Volume 4, Issue 5

March 11, 2005

Hot Topics

Acknowledging the new universally available prekindergarten program for Florida 4-year-olds has "inconsistencies," Florida Governor Jeb Bush charged the state Legislature with ironing out problems that have cropped up in the legislation since it was hastily passed late last year. He said issues that the new legislative session should address include clarification of class size requirements so that a sufficient number of public schools feel they can afford to participate. Bush has met with private providers and is confident many will participate but has encountered questions among the public programs. As if the governor's charge weren't enough, the Legislature has also received a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union threatening a lawsuit if lawmakers don't amend the program to prohibit religious teachings in the publicly funded program. The ACLU charges the program permits religious teachings at taxpayer expense. They also want the legislators to prohibit schools in the program from denying students admission based on their faith.
Behavioral scientists and educators are hailing new findings published in the March issue of the journal PLoS Biology that go a long way toward explaining how so-called "mirror neurons" in the brain condition humans to recognize, anticipate and replicate behaviors. Researchers have known for some time that mirror neurons fire when children recognize an act, such as someone reaching for a cup of milk. What the new findings reveal is that specific neurons seem to be able to code the "why" of the act and to anticipate the intentions of the person performing it. This functioning enables us to "recreate the experience of others within ourselves," says researcher Mark Thompson of UCLA, who worked on the study being reported. As more is learned, the implications for early childhood education could be significant. Lead researcher Marco Iacobini, also of UCLA, speculates that autistic children have a deficit of mirror neurons.
New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson is threatening to call the Legislature back into session if the it doesn't fully fund the pre-K program he is proposing and approve tax cuts as well. Lieutenant Governor Diane Denish has spearheaded the administration's pre-K initiative that calls for $9 million this year to start a voluntary pre-K program that would initially serve 3,100 of the state's 26,000 4-year-olds. The Democrat-controlled Legislature has questioned the constitutionality of the program on the grounds that it could involve faith-based providers.
Just when West Virginia is planning to send 3- and 4-year-olds to public school, parents are raising fresh concerns over long bus rides. With some kindergarteners and first grade children already riding the bus for an hour, rural communities say that long rides may be too much for preschoolers. Challenge West Virginia, an organization dedicated to preserving rural and community schools, says state plans that call for closing 121 elementary schools over the next five years will only lengthen bus rides. The organization is pushing legislation that would limit bus rides for elementary students to 30 minutes, middle school students to 45 minutes and high school students to 60 minutes. State bus ride guidelines are currently set at 60 minutes for all students.
Competition for students is prompting more schools in Arizona to offer full-day kindergarten as a way to lure kids away from charter schools, reports the The Christian Science Monitor. So keen are schools in Tuscon to institute full-day K, several have consolidated under one principal to free up funding for full-day K. Similar efforts are underway in Phoenix. In California, the Los Angeles Unified School District, second largest in the nation, voted to expand full-day K. Critics say the trend is confined to affluent districts. However, research by the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) on the kindergarten class of 1998 found full-day K more common in both rural and urban areas than in the suburbs and that full-day K is more likely to be offered by schools serving high proportions of lower-income and minority children.

New on nieer.org

Everyone from policymakers to preschool program administrators can now access detailed information about popular preschool assessments by visiting the NIEER website at nieer.org/assessment/. Easily navigable, the assessments are grouped according to their characteristics. The database does not attempt to evaluate assessments as to relative merit but, rather, provide a profile of what is known about each. Users are able to generate custom lists of assessments that meet their specific needs.
What do "sin taxes" and early education have in common? Find out in the latest issue of Preschool Matters, which also features articles about the Nurse-Family Partnership program and an interview with Leon Panetta.

Calendar

March 21, 2005 - March 24, 2005
St. Louis, MO -- Join professionals from a variety of fields – from child care to government – for the 14th annual Born to Learn conference in St. Louis.
March 23, 2005 - March 26, 2005
Washington, DC – Join teachers, principals, child care professionals, school board members and teacher educators at the Association for Childhood Education International's annual conference.
April 20, 2005 - April 22, 2005
Chapel Hill, NC – Participants at this year’s conference will focus on the theme, Helping Meet the Demand for Tomorrow’s Workforce Today.
April 25, 2005 - April 27, 2005
Louisville, KY – The National Conference on Family Literacy synthesizes the latest reading research that impacts children, adults and families.

Early Education News Roundup

March 11, 2005
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Northwest Arkansas edition
An economic analyst visited Little Rock on Thursday to promote something other than subsidies and tax breaks to businesses as the best form of economic development: 4-year-olds.
March 10, 2005
Times Record, Fort Smith, AR
The tax raises about $9 million a year for the Arkansas Better Chance Program, a preschool program for disadvantaged children.
March 8, 2005
The Boston Globe
Massachusetts needs a pipeline that supplies skilled, energetic early-education teachers.
March 7, 2005
The Modesto Bee, Modesto, CA
Most advocates envision a voluntary program that would offer publicly funded preschool for all of California's 4-year-olds.
March 5, 2005
Palm Beach Post
Is it a good idea to test 4- and 5-year-olds on their vocabulary, the letters they recognize, their ability to count and then use those scores to rate schools?
March 1, 2005
A new study from the Center for Law and Social Policy concludes many states are missing opportunities to include community-based child care in state prekindergarten programs.

Resources

Early Childhood Research & Practice (ECRP), an Internet journal, is currently seeking submissions in either English or Spanish that address issues related to the development, care, and education of children from birth to approximately age 8. ECRP focuses mainly on research with clear implications for practice, as well as research on practice. The journal contains articles on practice-related research and development, issues related to teaching, teacher education, parent participation and policy, and emerging practices related to the field. Early Childhood Research & Practice can be accessed at: http://ecrp.uiuc.edu/. Questions can be sent to the ECRP editors by email at ecrp@uiuc.edu.