Volume 12, Issue 1

Friday, January 11, 2013

Hot Topics

The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, meant to prevent the country from going over the “fiscal cliff,” avoided automatic spending cuts known as sequestration by buying Congress more time. While a deal may be easier to reach by the new March 1 deadline due to the swearing in of new members of Congress, education programs are not yet able to breathe easy. According to the New America Foundation, if a deal is not reached by then, Head Start is predicted to lose funding for about 100,000 program slots and the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) could have 80,000 fewer openings. Early education advocates also worry that these same across-the-board cuts would hurt services provided to the low-income families who utilize Head Start. Education advocates in the K-12 world noted that schools will continue to operate with budget uncertainty while the need to revisit this legislation is likely to prevent Congress from attending to other education legislation, including the delayed reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

At the end of December, the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) released the long-awaited Third Grade Follow-up to the Head Start Impact Study. The study, which tracks children after their participation in a Head Start program and compares them to peers who did not participate, found that while several benefits to academic and social-emotional skills are seen after Head Start attendance, these impacts fade by the third grade. As the Early Years blog at Education Week reported, these results are similar to those found in an earlier phase of the study up until first grade, and Lisa Guernsey at the Early Ed Initiative at the New America Foundation contends that these results should get people asking what more could be done to sustain student improvement after they leave Head Start. NIEER Director Steve Barnett wrote on earlier phases of the Head Start Impact Study in 2011, asserting that “ ... the evidence does not lead me to the conclusion that we should end these programs, but that they need major reform” and calling for increased flexibility and innovation from individual programs. Head Start has been in the news a lot lately for both its delayed “recompetition” process meant to weed out low-performing programs, as well as a recent report from the Advisory Committee on Head Start Research and Evaluation calling for improvements to the program.

Last month, First Focus and the Urban Institute released a report tracking the recession’s effects on children, using three measures of children’s economic well-being from 2007 to 2012: children with an unemployed parent, participation in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and child poverty. The authors concluded, “Economic conditions for children today are similar to those of a year ago--and much worse than they were in 2007. Millions of families with children have not yet regained ground lost during the recession.” First Focus also issued a companion paper with policy recommendations for Congress and the Obama administration, calling for increased investments in SNAP, family tax credits, TANF, and unemployment insurance.

Soon afterwards, the Foundation for Child Development released its 2012 Child Well-Being Index (CWI), which includes data on a number of issues related to the healthy growth and development of children and teens. Amongst the many findings include that pre-K enrollment rates have not kept apace with those seen in the 1990s and fourth grade reading scores have improved somewhat but well more than half of students remain below grade level. Another key finding is that the percent of children in poverty has significantly risen in the past decade, rocketing from 15.6 percent in 2001 to 21.4 percent in 2011. Writing in Education Week, Sara Mead concludes of the CWI findings that “the real challenge here is how we can dramatically accelerate the rate of progress in educational outcomes AND also reverse some of the trends in family economic well-being over the past decade.” High-quality pre-K programs have been shown to increase educational outcomes and reduce poverty, so a response to that challenge should include additional investment in preschool education.

When we publish our annual State Preschool Yearbook report, a number of states are reported as “no program” each year because they fail to offer a state-funded preschool program for their youngest learners. But some progress is being made as policymakers in several of these states are making moves toward increased investments in early childhood education (ECE). Utah’s Governor Gary Herbert has proposed a $10 million state investment for early interventions; Hawaii’s Governor Neil Abercrombie’s budget proposal includes $3 million for ECE and the state’s Executive Office on Early Learning is already outlining its plans; and Mississippi’s Governor Phil Bryant likewise has a budget plan incorporating $3 million for the state’s Building Blocks program as well as for ECE research. Meanwhile, Jacqueline Sly, a legislator in South Dakota, plans to introduce a bill in the upcoming session to establish a preschool intervention program. And, in Indiana’s state capital of Indianapolis, a public preschool program is set to roll out next fall to serve more than 1,000 of the city’s 4-year-olds. While most of these improvements are only planned right now and may not be followed through on, at least having pre-K services on key policymakers’ radar in these states is a move in the right direction.

