Volume 9, Issue 23

December 3, 2010

Hot Topics

The report from President Obama's deficit commission, which calls for investing $100 billion in competitiveness-enhancing areas such as education while making major cuts in spending, received a mixed reception on Capitol Hill today. Today, 11 of the commission's members voted for it, three short of the super-majority (14 of 18) required for its approval. Meanwhile, two other reports just out offer their own prescriptions for recovery spending and deficit reduction. Both recommend major investments in early childhood education. The November issue of The American Prospect devotes 10 articles to various aspects of the economy, one of them on stepping up investments in children.

The other is Investing in America's Economy: A Budget Blueprint for Economic Recovery and Fiscal Responsibility from the Century Foundation, Demos, and the Economic Policy Institute. Among other things, it calls for a comprehensive upgrade and expansion of child care from birth to preschool to the tune of $88 billion per year. In our Preschool Matters … Today! blog post, NIEER co-director Steve Barnett discusses balancing investments and deficit reduction and what it would take to serve all disadvantaged children with high-quality early care and education.
When President Obama signs the child nutrition bill passed overwhelmingly yesterday by Congress, school kids can look forward to barbecued instead of fried chicken patties, whole-grain instead of white rolls, and similar shifts toward more healthful eating. It makes a concerted effort to rid schools of junk food by empowering the secretary of agriculture to establish nutrition standards for foods sold in school during the school day, including those from vending machines. It also increases federal reimbursement for school lunches beyond inflation and authorizes children on Medicaid to qualify automatically for free school lunches. The first lady championed the measure.
It's a mixed picture for advocates of public preschool education in the wake of the mid-term elections and the swing toward fiscal conservatism that accompanied them. California elected pro-pre-K Jerry Brown as governor but he faces perhaps the most daunting task of working the numbers of any governor in the country. Iowa elected anti-public-pre-K Terry Brandstad who says he'll eliminate that state's program. Many other states saw political transitions that could threaten the progress made in public pre-K. On Monday, Education Week reported reactions to these developments from advocates around the country and we'll learn more about how the politics are playing out next week when Pre-K Now releases its annual Votes Count report on December 8.
The Texas State Board of Education has approved Teaching Strategies System for Pre-K, Texas edition, to be used in the state's classrooms. Based on The Creative Curriculum, it is bilingual, based on research-based objectives predictive of school success, and aligned with the Texas Prekindergarten Guidelines, says Diane Trister Dodge, president of Teaching Strategies, Inc. It includes assessment guidance to help teachers measure children's development according to widely held expectations and adjust instruction accordingly.
The New York Times reports three blue-ribbon panels have proposed eliminating the tax deductions for contributions to nonprofits in their current form and replacing them with a variety of measures that could add up to less money coming in. One plan would grant a tax credit worth 12 percent of donations but only if the taxpayer donates more than two percent of income. Another proposes a 25 percent credit for charitable gifts. A third would permit nonprofits to claim a tax credit worth 15 percent of any charitable gift they receive. Mark Rosenman, an expert on nonprofit strategy and leadership at ChangeMatters called efforts to tinker with the deductions at a time when contributions are down and demand for services from nonprofits is on the increase "absurd."

Calendar

December 9, 2010 - December 11, 2010
Phoenix, AZ – The annual Zero to Three conference will offer participants opportunities to discover the latest research on infants and toddlers and to discuss the history and future of the field with colleagues.
February 5, 2011 - February 8, 2011
Columbus, OH – The theme of this year's professional development conference is "Building a Literacy Future."
April 15, 2011 - April 16, 2011
Denver, CO -- This regional conference will offer workshops covering early childhood education topics relevant to teachers, administrators, researchers, health professionals, and policymakers.

