Volume 12, Issue 16

Friday, August 9, 2013

Hot Topics

The natural curiosity of children during early childhood makes it the perfect time to introduce them to topics in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). In a recent piece for Smithsonian Magazine, Lisa Guernsey, Director of the Education Early Initiative at the New America Foundation, discusses a method called “Ramps and Pathways” which explores basic engineering concepts using blocks, marbles, and molding. In another piece for the same publication, Guernsey discussed the impact of Sid the Science Kid, a children’s television show that explorers scientific concepts in a way that both preschool children and their parents can embrace. In this piece, Kimberly Brenneman, an Assistant Research Professor at NIEER,  explains that many parents are more comfortable talking about science with their children after watching Sid: “I hear many stories from adults about how much they get out of the show—as much as I hear them say that their students get something out of it.” Parents are not the only ones seeing the benefit of introducing STEM topics at an early age. Business leaders are also joined the call for focusing on STEM in the early grades, as a recent webinar from ReadyNation on the subject made clear. 

Board rooms seem a world away from the pre-K classroom, but members of the business community are increasingly supporting high quality early education as an investment in the future workforce. “Oh, The Places We’ll Go!,” a recent event at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, cosponsored by the Center for American Progress,  highlighted the business case for investing early in a strategy shown to improve school readiness. As noted by Brian Maher, CEO of Maher Terminals, at the event, “Early childhood education is not an entitlement. It’s an investment in the future.” The business community was also represented at NIEER’s Yearbook release in April by Jack Brennan, Chairman Emeritus of the Vanguard Group. Business leaders aren’t the only ones taking this view; a Washington Post blog noted that a new survey by Public Opinion Strategies and Hart Research, found 7 in 10 Americans supported the broad outlines of a federal plan that helps states provide better early childhood education programs.

Focusing on the low wages common for child care providers, The Nation recently posed the question: “Why Do the People Raising Our Children Earn Poverty Wages?” The article focuses on child care providers in low-income areas, where parents often require long hours of child care with few affordable options available. A recent study in Texas found that while the average child care worker nationwide earned $21,320 annually, workers in the Lone Star state earned just $18,530. The study suggests that low pay may compensate to high rates of teacher turnover in the field nationwide. The issues of low pay, degree requirements, and teacher turnover are all closely intertwined in efforts to professionalize the early education workforce, as discussed in a recent NIEER blog post.

Teacher evaluation systems provide an important opportunity to guide professional development and improve teaching, but how can this be measured in the early grades?  A recent panel discussion at the New American Foundation discussed teacher evaluation methods for pre-K to third grade teachers, building off of a recent paper by Senior Policy Analyst Laura Bornfreund. The accompanying infographic details the “ocean of unknowns” in this relatively new field. The Center for Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes (CEELO), on which NIEER is a partner, recently held its first annual RoundTAble on Using Assessment to Improve Teaching and Learning for Young Children Birth-3rd Grade; presentations and resources on the topic can be found here. An important factor in designing a teacher evaluation system is considering how findings will be used. In a recent Education Week article, Robert Pianta, Dean of the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia, calls for incorporating measures of teacher performance into a state’s early learning Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS).

The U.S. Department of Education has announced that Dr. Libby Doggett, formerly the director of the Pew Home Visiting Campaign and Pre-K Now, will be the head of the federal Office of Early Learning as of August 26. Doggett will only be the second person to hold this office, following Jacqueline Jones. Doggett’s extensive resume also includes a prior tour of duty at the Department of Education as Assistant to the Director of Special Education and Executive Director of the Federal interagency Coordinating Council. We at NIEER are thrilled to see Doggett bring her tremendous knowledge, experience, and passion for equity and excellence to this vital position. The Department also announced that six states -- California, Colorado, Illinois, New Mexico, Oregon and Wisconsin -- will be receiving supplemental Race to the Top - Early Learning Challenge Grants, totaling nearly $90 million.

Recent surveys show different perspectives on the public’s attitude toward providing preschool. One May 2013 survey shows that a majority of those surveyed believe parents, not taxpayers, should pay for preschool. A July 2013 survey shows significant public support for preschool programs, across the political spectrum. We can learn from comparing the results of the two surveys.  Differences in the survey results point to sensitivities regarding how the program is defined and governed, the financing mechanism, and the way in which the participants are characterized.  Public support will depend on how the proposal is designed and on how well the public is educated about the problems a federal proposal is designed to address. Differences in results may also reflect differences in who was surveyed.  The more favorable views of public support for preschool were based on a representative sample of voters; the less favorable views were from a nationally representative sample of adults generally.

New on Preschool Matters...Today!

NIEER Director Steve Barnett discusses the findings through Kindergarten and first grade of an evaluation of the impacts of Tennessee’s pre-K program through third grade.


A National Council of State Legislatures (NCSL)  report provides early information on state early care and education program expenditures for FY2013 based on surveys with 21 state legislative fiscal offices.

This report from the Institute for Education Statistics compiles finding from research grants on early intervention and education that were funded by the National Center for Education Research and National Center for Special Education Research since June 2010.

A new Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics report presents 41 key indicators on important aspects of children’s lives in seven domains: family and social environment, economic circumstances, health care, physical environment and safety, behavior, education, and health. This year’s report also includes a special feature on children’s kindergarten experiences.

