Early Education in the News
Despite additional funding in last year’s bipartisan federal spending bill, early childhood education in Massachusetts continues to be shortchanged. It’s time the state Legislature and Baker administration address the unintended consequences of well-intended actions that are producing perverse and far-reaching results.
Standards issued in 2003 by the Early Childhood Advisory Council under its then-chairman (and current secretary of education and Early Education and Care board chairman) James Peyser include the requirement that by 2017 newly hired teachers working with 3- and 4-year-old children have a bachelor’s degree. The 81-page standards document noted, “Teachers in child care and Head Start programs are not paid sufficiently to attract and retain professionals with degrees.”
When four-year-olds in the state’s low-income preschool program were evaluated in the fall of 2014, only 30 percent had early literacy skills (like knowing the alphabet) showing they were ready for kindergarten.
By the end of their preschool year, 88 percent had those skills, according to a new report from the state’s Department of Early Learning. The rate for about three-quarters of the state’s incoming kindergartners — the ones who are evaluated using the state’s WaKIDS assessment last fall — was 81 percent.
Kids in the state preschool program made even greater strides in developing social and emotional skills. Only 39 percent were deemed ready in that area when they started preschool in the fall. By the spring, 92 percent had those skills, compared with the WaKIDS average of 73 percent . The state-preschool children also showed similar improvement in language, cognitive and physical skills.
President Barack Obama’s budget proposal for 2016-17 promises more support for early childhood programs, including increased funding for child care and preschools.
The budget includes $1.3 billion toward the president’s goal of ensuring that all low-income 4-year-olds in the nation have access to high-quality preschool programs. The Preschool for All initiative would be funded by increases in tobacco taxes.
“Real opportunity begins with education,” Obama said in his budget message. “My budget supports the ambitious goal that all children should have access to high-quality preschool, including kids from low-income families who too often enter kindergarten already behind.”
This week, U.S. Senators Richard Burr (R-NC) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) introduced the Military Child Care Protection Act of 2016. The bipartisan bill would improve standards for child care centers on military bases by bringing them in line with the standards for other child care centers that receive federal dollars.
Burr also was a sponsor of the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 2014, which put into law the highest standards for criminal background checks of employers receiving federal child care dollars.
The Santa Monica Cradle to Career initiative has singled out preparation for kindergarten as a priority as it strives to improve youth wellbeing. In June, the school board approved an agreement between the district and Santa Monica College to establish a collaborative preschool program that would serve 108 area children under age 6 at John Adams Child Development Center and Washington West Preschool.
President Obama noted the importance of pre-kindergarten programs in his last State of the Union address. A recent report by the nonprofit American Institutes for Research shows that preschool and transitional kindergarten opportunities give students advantages over their peers.
“Without access to high-quality school readiness programs, low-income children, children of color and English learners enter school at a disadvantage,” reads a statement by Early Edge California, an education advocacy group, “and those who start behind often stay behind.”
The Obama administration's proposed budget for fiscal 2017 would provide more money for early-childhood efforts through a variety of programs.
Citing the benefits of early childhood education, New Jersey lawmakers on Tuesday announced plans to seek $110 million for expanding public preschool in New Jersey. The proposal, backed by Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, would allow dozens of low-income school districts to apply for state funding for full-day preschool programs.
"Budgeting is about priorities and we have to seek what our priorities are," Prieto (D-Hudson) said at a news conference at Clifton School #17. "This is something that is essential, is crucial to our children."
Prieto and the bill's primary sponsor, Mila Jasey, said that including more funding for preschool in the next state budget will be a challenge. New Jersey is struggling to keep up with rising pension and health care costs while trying to find revenue for its dwindling Transportation Trust Fund. The $110 million would come from the state's property tax relief fund, according to the bill. "It's not going to be easy," Jasey (D-Essex) said. "It's going to require cooperation across the aisle."
The first bills calling for expansion of preschool in the state – a priority for New Jersey’s Democratic leadership -- were filed last week in both Senate and Assembly. State Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), who chairs the Senate’s education committee, filed two bills.
The first bill would allocate $103 million toward establishing two years of full-day preschool in 17 communities, with preference given to low-income districts. The other, the Early Childhood Innovation Act, would establish a pilot loan fund through the Economic Development Authority that would allow private funders to leverage their money to establish preschool programs operated by non-government organizations.
