Volume 12, Issue 4

Friday, February 22, 2013

Hot Topics

Last Tuesday, President Obama brought pre-K education into the national spotlight when he spoke on its importance in his State of the Union address, eliciting excited responses from early education advocates and experts. The President’s address included these remarks on pre-K: “Every dollar we invest in high-quality early childhood education can save more than seven dollars later on -- by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime. In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children, like Georgia or Oklahoma, studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, form more stable families of their own. We know this works.  So let’s do what works and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind. Let’s give our kids that chance.” It was an historic moment for promoting preschool education and its lifelong positive outcomes.

Following up his State of the Union address, President Obama traveled to an early learning center in Decatur, Georgia and dedicated another speech to education issues with a focus on pre-K. The President again acknowledged the importance of preschool, noting, “Most middle-class parents can’t afford a few hundred bucks a week for private preschool. And for the poor children who need it the most, the lack of access to a great preschool education can have an impact on their entire lives. And we all pay a price for that. And as I said, this is not speculation. Study after study shows the achievement gap starts off very young.  Kids who, when they go into kindergarten, their first day, if they already have a lot fewer vocabulary words, they don’t know their numbers and their shapes and have the capacity for focus, they're going to be behind that first day. And it's very hard for them to catch up over time.” That day, the White House also released a fact sheet containing the administration’s plans for expanding early childhood education services throughout the nation. Between President Obama’s State of the Union and education speeches, pre-K has been in the national eye and featured in several prominent media outlets, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Christian Science Monitor, Mother Jones, The Huffington Post, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The possibility of sequestration - automatic spending cuts that go into effect if Congress doesn’t reach a deal on federal spending - continues to be a spectre haunting society. Last week, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee on what the sequester would mean for education programs throughout the nation, including a reduction in available grants and layoffs of teachers. Secretary Duncan informed the committee that “in early childhood education, we’ve seen some very tough cuts as well. At Head Start, some 70,000 students could be kicked out. As the President talked about in his State of the Union, we’re trying to do a lot more in terms of early childhood education - not go in the opposite direction. Doing that to our most vulnerable children is educational malpractice, economically foolish, and morally indefensible.”

According to The Baltimore Sun, legislators in Maryland are proposing a bill that would create a state-level Early Learning Challenge grant program similar to the federal Race to the Top initiative. The bill’s sponsors, state Senator Bill Ferguson and Delegate Sandy Rosenberg, have dubbed their program “Race to the Tots.” The initiative would use lottery funding to provide competitive grants to local districts, with proposals submitted over a three-year period. Race to the Tots grants would be used for quality improvements and increased enrollment in preschool programs throughout the state, which currently enrolls 37 percent of its 4-year-olds in state-funded pre-K.

A new study published in the journal Pediatrics reports on behavioral outcomes from children’s television viewing habits based on a randomized controlled trial involving hundreds of preschool-age children primarily from low-income families. Parents of children in the study group were given an intervention recommending educational TV shows over violent or over-stimulating ones while their peers in the control group did not receive information about media habits instead receiving an intervention about nutrition. Significantly, the researchers did not attempt to reduce the number of hours spent watching TV for children in either the study or control groups. After six and 12 months of typical media consumption, children’s behavioral outcomes were recorded using the Social Competence and Behavioral Evaluation. Children in the intervention group exhibited more pro-social behaviors than those in the control group. In particular, boys from low-income families showed the most significant results due to the intervention. This study builds on past findings that the content of children’s TV viewing plays a significant role in television’s impact on child development. Dr. Dimitri A. Christakis, a pediatric researcher at Seattle Children’s Research Institute and lead author of this study, explained this is in a TEDx video, in which he noted there was a 10 percent increased likelihood of attention problems for children at age 7 for every hour of TV they watched a day when they were aged 3 or younger if the television programming was entertainment-based rather than educational.

Television viewing is far from the only element affecting children’s healthy growth and development. A recent meta-analysis published in Perspectives on Psychological Science examined what factors went into boosting a child’s IQ. Looking at only randomized controlled trials, the researchers found that several elements could increase a child’s intelligence, including mothers’ use of prenatal vitamins during pregnancy, parents’ interactive reading with children, and children’s participation in preschool education programs.

On the flip side, media reports have recently highlighted environmental effects that have negative impacts on child development. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote about research studying the effects of endocrine-disrupting chemicals, ubiquitously found in modern life in products as diverse as personal care items to furniture, and the role they may play in promoting childhood obesity. In Mother Jones, Kevin Drum discussed the link between early childhood lead exposure and crime, something NIEER has reported on in the past. After reviewing the research literature on crime reduction rates in recent years, Drum concluded that the removal of leaded paint and gasoline from children’s environments contributed to decreases in crime.

New on Preschool Matters...Today!

In this blog post, NIEER researchers provide some research context on early learning outcomes in light of the President's newly released preschool education proposal.

NIEER researchers Megan Carolan, W. Steven Barnett, and Jen Fitzgerald write about early learning outcomes and the need for high-quality programs after President Obama brought pre-K to the national stage by mentioning it in his State of the Union address.


With an eye toward states in the New England region, this report from the Political Economy Research Institute of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst examines the long-term economic benefits that result from supporting high-quality pre-K programs, making the case for states to invest in universal preschool education.

This research summary from Strategies for Children contains facts and figures - both nationwide and Massachusetts-specific - on the long-term benefits of investing in preschool.