Last month governors in two states delayed changes to early education and care policies that would have resulted in cutting access to the programs for thousands of children. In Florida, Governor Rick Scott ended - for now - the phase-in of a new funding formula, which funneled more money into some areas of the state while making huge cuts to others. Advocates contended that the formula was unequal and still underfunded early childhood education programs, in some cases resulting in decreased availability. They estimated that more than 10,000 children were missing out on early learning opportunities due to the shifts in funding. A task force will re-examine the funding formula for future use. Meanwhile, West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin has held off changes to eligibility requirements for child care programs in that state. These changes would revoke child care payments for families with incomes at or above 150 percent of the federal poverty level, leaving the parents of more than 1,000 children struggling to afford child care services. The governor’s office will re-examine these eligibility proposals, with the governor offering an amendment to the state budget to fully fund child care aid until the spring.

Over the summer, an analysis by The New York Times found that the state of New York was increasing preschool special education spending at a breakneck pace and audits by the state comptroller found numerous instances of fraud in the pre-K special education system. These findings lead to additional investigation into the state’s special education program for preschoolers, with another audit recently released by the state comptroller’s office. This most recent audit found that there was very little oversight to the pre-K special education program; in fact, no contractors had been monitored via site visits or audits by the state’s education department since 2007. The State Education Department countered that it lacks the resources for wide-scale monitoring and called for the state Legislature to intervene by allowing the state comptroller’s office to audit individual private contractors. Some advocates worry that the audits and accompanying negative press could result in harm to the program and the children it serves. In an editorial, The New York Times noted that “ideally” the situation could be remedied by “the state eventually mov[ing] away from the privatized system to one administered by the public schools.” New York is not the only state struggling with providing special education services to preschoolers and other children - California’s state and federal funding for special education has declined in recent years, causing local school districts to have to come up with the difference, and Illinois’s State Board of Education recently received a complaint about the lack of access to pre-K special education programs in the state.

Meanwhile, New York’s general pre-K education program has made some splashes in the news as well. Early this month, the Education Reform Commission made preliminary recommendations to Governor Andrew Cuomo on reforming public education in the state. Of particular importance to early education advocates is the commission’s recommendation of expanding public preschool programs, of which the governor expressed approval but also cited financial concerns. New York state is one of a handful of states purportedly providing universal access to preschool, but it currently falls below that goal by serving fewer than half of the state’s 4-year-olds. The New York State School Boards Association recently polled school board members on prioritizing enrollment to universal preschool programs for children living in poverty, finding that 49 percent favor such a proposal. The state Board of Regents will vote on whether to recommend policy changes enacting such a prioritization plan. Other important news out of New York came from the governor’s State of the State report, in which he called for increased investment in preschool education, per the recommendation of the Education Reform Commission. Specifically, Governor Cuomo proposed expanding the existing state pre-K program to offer more full-day classes of at least 5 hours, compared to the current 2.5 hours minimum. Specific actions to achieve this vision, including funding, were not addressed in the report.

What type of preschool classroom best serves children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD)? A study out of the University of Pennsylvania provides some new insights. In a non-randomized trial, researchers examined cognitive outcomes for preschool-age children with ASD who were placed in one of three classroom settings -- an inclusive classroom where children with special needs and those without learned together; a classroom specifically for children with ASD; or a classroom with children of all types of special needs, including ASD. The results, published in the journal Autism, indicated that ASD children in inclusive classrooms fared best, with those in ASD-specific classrooms close behind. The authors of the study conclude, “Opportunities to interact with typically developing peers may be particularly beneficial for certain subgroups of young children with autism spectrum disorders.”

A recent report adds to the research base that playing equals learning for the youngest children. A study out of North Dakota State University and Texas A&M University found that 6½-month-old infants were able to differentiate objects by patterns when they were able to sit up on their own while playing, thus freeing their hands to grasp and manipulate toys. By contrast, 4½- and 5½-month-old infants - who were unable to sit up on their own - were not able to recognize patterns. However, when the 5½-month-olds were given support to sit up while playing, they were also able to demonstrate pattern recognition. The same finding was not true for the 4½-month-olds; all of the findings are published in the journal Developmental Psychology.