Hundreds rallied Friday in support of the state’s public education system.
They’re advocating for a bill created by the Hawaii State Teachers Association that they say will drastically improve the school system.
Senate Bill 2586 is a 10-part education omnibus bill that focuses on . . . 10 principles [including preschool].
The evidence is mounting in support of the eight-year-old “Minnesota Model” of early education investment. Now is the time to build on that model, not to abandon it.
Starting in 2008, the Minnesota Model — flexible, income-targeted, early-learning scholarships, coupled with a strong Parent Aware quality rating and improvement system to help programs adopt best practices — was first piloted by the Minnesota Early Learning Foundation. Because of very strong evaluation findings from the pilot, the approach was expanded with funding from the Obama administration’s $45 million Race-to-the-Top competitive grant award, from the private sector and from bipartisan legislation. In recent years, the Dayton administration and a bipartisan group of legislators have done a good job bringing this model statewide.
According to an independent, third-party evaluation — soon to be released — this approach is working well. Minnesota children in public and private Parent Aware-rated programs based in centers, homes and schools are making significant gains on language and literacy skills, early math skills, persistence, social skills, and mental organization or “executive function” — all critically important to success in kindergarten and beyond.
Gov. Tom Wolf visited an early childhood education center in Philadelphia on Thursday to announce $60 million increase in funding such programs in his next state budget plan.
Wolf used the West Philadelphia Community Center as a backdrop for his plan to boost early-education spending by more than 30 percent in his 2016-17 budget, which he will deliver later this month. Of course, the first-term Democratic governor’s 2015-16 budget has still not been approved after a nearly eight-month impasse the GOP, which controls both houses of the Legislature.
Wolf believes the state should be at the forefront of providing universal pre-K education.
“There is nothing a government in a free market economy should pay more attention to than education,” he said.
Texas school districts will be required to hire teachers with multiple credentials and improve family engagement to qualify for prekindergarten grants from $118 million in newly available state money.
The Texas Education Agency has released proposed rules, effective as early as March 7, that school districts must follow to qualify for the grants promised in House Bill 4, one of Gov. Greg Abbott’s signature laws passed in the last legislative session to boost prekindergarten quality across the state.
While Oklahoma is not at the top of the charts for reading or math scores nationally, it is one of the best at public preschool. It meets nearly all of the National Institute for Early Education's quality standards, including fully certified teachers paid on par with K-12 teachers. But even when prekindergarten classes were in the same building as higher elementary grades, the pre-K classrooms felt distinct. Yes, there was academic instruction. But there was also play, sing-alongs and make believe.
A new report focused on southwest Denver sheds light on the difficulties some Latino parents face finding affordable, high-quality preschool spots for their kids.
The report, released Wednesday by the advocacy group Padres & Jovenes Unidos, found that some parents who responded to the group’s community survey were placed on waiting lists at sought-after preschool sites. Others found open slots, but only at centers with Level 1 ratings, the lowest of five tiers on the state’s child care rating system, Colorado Shines.
Officials from Denver Public Schools, interviewed by phone, say more could be done to connect parents with preschool options in southwest Denver, but too few slots isn’t the main problem there. Such shortages are more pressing in pockets of southeast Denver, they say.
DPS Acting Superintendent Susana Cordova, who spoke at the report release event at the Corky Gonzalez branch of the Denver Public Library, said expanding preschool access is a key strategy for the district, but noted that the state plays a major role in preschool funding and other early childhood issues.
Ninety-one percent of the town’s 170 4-year-olds enroll in a public program annually, said Tyler Bridges, the assistant school superintendent here. One hundred forty attend the state-supported district preschool while another 15 children attend the local Cheyenne-Arapahoe Head Start program. Those high numbers are impressive, especially since only 53.7 percent of 4-year-olds attend school nationally and the U.S. ranks 30th for preschool enrollment among developed nations. That’s despite decades of research showing that early education often improves students’ chances of succeeding in school. But in Clinton, some things are just taken for granted: the movie-worthy sunsets, the churches on nearly every corner, and sending kids to preschool when they turn 4.
The same might be said of the state as a whole. Oklahoma has fully funded 4-year-old preschool for every child, regardless of family income, since 1998. As long as a child is 4-years-old by Sept. 1, he or she is qualified to attend school. Seventy-six percent of the state’s 4-year-olds were enrolled in 2014, a total of 40,823 children and one of the highest enrollment percentages in the country, according to the latest annual State of Preschool report by the National Institute for Early Education Research.
