten overhaul will be tested for at least one year before any decisions are made on how schools and centers will be graded, state Superintendent of Education John White said Tuesday.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012
(Tulsa World)

Four-year-old Tyjanae Johnson doesn't know it now, but how well she masters counting objects in prekindergarten will affect her future math performance.  Just learning to recite numbers isn't enough to prepare children for math success later in life, according to a new research study from the University of Missouri.

Monday, November 26, 2012
(Early Years blog at Education Week)

A new paper from the National Association for the Education of Young Children was released today to help early-childhood educators walk the tightrope between the common standards' emphasis on raising academic rigor with research results that show that play, the arts, social skills, and integrated instruction are crucial to young children's healthy development.

Thursday, November 22, 2012
(The Sun Herald, Biloxi, MS)

With Mississippi officials steadfastly refusing to fund public pre-kindergarten at a statewide level, local leaders across the state have taken matters into their own hands.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012
(St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

Invest in high-quality pre-kindergarten. By the time students reach fifth grade, the achieving gap between low-income and affluent students is already wide, and grows wider over time. To reverse this trend, we need to invest in educating underserved students from the very beginning.

Monday, November 19, 2012
(TCPalm.com, Stuart, FL)

Ultimately, the state would like to have every VPK teacher hold at least a bachelor's in education. That would cost the state an extra 60 million dollars annual according to The National Institute for Early Education Research. However, the state currently spends 350 million on remediation for first, second and third graders. Do the math!

Monday, November 19, 2012
(Rockford Register Star, Rockford, IL)

The state as a whole graded a bit better than in 2010. It got a C-plus in “post-secondary readiness and success,” up from a C; C-minus in K-12 performance, up from a D, and an incomplete on early education.

Sunday, November 18, 2012
(Southeast Missourian)

The Early Childhood Development, Education and Care Fund administered by the Department of Social Services has been in existence since 1998. It's goal has been to provide funding to increase the capacity of, and access to, quality early childhood programs for all Missouri families through grant programs and child-care subsidies.  But the fiscal year 2013 budget passed last July contained more than $13 million in cuts to the fund and the programs it serves.

Sunday, November 18, 2012
(The Reporter, Vacaville, CA)

Students who are chronically absent (defined as missing 18 days or more a year) in kindergarten and first-grade are the students most likely to end up being truants and dropouts in high school. Students who miss the basics have a hard time catching up.