An article by Deborah Stipek, professor of education at Stanford University and former dean, summarizes the documented benefits of preschool and assesses the science associated with major studies.

A report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities provides detailed information about the health and policy effects of tobacco taxes.

The National Women’s Law Center is looking for stories from parents, teachers, nurse practitioners, and business leaders, about the impact of high quality preschool in action. They plan to share these stories with policy makers in book form, to illustrate for Congress what high-quality learning can accomplish for children and families, by giving them specific examples of individual children, families, and communities. Please visit their survey before September 10th, and share your perspective.

A University of Virginia report finds that consistency in providing emotional support in early childhood classrooms is related to better academic and social outcomes for children.

A recent study from Australia reports finding evidence for “lasting average domain effects in the order of 10-15 points,” on the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) test in the children’s Year 3. “The highest increases in NAPLAN scores are attained by children whose pre-school teachers had Diploma level (high) qualifications.” This first study of its kind for Australia, say the authors, “demonstrates the substantial positive impacts of pre-school on later schooling attainment and also the importance of qualified teaching personnel in the preschool sector.”

Christine Quinn’s proposal to provide loans for preschool children from middle-income families in New York, also discussed here, spotlights both the value of preschool for middle income children, and the issues associated with rising preschool costs for middle-income families.

The Centers for Disease Control and prevention report that 19 states have shown ‘small but significant declines in obesity prevalence among low-income preschoolers from 2008-2011.

New on nieer.org

In this policy report, co-released by NIEER and CEELO, NIEER Director Steve Barnett and Policy Research Coordinator Megan Carolan explores trends in enrollment, spending, and quality standards in state-funded pre-K over a decade.


Thursday, August 22, 2013 -
3:00pm to 4:30pm

Access to quality preschool in the US is highly unequal despite the efforts of public policy to target disadvantaged children.  Inequality in opportunities to attend quality pre-K is a particular concern for African American and Hispanic children, and for children of parents with low levels of education. Dr. Steven Barnett, Principal Investigator of CEELO and Director of the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) and Dr. Milagros Nores, Associate Director of Research at NIEER,  will present data that looks at how pre-K program quality varies by child and family characteristics and how states can ensure that disadvantaged children have greater access to high quality early learning opportunities.  

Friday, October 11, 2013 -
8:00am to 5:00pm

The Center for Early Education Evaluation at HighScope will hold its Second Annual Conference for Early Childhood Research and Evaluation on the theme "Working Together Toward a Common Goal: Using Research to Inform Practice and Practice to Inform Research." The conference is now accepting paper submissions.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013 to Saturday, November 23, 2013

Washington, DC - Attendees of this conference will be given opportunities to examine best practices in early childhood education, learn the latest research findings, and network with their peers.

Early Education News Roundup

Tuesday, August 6, 2013
(Times-Republican (Iowa))

On a congressional recess, U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, found himself in school in Marshalltown Monday. Harkin visited the YMCA-YWCA preschool to learn about the program and stress the importance of early childhood education....He plans to introduce a bill in the U.S. Senate this fall to focus more on early childhood education. He admits it costs money and they need to have high quality programs for them to work.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013
(The XX Blog at Slate)

According to Steven Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER)...access to preschool across the country—not just in New York—is actually lower for the middle class than for the poor. Middle-income families don’t have access to Head Start, like poor families, and they can’t afford the most expensive places, either. 

Sunday, August 4, 2013
(CBS Denver)

Thousands of Colorado children who qualify for free preschool won’t be going when classes start this month because of state budget shortfalls.

Thursday, August 1, 2013
(She The People blog at The Washington Post)

Brian Maher stood at a podium in front of a sold-out crowd at the august U.S. Chamber of Commerce building across from the White House Wednesday morning and started in on a big speech on: early childhood education.

Thursday, August 1, 2013
(Omaha World-Herald)

It took a powerful lure — a big challenge and a return to his professional roots — for the new executive director of the Buffett Early Childhood Institute to leave his life and work in Chicago. There, Samuel Meisels, one of the nation's leading authorities in the field, served as president of the Erikson Institute, the country's premier graduate school for training early childhood educators.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A new poll released Wednesday suggests broad bipartisan support exists for federally funded public preschool.

The poll, commissioned by the early education advocacy group First Five Years Fund, found that 50 percent of the 800 registered voters polled nationwide said they “strongly” support President Barack Obama’s $75 billion proposal to expand public preschool offerings by raising the federal tobacco tax. Another 20 percent said they “somewhat” support it.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013
(Early Years blog at Education Week)

Libby Doggett, most recently the director of the home visiting initiative at the Pew Charitable Trusts, has been named the head of the U.S. Department of Education'soffice of early learning, the second person to hold the post in office's two-year history.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013
(The Missoulian [Missoula, Montana])

[Montana's Governor] Bullock recommended that the Legislature spend $2 million as the state’s first appropriation to fund early childhood, pre-kindergarten education. The 2013 Legislature approved a plan that will provide at least $2 million on early childhood education through the Stars to Quality program in the state Department of Public Health and Human Services.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013
(The New York Times)

The Walt Disney Company’s “Baby Einstein” videos do not turn babies into prodigies. And despite marketing claims by Fisher-Price, its popular “Laugh & Learn” mobile apps may not teach babies language or counting skills, according to a complaint filed on Wednesday with the Federal Trade Commission.