Early Education in the News
With Bernie Sanders proposing that all public universities become tuition-free zones for students of all stripes, and Hillary Clinton pushing a plan that would target middle- and low-income Americans with scholarship money, the higher ed debate is beginning to travel the well-worn paths early educators have trod for years. That is: Should we spend more money to make preschool free for everyone? Or, given limits on funging, should we target our spending to children whose parents couldn't otherwise afford preschool?
A think piece on preschool enrollment published this week by Sarah Garland, Executive Editor of The Hechinger Report, asks that question and arrives at the less-than-satisfying conclusion that, in this country at least, we have no idea what works best. We do know, however, that we are not doing what works best.
Not all the children who qualify for the free programs we do have are actually able to attend because there isn't enough funding to serve all of them, and many families who don't qualify still struggle to find high quality care they can afford. The U.S. ranks 30th among OECD countries, a common proxy for advanced economies, in school enrollment for 3- and 4-year-olds. We do better at enrolling kids in college, but our rates of college-going have barely grown in recent decades.
The needs of our nation's littlest learners have garnered increasing attention in 2015. Although early learning still takes a back seat to K-12 education and higher education in national policy debates, state and national politicians are incorporating calls for early childhood investments into their stump speeches, philanthropic funders are targeting resources to early learning and, according to a new First Five Years Fund poll, average Americans increasingly recognize the importance of early learning for children's long-term success.
Here are some of the early childhood stories that captured attention in 2015 – and what they might mean for the year ahead.
About half of the children in the two largest public preschool programs in California – Head Start and the California State Preschool Program – speak a language other than English at home, but there is a good chance they will not be in classrooms with teachers and teacher assistants who are bilingual or trained specifically in instructing English learners.
This reality has broad implications for the ability of California’s public education system to promote successful outcomes for students who are learning English. Two-thirds of English learners did not meet the standards on the Smarter Balanced tests aligned with the Common Core standards, which were administered last spring for the first time. The results underscored the importance of early education programs in getting younger children who are not proficient in English better prepared before they get to kindergarten.
Early education experts say children who are English learners would be better prepared if they were taught in their native languages while also learning English – a goal included in the state’s preschool standards. But Head Start and the California State Preschool Program – which support tens of thousands of students across the state – don’t require teachers to be bilingual, making it more difficult to attain that goal. Combined, those two programs serve about a quarter of the state’s 4-year-olds.
Teachers’ qualifications, including the language skills they bring with them and the training they have received to help children learn English, are crucial for preparing English learners for kindergarten so they can keep pace with their English-only peers, said Lea Austin, a researcher with the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at UC Berkeley.
In September, DFPS began trying to keep the detention facilities open to house women and children by creating a new child care licensing category for family detention centers. But Grassroots Leadership, an Austin nonprofit that has fought for the closure of family detention centers since 2006, filed suit against DFPS in order to block the licensure, and a Travis County district court halted the state’s efforts in late November. Instead, ruled Judge Karin Crump, the state would have to complete the normal administrative process required when creating new child care licensing rules and hold a public hearing.
The new law will significantly reduce the legal authority of the education secretary, who would be legally barred from influencing state decisions about academic benchmarks, such as the Common Core State Standards, teacher evaluations and other policies.
But Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who is stepping down at the end of the month, claimed victory, saying that the new law incorporates many of his ideas about the best way to improve schools, such as federally funded preschool.
That was a top priority for Murray, a former preschool teacher, who initially sought funding for preschool for low-income children but settled for a $250 million annual grant program to help states organize existing systems.
Gov. Mike Pence’s surprising decision last year not to apply for a federal education grant that could have brought Indiana up to $80 million to spend on preschool for low-income youngsters was a costly one for Hoosier children and families.
Last week brought a glimpse of the staggering tally.
According to a story in the Indianapolis Star, the prekindergarten funding available through the state’s $10 million pilot program doesn’t even begin to address the needs in the five counties where it’s available. The majority of families who applied for the program were turned away. In Marion County, about 70 percent of the 5,000 who applied were rejected. In Lake County, only 40 percent of those who applied were accepted. And Vanderburgh County, which had the highest acceptance rate, rejected about 35 percent of applicants. The program is also offered in Allen and Jackson counties.
A long-awaited rewrite of federal education law appears headed toward final congressional approval. The Senate voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to end debate on a widely criticized No Child Left Behind Act, setting up a final vote Wednesday. The sweeping legislation would give the states greater control over the nation’s public schools but still maintain annual testing to gauge student progress. . .
Murray, a former preschool teacher, said the legislation would still hold under-performing schools responsible, but would leave it to the states to decide how to do that. Murray also praised the bill for including a key priority for her — a focus on early childhood education. “For the first time ever, our federal education law will recognize the importance of early learning with the grants program that we have put in place. It’s a very good beginning state for our nation,” Murray said in an interview. The grants program will use existing funding to help states improve quality and access to early childhood education.
A fight between Democratic presidential hopefuls Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton over how to make college affordable bears a striking resemblance to an old debate on the other end of the education pipeline: Should publicly funded preschool be “universal” or targeted only to the neediest kids?
Early education advocates have been down this road many times already, and several had opinions about the pros and cons of universal vs. targeted as the debate hits higher education. In early education, universal pre-K — or, the Bernie Sanders approach — has had some political success. New York City launched free pre-K for every 4-year-old. In Washington, D.C., 3-year-olds get to go free, too. In New Jersey, a lawsuit made free preschool available for all kids living in the state’s poorest cities and towns. And Oklahoma, among the reddest of red states, has had universal pre-K for more than 15 years.
“I think the New York City approach is exactly the right thing,” said W. Steven Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research. “There is this approach that government should only do things for poor people and everybody else should be off on their own. I think that that’s not a good approach to education. Education in the United States is already more unequal and uneven than most places in the world.”
