Volume 5, Issue 13

July 28, 2006

Hot Topics

As New Jersey's special legislative session gets underway to discuss property tax relief, some of the focus is likely to be on alternatives to the current mechanism for funding for the state's Abbott districts. Current law calls for the state's 30 neediest districts to receive more than $400 million in state funds to run high-quality preschool education programs, which have begun to produce results in the form of improved student achievement. As New Jersey's property tax burden and fiscal deficit have grown, the call from non-Abbott districts to spread the money across all districts and for Abbott districts to chip in more of the economic burden has grown louder. A new analysis from the Institute on Education Law and Policy at Rutgers University, Newark concludes that, while the Abbott Program is the result of New Jersey Supreme Court decisions that cannot be abrogated without a constitutional convention, the legislature does have the latitude to modify the funding formula — so long as it is part of a comprehensive reform package that honors key points made in Robinson v. Cahill and Abbott v. Burke.
A recent article in the The New York Times Magazine points out the dangers of uncritically accepting the outdated notion that, because I.Q. is hereditary and difficult to boost, compensatory education is a waste. University of California, Berkeley Professor David L. Kirp writes that more recent research has found that, while variations in I.Q. in samples of twins with wealthy backgrounds were attributable to genetics, such was not the case in samples of twins with impoverished backgrounds. In other words, poverty prevents children from attaining up to their genetic potential when it comes to I.Q. Unless children at the bottom of the economic barrel have access to programs like high-quality preschool, says Kirp, "only the most fortunate children will be able to 'max out' their genetic potential." Read the article at: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/23/magazine/23wwln_idealab.html?pagewanted=1&_r=2.
Now that Florida's Voluntary Preschool Program (VPK) has closed out its first year of operation, the state is preparing to assess its impact on the 105,000 preschoolers served. As with other aspects of VPK, this is not without controversy. Kindergartners who attended the program will be assessed using the two-part Florida Kindergarten Readiness Screener. Kindergarten teachers will use classroom observation to assess some skills and will administer the DIBELS literacy test that asks children to identify letters and letter sounds. The problem, say experts, is that the screen constitutes a snapshot of what kids know at a point in time, but that no baseline assessments were done against which to measure progress. This presents some serious concerns about misuse of the results such as denying children entrance in to kindergarten or punishing programs that serve the neediest children. NIEER Co-Director Ellen Frede says, "There is some value in testing the waters just to see how children are doing across the state. But you don't have to test every child to do that. And with no test prior to preschool entry and no tests of children in previous years, there is no way for Florida to see if skills are better than before VPK. A rigorous evaluation design with more comprehensive and valid assessments, for a sample of children, could provide clearer answers at lower cost."
South Carolina Education Superintendent Inez Tenenbaum has her hands full implementing the two-year $16 million initiative to provide 4-year-old kindergarten to children who live in the low-income, predominantly rural school districts that sued the state over school funding. School officials in some of the districts say they can't participate because they don't have the facilities to house the preschoolers. Tenenbaum is sending teams into the countryside to assess the situation and says she'll bring in portable classrooms if necessary.

Calendar

August 1, 2006 - August 3, 2006
Chicago, IL – This conference will offer expert-led sessions providing valuable training opportunities to add to participants' knowledge of quality child care.
August 7, 2006 - August 11, 2006
Washington, DC – The conference agenda will be organized around the common goals for America's children and the people that care for them.
September 18, 2006 - September 19, 2006
Denver, CO – This conference addresses the challenges of monitoring programs providing education for students with disabilities.
September 20, 2006


Washington, DC – Although based in Washington, this satellite broadcast is intended to reach a nationwide audience of prekindergarten advocates though local conference sites.

Early Education News Roundup

July 28, 2006
The Leaf Chronicle, Clarksville, TN
Belinda Rodriguez and her son, Drak Fernandez, came to the United States from Puerto Rico seven months ago to have a better life, but they still have problems. Drak, a 3-year-old with a persistent smile, is autistic — driving a wedge into the language barrier between Spanish and English because he barely speaks at all.
July 28, 2006
The Kansas City Star
Districts [are] given flexibility in spending money for at-risk, preschool at-risk and bilingual students, as long as the expenditures are properly reported. Districts may use at-risk funds to provide all-day kindergarten, but they may charge a fee to parents for costs of the program.
July 26, 2006
Chicago Sun-Times
In a bid to become the first state to offer free preschool for anyone who wants, Gov. Blagojevich Tuesday signed his historic "Preschool for All" program into law. Previously, only low-income students or kids otherwise academically "at risk" were eligible.
July 26, 2006
St. Petersburg Times
The single biggest gripe ... focuses on the lack of a pretest. Without one, it's impossible to determine which preschools helped children make gains and which enrolled students who already were prepared for kindergarten.
July 21, 2006
Seminole Chronicle, Orlando, FL
These children aren't just playing. They are preparing to learn by using their muscles to fine-tune their senses and motor skills.
July 18, 2006
The News Tribune, Tacoma, WA
Many preschools and Head Start programs operate for three to four hours a day, but recent studies have shown an all-day, high-quality preschool can help at-risk children better prepare for school. Children in extended-day preschool outperform children in half-day programs in literacy and mathematics, according to the National Institute of Early Education Research at Rutgers University.
July 18, 2006
The Telegraph, Nashua, NH
Childcare workers in the state earn an average of $8.88 per hour or about $18,500 per year.

Resources

Similar to the RAND Corporation's report on universal preschool in California, this study from the Texas A&M University provides a Texas-specific analysis of the costs and benefits of implementing a high-quality, universal pre-kindergarten program statewide.