This brief from the Office of Head Start includes relevant data on early childhood education and care services for the children of teen parents, including suggested activities and resources for parent outreach with this population.

This paper, jointly published by the Division for Early Childhood of the Council for Exceptional Children, the National Association for the Education of Young Children, and the National Head Start Association, offers guidance on using frameworks for early intervening services in programs serving children birth through age 5.

New on nieer.org

Following President Obama’s speech in Decatur, Georgia on preschool, NIEER Director W. Steven Barnett released this statement on the importance of pre-K education.

NIEER Activities

As we noted earlier, the President’s early education proposal has unleashed a flurry of media coverage on the importance of preschool and debating how it may be funded and expanded in the future. NIEER Director W. Steven Barnett was called on as a guest for several broadcasts, including NBC Nightly News, MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry Show, Huffington Post Live, and WHYY’s Radio Times with Marty Moss-Coane. We look forward to continue hearing the voices of pre-K advocates and experts in the media in the coming weeks as more details of the President’s plan are unveiled.

Milagros Nores, NIEER’s Associate Director of Research, will join a diverse group of early childhood education advocates and researchers at an upcoming symposium in March. Dr. Nores will be part of a panel speaking on the benefits of preschool, including academic, societal, and economic outcomes. The symposium will be in Chicago and hosted by the Illinois State Board of Education, the Illinois Resource Center/Early Childhood Professional Development, and Loyola University Chicago Child Law and Education Institute. The event aims to give participants a clear understanding of what high-quality early learning programs look like and can achieve - and how they can be established.

CEELO logoNIEER Distinguished Fellow Dorothy Strickland presented on “Handwriting Considerations for Standards and Assessments” for the Kansas Handwriting Standards Committee. The webinar was co-sponsored by the Central Comprehensive Center at the University of Oklahoma and the Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes (CEELO), and also featured CEELO Co-Project Director Jana Martella as facilitator. A recording of the presentation is available here.


Thursday, February 28, 2013 - 10:00am

Washington, DC -  This event will feature an international panel discussing various educational models focused on the early years.

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.

Friday, March 15, 2013 - 8:30am

Chicago, IL - This event will feature early childhood education experts speaking on strategies for establishing early learning programs of high quality. 

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.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013 to Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Gloucester, England - This conference aims to explore the philosophical tenets of play as well as building a bridge to practices in play.

Friday, April 12, 2013 - 8:00am

Somerset, NJ - This one-day conference offers participants an opportunity to hear from national literacy experts and authors of noted children's books.

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.

Thursday, April 25, 2013 - 2:00pm

This webinar will examine research on young children's social-emotional development and how it is related to kindergarten readiness and success in school.

Sunday, April 28, 2013 to Tuesday, April 30, 2013

National Harbor, MD - At this conference, attendees will examine how data can be used to improve program quality and services.

Monday, April 29, 2013 to Thursday, May 2, 2013

Greensboro, NC - At this conference, early childhood leaders will learn and share strategies for accelerating outcomes for children, families and communities.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013 to Friday, May 3, 2013

Washington, DC - This early childhood education conference offers hundreds of presentations and exhibits to the tens of thousands of educators that attend.

Monday, May 13, 2013 to Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Chapel Hill, NC - This conference will examine services for children with special needs in inclusive early childhood education classrooms.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013 to Thursday, June 27, 2013

For the first time, the Birth to Three institute will be offered as a virtual professional development experience rather than a physical conference.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013 to Thursday, June 27, 2013

St. Louis, MO - This conference will feature panels and presentations from renowned experts to examine educational research and policy.

Early Education News Roundup

Wednesday, February 20, 2013
(NBC Latino)

An Education Department commission is recommending pre-kindergarten programs for every poor student within 10 years, adding a timeframe to President Barack Obama’s similar call to help the least advantaged arrive for their first day of classes as prepared as their counterparts from more affluent homes. Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Tuesday released his Equity and Excellence Commission‘s report, which is not binding but includes input from his top aides and the White House’s chief education policy adviser.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013
(WBAA, West Lafayette, IN)

In what state lawmakers call a first step in helping bolster early childhood education, the House Monday passed legislation creating a preschool pilot program. It would study the feasibility of a statewide preschool program by providing up to $6,800 to low-income families to send their children to a high-quality preschool as accredited by the state.  The program would only be available in five counties and would be capped at $7 million.

Thursday, February 14, 2013
(Politics K-12 blog at Education Week)

While the financing mechanism still remains somewhat cloudy, the White House put forward additional details this morning about just how the effort would work. Much of the funding would appear to come from states, through a partnership arrangement with the federal government.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013
(The Wall Street Journal)

An administration official said the proposal is not an effort to expand the federally run Head Start preschool program for low-income families, although spending on Head Start could continue to grow. Administration officials added that the plan would call for federal spending, much of it crafted to offer states an incentive to put more money into pre-kindergarten. The proposal also calls for parents to pay pre-K tuition, on a sliding scale, they said.

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

The big news tonight may come in the area of early-childhood education. Advocates are expecting some sort of policy proposal, even though the president isn't likely to have a lot of new money for a big, new initiative.

Sunday, February 10, 2013
(Bradenton Herald)

State leaders talk about investing in Florida's future through education. They should start at the very earliest age with VPK – by improving the quality and funding in order to nip remediation in the bud.