Fears of increasing rates of early childhood obesity may be somewhat allayed due to new information. Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity examined data from the Pediatric Nutrition Surveillance System, which includes information on roughly 50 percent of the children eligible for federal health and nutrition programs. Studying more than 26 million 2- to 4-year-olds from 30 states and the District of Columbia over 12 years, the researchers found that while obesity - and extreme obesity - rates did indeed increase from 1998 to 2003, there was a slight decrease in those rates from 2003 to 2010. Writing about this study in Scientific American, Katherine Harmon reminds readers that while the decreases from 2003 to 2010 “might seem small, the number of children involved makes for huge health implications. For example, each drop of just one tenth of a percentage point represents some 26,700 children in the study population alone who are no longer obese or extremely obese. And if these trends are occurring in the rest of the population, the long-term health and cost implications are massive.” The New York Times recently wrote about drops in childhood obesity rates in cities throughout the U.S., suggesting that this trend is not limited only to the study’s population. NIEER wrote about some of the negative outcomes of early childhood obesity in this blog post.

Two recent studies address children’s language abilities during the earliest years of life. The first examined newborns 7 to 75 hours old in both the United States and Sweden, finding that the infants were more interested in hearing the vowel sounds of a non-native language. The researchers surmise that newborns recall the vowel sounds spoken by their mothers while they were in utero and are “ready for something novel” upon birth. A second, unrelated study followed children from 1½ to 4 years old and found that those with more adept language skills as toddlers were less likely as preschoolers to display anger during a frustrating task. 

The Freie Universitat Berlin’s Department of Education and Psychology and Robert Bosch Stiftung plan to launch the Center for Early Childhood Education in Berlin to contribute to the research base regarding early childhood development and education. The two organizations are currently seeking a professor to serve as head of the new center. Candidates must meet the requirements laid out in the Berlin Higher Education Act and submit their applications by January 24. More specifics on this open position and the qualifications of a successful applicant can be found here. Viel Glück!

New on Preschool Matters...Today!

Responding to an article in The National Journal, NIEER Director Steve Barnett lays out the current state of public pre-K programs in the U.S. and offers some suggestions for improving access and quality.

In this blog post, NIEER Policy Research Coordinator Megan Carolan examines the current state of data available on early childhood education and care programs and makes recommendations for improving data systems.

Resources

Both the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and Edutopia have provided roundups of resources on the Web to help parents and other caregivers explain tragic events to young children and help them cope with these tragedies. Additional tips for talking to children about violent events are available from the Child Witness to Violence Project at Boston Medical Center and Autism Speaks. Focusing specifically on families with infants and toddlers, Zero to Three also offers resources to help parents after natural disasters and other traumatic events.

Education Week, in collaboration with the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, released their 2013 edition of the Quality Counts series, which focuses this year on “safety, discipline, and school climate.” The report provides state grades based on a number of factors including standardized test scores, early education enrollment, and school finance, with a special focus this year on discipline and resources to create a positive learning environment.

This brief from the Harvard Family Research Project provides case studies of six states - California, Georgia, New Jersey, Maryland, Minnesota, and Virginia - to examine best practices for successful kindergarten transitions and make policy recommendations.

This briefing paper from SEDL (formerly the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory) discusses how schools can communicate with their students’ families and others in the neighborhood by using information gathered through expanded data collection and analysis.

This fact sheet from the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s Bridging Refugee Youth & Children’s Services and the Office of Head Start’s National Center on Cultural and Linguistic Responsiveness intends to help increase collaboration between the two federal programs to more effectively serve young refugee children and their families.

NIEER Activities

CEELO logoDr. Lori Connors-Tadros, NIEER’s Senior Project Director for the Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes (CEELO), recently presented online to the North Central Comprehensive Center’s Advisory Board during their meeting in Denver, Colorado. The presentation shared an overview of early childhood policies in the region’s four states - Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming. Dr. Connors-Tadros discussed CEELO’s goals to build State Education Agencies’ capacity to support children’s school readiness and future academic success. 

Milagros Nores, NIEER’s Associate Director of Research, joined Columbia University’s celebration of 50 years of Latin American studies at the school by speaking about early childhood education research and policy at “A Conversation on Education Across the Americas.” This event featured a panel made up of alumni from the university’s Teachers College. The other panelists were Ryan Burgess (Inter-American Development Bank), Veronica Cabezas (Universidad Católica de Chile), Paulo Da Silva (New York University), Adrian Franco (Federal Reserve Bank of New York), and Adriana Vilela (Organization of American States). The entire event was recorded and can be watched on Teachers College’s YouTube page. Dr. Nores' presentation, "Early Childhood Development in Lation America: A Cost-Effective poverty eradication srategy," can be downloaded here.