Early Education News Roundup

December 3, 2010
The Washington Post
There's an education reform strategy that has 50 years of solid research behind it, with proven results that demonstrate how to improve student achievement. It's a solution backed by both political parties to help narrow the achievement gap, increase high school graduation rates and reduce crime and delinquency. It's an investment proven to yield up to $7 for every public dollar invested, paying dividends to families, school districts and taxpayers. It's voluntary, high-quality pre-kindergarten.
December 1, 2010
Education Week
But while a tide of fiscal conservatives and continued state-level budget crises may add to pressure for rollbacks in some state early-learning programs, the advocates hope the base of bipartisan and voter support that has largely preserved gains in state prekindergarten programs may still provide some shelter.
November 30, 2010
Beatrice Daily Sun, Beatrice, NE
Looking ahead at providing expanded preschool services to students in Beatrice Public Schools is about more than just dollars and cents. Superintendent Dr. Jon Lopez said he feels providing preschool will help raise BPS' achievement rate in tests like the Nebraska State Assessment for Reading as well as other state mandated tests district students will take in the upcoming years.
November 30, 2010
The News-Gazette, Champaign, IL
Local educators told of increased class sizes, unprecedented layoffs, transportation budgets in the red and cuts to early childhood programs – all problems caused by cuts in state funding for education and delays in payments from the state – at the last of six statewide budget hearings Tuesday.
November 29, 2010
Education Week
Administrators in the Chicago public schools are seeking to strike the right balance between providing guidance and permitting flexibility as they put in place the nation's first state mandate for providing bilingual education to preschoolers. New rules approved by the Illinois state board of education in June flesh out a January 2009 change that essentially extends the same requirements for educating English-language learners in K-12 public schools to 3- and 4-year-olds in public preschool centers.
November 24, 2010
Eastern Arizona Courier
First Things First has programs in place to make sure preschool children throughout Arizona, including those in Graham and Greenlee counties, eat healthily. Research shows even moderate undernutrition can have lasting effects on brain development.
November 24, 2010
The Argus Leader, Sioux Falls, SD
Madison was one of more than 400 children who participated in "Starting Strong," a three-year endeavor aimed at providing high-quality pre-K education to 3- and 4-year-olds from low-income and high-risk families. The trial period ended in May, but the program will continue as funding is available.
November 23, 2010
Wisconsin State Journal
Four-year-olds in some of Madison's poorest neighborhoods will likely have to travel several miles farther than their peers in more affluent neighborhoods to participate in the district's new 4-year-old kindergarten program next fall, Madison school officials acknowledge.
November 23, 2010
The Examiner, San Francisco, CA
Bungled oversight and jumbled responsibility resulted in nearly $1 million of San Francisco's early child care funding going unused last year. As a result of the mismanagement, nearly 100 families were not placed in early childhood care, according to a new audit.
November 23, 2010
KELO-TV, Sioux Falls, SD
The Starting Strong pilot program focuses on three- and four-year-old children who might not otherwise get the chance to attend pre-school. After three years of Starting Strong, 96 percent of parents with children in the program report improvements in their children's enthusiasm for school and their desire to learn their ABCs.
November 21, 2010
The Anniston Star, Anniston, AL
The state does require every school system to offer kindergarten, but does not mandate that children attend. It requires children by the age of 7 to be in school, which under Alabama law starts with first grade. That's led to a conundrum in some the state's school systems.
November 21, 2010
The Star-Ledger
Enrollment peaked between 2000 and 2002, when the program awarded more than 4,000 scholarships, state officials said. By 2004, the number of private preschool teachers with bachelor's degrees rose to 80 percent. Aside from raising preschool standards, advocates say the program also put higher education within reach of struggling teaching assistants, who typically earn less than $30,000 a year.

Resources

This report from the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado and the Commercialism in Education Research Unit at Arizona State University addresses how the recession has made schools more vulnerable to the propositions of marketers. Lead author Alex Molnar of Arizona State University says commercialism in schools works generally through embedding commercial messages in curriculum, entertainment, communication, and the physical environment as corporations sponsor school programs, lesson plans, and fundraising. He points out that children are generally unable to avoid this form of commercialism and cites research showing they are vulnerable to it, particularly when messages target self-image and identity information.
This report from the Center for American Progress and the RAND Corporation looks at the two challenges facing educational systems looking to incorporate student achievement gains into teacher evaluations: generating valid estimates of teachers' contributions to student learning, and including teachers who do not teach subjects or grades that are tested annually. It argues policymakers should take into account three considerations about score reliability: the internal consistency of student assessment scores, the consistency of ratings among individuals scoring the assessments, and the consistency of teachers' value-added estimates generated from assessment scores.
This new report from America's Promise Alliance shows some signs of progress in reducing the number of students who drop out of high school. Nationwide, high schools where 40 percent or more of the students fail to graduate fell by 13 percent. Most of the reduction in these schools occurred in the South. New York led the nation in boosting graduation rates. Three states lost ground: Arizona, Utah, and Nevada. The report includes four case studies of success: Tennessee; Alabama; New York City; and Richmond, Indiana.