"Education doesn't start at five," Duncan said. "It starts at birth." California has found that to be true. A recent study from the American Institutes for Research finds California's state-mandated “transitional kindergarten” (TK) program has been largely successful. Created by the state's Kindergarten Readiness Act of 2010, the program makes all children whose fifth birthdays fall between Sept. 2 and Dec. 2 eligible for a state-funded year of pre-K education.
Across the U.S., the issue of pre-k education has been a hot topic, with 924 early childhood bills introduced in state legislatures in 2015 alone. Though a general consensus around the efficacy of pre-K exists, lawmakers have struggled to come to grips with best practices for implementation. Most legislative efforts have represented only small moves in expanding access and diversity in public preschool and early childhood education programs.
Governor Bush’s plan calls for converting 529 college savings accounts into Education Savings Accounts that would allow families and individuals to save for any level of education, tax-free. While incentivizing families to save for their children’s futures is a sound proposal, families struggling to make ends meet often don’t have the resources to save for high-quality pre-K, K-12, or higher education, let alone all three. This recent US News and World Report article states that the median 529 college savings account size in Alabama is $6,500. This isn’t enough to cover even one year of schooling at any age in most states, and this amount is likely accumulated by parents over up to 18 years of savings before a child heads off to college– not just the three or four years before they begin pre-K.
Bush’s plan offers a solution to jumpstart the Education Savings Accounts for low-income families: he would allow states to directly deposit $2,500 per year of federal funding into families’ Education Savings Accounts for children under the age of five in states that are willing to opt out of the existing 44 federal programs (a misleading number often referenced by Republicans) that currently support early education. This would essentially be a voucher that parents could use for the early education and care of their choosing. We have many questions about how this would work, but our two main concerns relate to access and quality.
Research shows that $2,500 is not enough money to provide high-quality pre-K, especially for working parents who often need access to full-day programs. According to NIEER, the average state spending on pre-K is about $4,100 per child per year. High-quality programs like New Jersey’s Abbott pre-K program cost over $13,000 per child. Bush explains that states, districts, and parents would be expected to supplement the cost of care, but he does not offer ideas on how this would work in a way that is effective and equitable.
Preschool helps kids. It helps them read better. It helps with motor skills. It helps with socialization and behaving around other kids. And it prepares kids better for kindergarten. But how much? Who does it really help? Do the benefits last? And is it worth the money?
That's where the consensus breaks down and the debates start.
In the last few years, the national discussion has focused not on whether preschool is a good thing, but on how necessary it is for all kids. With President Obama setting a goal of offering preschool to all children, opponents have lined up both behind and against his planned expansion.
Critics say that while preschool may help children from poor backgrounds - from families with low education, from households where there is not much reading or activity to engage their minds - it is not worth the cost for kids from educated and affluent families.
Fancy preschools in Silicon Valley abound. There’s Action Day Primary Plus,ranked the area’s No. 1 preschool by Bay Area Parent, whose “Tiny Tot” dance classes, weekend sports programs, and other activities “promote enjoyment and confidence through movement.” There’s Galileo Preschool, “which provides an innovative, project-based learning environment for children” and a curriculum that includes everything from American Sign Language to community service. Or there’s the Children’s World Bilingual Montessori School, where kids are exposed to both English and Mandarin on a daily basis as they learn the decimal system, Chinese culture, gardening, and more. The sticker price for enrolling full time in one of these preschools? $1,365, $1,320, and $1,200 a month, respectively.
These price tags are hardly surprising; private preschool is really, really expensivealmost anywhere you go. But they mean that even in the nation’s tech hub, where the poverty rate is significantly lower than the U.S. average, the young children of lower-income parents often miss out on the benefits of early-learning opportunities. According to a recent report from the Urban Institute, Silicon Valley tends to mirror the rest of the United States when it comes to early-education inequality. About three quarters of 3-year-olds from poorer families aren’t enrolled in preschool, but a majority of their wealthier counterparts are. Among 4-year-olds from lower-income families, nearly 40 percent don’t attend preschool, compared to only a fourth of upper-income families. “Even in a place of incredible wealth, we’re finding similar gaps,” said Erica Greenberg, one of the study’s authors.