Calendar

Wednesday, January 16, 2013 - 2:30pm

During this webinar, participants will hear from experts about the issues facing early childhood education and care programs as fiscal cliff negotiations continue in light of the next deadline.

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.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013 - 10:30am

Washington, DC - This event will cover the science of brain development and how these findings can impact educational policy.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013 - 12:00pm

Designed for policymakers and administrators, this webinar aims to explain how systematic reviews can be used to make informed decisions.

Saturday, February 9, 2013 to Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Washington, DC - This conference will feature a plethora of sessions covering a wide breadth of issues related to maternal and child health programs.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012 to Thursday, February 16, 2012

Washington, DC - At this second summit on home-visiting programs, participants will explore the policy and practice behind the topic.

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 13, 2013 to Friday, March 15, 2013

San Diego, CA - This conference is designed to explore best practices and issues related to inclusive classrooms.

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, January 10, 2013
(The Philadelphia Inquirer)

In a cost-cutting move, the Philadelphia School District will restructure its early-childhood education program in the fall, shifting thousands of preschool seats to private day-care providers throughout the city.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013
(Hawaii News Now)

Hawaii is one of 11 states without a state-funded early learning program. Governor Neil Abercrombie describes it as a "readiness divide"—separating children with a preschool foundation who are ready to succeed in kindergarten—from those who are not.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013
(The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

The governor said Wednesday he wants to add 10 days to the state’s pre-kindergarten schedule, a $13.1 million increase that will restore it to a full 180-day calendar. [Gov. Nathan] Deal also said that in the budget proposal he’s unveiling next week HOPE scholarship recipients would get 3 percent more money than they did last year, which would cost $13.9 million.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013
(WREG TV, Memphis, TN)

In a proposal to increase the sales tax in Memphis, City Councilmen Shea Flinn and Jim Strickland want more than half of the funds to go to Pre-kindergarten programs.  “Why not invest early to prevent future problems,” said Doug Imig with The Urban Child Institute. Imig said the benefit of Pre-k is worth the cost.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013
(Politics K-12 blog at Education Week)

Early-childhood educators and advocates are bracing for a series automatic, across-the-board cuts set to hit a broad swath of federal programs on March 1, unless Congress can come up an agreement to avert them.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013
(RedOrbit)

Public health authorities here in the U.S. have been striving to find ways to ensure that children receive this necessary vaccine and that they receive it in a timely manner. Now, thanks to new research from the Children’s Outcomes Research Program at Children’s Hospital Colorado, researchers have determined that implementing a program of timely reminders from state and/or local health departments is an effective way to increase immunization rates among preschool children – a burden that has typically fallen on the family pediatrician or primary care physician.

Monday, January 7, 2013
(The New York Times)

In a complaint filed on Monday with the Illinois State Board of Education, a nonprofit advocacy group says that thousands of children are in Rashaan’s position because the Chicago Public Schools have repeatedly failed to evaluate children with disabilities and move them into special education preschool programs. Under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, states must provide special education services to 3- and 4-year-olds with disabilities that impede their learning even before they are officially enrolled in school.

Monday, January 7, 2013
(Lexington Herald-Leader, Lexington, KY)

The majority of the federal education money the state gets is for targeted populations, such as poor children and those with special needs. Also included is Head Start, a federal preschool program for the state's poorest children. One estimate puts the planned cut to Head Start in Kentucky at $10 million next year.

Sunday, January 6, 2013
(Twin Cities Daily Planet, Minneapolis, MN)

Since 2006, the achievement gap has increased by 10 percentage points in high school math between white and Hispanic students and between white and black students on the annual state test. Even if our state demographics were to remain static over the next 30 years, these statistics would be devastating for non-white students.

Sunday, January 6, 2013
(Rapid City Journal, Rapid City, SD)

Legislators are expected to address everything from preschool intervention and reading mastery to school safety. Educators will also return to the ever-present issue of funding during the session that has 38 working days and formally wraps up on March 25.

Friday, January 4, 2013
(The Hechinger Report)

In places like Greenwood, efforts are underway to help kids form better eating habits before they even reach elementary school, while the new diets at Debbie Ellis’s day care centers are a result of the federally funded Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), which reimburses centers for the cost of serving children a more nutritious diet. Yet despite obvious health and financial benefits, less than half of child care centers across the United States participate in the 44-year-old federal program

Thursday, January 3, 2013
(Observer & Eccentric, Detroit, MI)

One common-sense solution to improving educational outcomes for families is simply getting more children into quality educational programs at a younger age. Sadly, Michigan's track record of funding preschool is lousy despite the fact that most experts agree that an additional year or two in school is beneficial to young learners.

Thursday, January 3, 2013
(The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, LA)

A new report has found that 85 percent of the parishes in Louisiana score high on at least one of 11 risk factors related to poor early childhood income. Programs such as Head Start and Early Head Start help to mitigate consequences of high-risk environments.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013
(Democrat and Chronicle, Rochester, NY)

A panel of education experts on Wednesday presented to Gov. Andrew Cuomo a series of recommendations for reforming New York’s public education system, including suggestions to expand pre-kindergarten programs and consolidate schools and districts to save money.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013
(The Gazette, Montreal, Quebec, Canada)

Despite placing their children in daycare seven, eight or even nine hours a day, five days a week, many parents know little about the people who look after their children. They tend to base their choice of a centre on its location and “reputation.”

Tuesday, January 1, 2013
(The Salt Lake Tribune)

Early childhood education advocates recognize it could be tough to get Utah lawmakers to agree to pay for a proposed preschool program for at risk-students, given limited dollars and historical resistance to state-funded preschool.  That’s why they’re taking a different tack this year: Get private investors to pay for the program, with the promise that the state will eventually pay them back if it succeeds in improving education.

Sunday, December 30, 2012
(The Des Moines Register, Des Moines, IA)

Iowa has greatly expanded early childhood education opportunities in recent years, placing the state seventh in the nation in preschool access. Yet a host of factors — including district-imposed limits on the size of the state preschool program — meant about a third of Iowa’s 4-year-olds did not attend preschool last year, census estimates show.

Friday, December 28, 2012
(Bangor Daily News)

Faced with plummeting student populations — and therefore less state money — Maine school districts are increasingly adding another year of public education. While reams of research highlight the benefits of early childhood education, there has been no widespread discussion in Maine about the addition of a 14th year of public school.

Thursday, December 27, 2012
(The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Georgia’s pre-kindergarten program would be 180 days a year again, and all day-care workers would be subject to FBI fingerprint checks, under early-childhood initiatives set to come before lawmakers in January.

Friday, December 21, 2012
(Early Years blog at Education Week)

In the final phase of a large-scale randomized, controlled study of nearly 5,000 children, researchers found that the positive impacts on literacy and language development demonstrated by children who entered Head Start at age 4 had dissipated by the end of 3rd grade, and that they were, on average, academically indistinguishable from their peers who had not participated in Head Start.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012
(The Daily News, Memphis, TN)

In Memphis City Schools, about 12,000 children entered kindergarten this school year, three times the number of children who are in the system’s pre-kindergarten classes.  The schools consolidation planning commission recommended a phased-in expansion of pre-kindergarten in the merged school system at a rate of 25 classrooms per school year.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012
(The Ithaca Journal, Ithaca, NY)

The state comptroller’s office and education department called on each other Tuesday to more thoroughly investigate preschool special-education providers following recent instances of fraud.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012
(Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles County lost thousands of licensed child-care spaces during three recession-battered years, jeopardizing the ability of low-income parents to work and give their children an academic head start through early education services, data released Wednesday showed. The elimination of $1.2 billion in state funds earmarked for early child-care and education programs — resulting in the loss of more than 11,200 spaces between 2008 and 2011— represented the biggest reduction in child-care services in more than six decades, according to the Los Angeles Children's Data Network.

Monday, December 17, 2012
(Education Week)

Loss—albeit much less tragic—is inevitable, natural, and something we all face. While dealing with a loss is never easy, it can be peculiarly disorienting for children, who are developing emotionally and have fewer past experiences to turn to for context.