“I think it is a problem if people view [preschool] as charity,” he added. “‘Beggars can’t be choosers’ — that’s not a good approach to education. I want the most advantaged people in the community lobbying the politicians in charge of these things to ensure that it’s high quality.”
Preschool is important. But those tasked with educating the nation's littlest learners are not well-compensated for their efforts. A new report out from the National Association for the Education of Young Children shows that a majority of voters think early childhood educators deserve more pay. This makes sense given that a survey of preschool teachers also featured in the report reveals that some are struggling to get by.
Early childhood educators earn notoriously little money. A 2014 report from the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment found that preschool teachers typically only make six dollars more an hour than fast-food workers (with mean hourly wages of $15.11 and $9.07, respectively) -- though early childhood educators are often required to have a bachelor's or associate's degree.
"If fast food workers deserve $15 per hour, then surely those teaching our most vulnerable children every day deserve significantly more," David Nocenti, Executive Director of the child care network Union Settlement, told the outlet in September. Eighty-five percent of voters said they think it's "very important" or "extremely important" that early childhood educators are well-compensated. Over 90 percent of surveyed voters also said that they "play a critical role in helping children grow and develop."
But for some more astounding than these discipline statistics were the thousands of the nation’s youngest learners—nearly 8,000 preschoolers—suspended from school in the same year, often for relatively minor disruptions and misbehaviors. For researchers and educators immersed in this work, why preschoolers are put out of school and the entrenched racial disparity seems most closely tied to reasons such as teacher bias and children living in poverty whose hitting, biting, and pinching is frequently labeled misconduct rather than developmental delays.
Walter S. Gilliam, a psychologist and researcher at Yale University’s Child Study Center, led the first expansive study of preschool expulsions a decade ago. In a random national sample of more than 4,500 state-funded pre-k classrooms in 40 states, his 2005 report revealed 3- and 4-year-olds were expelled from pre-k programs more than three times as often as students in kindergarten through high school. The rates of preschool expulsions varied dramatically with age, gender, and race: 4-year-olds were expelled at a higher rate than 3-year-olds; boys were over four times as likely to be ousted from prekindergarten as girls; and black children were expelled about twice as often as Latino and white youngsters, and over five times as often as Asian-American children.
The achievement gap in childhood education starts way before your child even walks into a classroom. Kids from lower income families typically hear 30 million fewer words than their more affluent peers by the age of 3, according to research from the University of Kansas. That's why Saturday in Dover, Delaware put the focus on early childhood education.
"I think when you have an opportunity to sort of learn the best practices from your peers and some folks who are really experts in the field, it just makes it better for everybody," said Gov. Jack Markell (D)
This year, though, his budget and his students got a rare boost. Thanks to a four-year federal grant, 17 low-income districts including North Bergen received funding to create or expand preschool programs that will prepare thousands of 4-year-olds for kindergarten and elementary school.
The districts have already begun turning half-day programs into full-day, hiring properly certified teachers, creating new bus routes, and enrolling more children. North Bergen and others are working on plans for new school buildings to house their expanded programs. Previously, most had only offered preschool to special-needs students, as required by law, along with a few regular education students chosen by lottery.
Other families had to keep their children at home until kindergarten, or if they could afford it, pay for private childcare programs that may or may not have educational value.
The new classrooms meet the teacher qualifications, class size, curriculum, and other standards of the Abbott program. Research shows that those preschools have measurable benefits for low-income kids lasting at least through fifth grade. The children remain academically more advanced than their counterparts who did not attend Abbott preschools, are less frequently assigned to special-education, classes and are held back a grade less often.
The revision of the No Child Left Behind law now before Congress has increased support for early childhood education that advocates are calling “historic.”
The bill makes permanent a grant program for early education and has a number of new provisions aimed at ensuring the effective use of resources among federal, state and local governments.
The bill, which has passed the House and is expected to be passed by the Senate this week, has “historic support for early childhood education,” said Charles Joughin, communications director with the First Five Years Fund, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C.
For the first time since the Elementary and Secondary Education Act — currently referred to as NCLB — was implemented in 1965, the bill recognizes that early childhood education is important in federal and state efforts to close achievement gaps between low-income students and their peers, said Erin Gabel, deputy director of First 5 California. Gabel also applauds the bill for a new emphasis on coordination and collaboration between early education programs and K-12 schools.
"When you trace it all back, really the fundamental thing that grows human brains in the first three years of life is parent talk and interaction. And there is no way around it," says Dana Suskind, a pediatric surgeon at the University of Chicago Hospital and the founder of the Thirty Million Words Initiative. "The brain is hard-wired to learn from human language and interaction."
Suskind conducted close to 200 surgeries to install cochlear implants in the ears of children, to help them hear. Over the years, she came to see first-hand, in the operating room and X-rays, that hearing words vitalizes the brains of infants.
"The language comes in: You get these neural connections building the sort of architecture of the brain. It's really the foundation for all thinking and learning," she says. "I always say that language is the nutrition for the developing brain."
It's not just a question of developing vocabulary, she says: That interaction helps the brain develop to handle things like tying your shoe.
“Terrifying … yet encouraging,” stated Michael Scully, St. Louis regional president of PNC Bank, after viewing the “Raising of America” film clip at a public forum last month drawing awareness to the state of early childhood in the St. Louis region. . .
Mr. Scully cited the encouraging economic development research showing for every $1 invested, society sees a return of $3 to $17 in benefits, including reduced crime and public assistance, improved health, and higher education and employment rates — compelling statistics that demonstrate the need for early childhood to be addressed by business investments and by the community as a whole, on an economic and policy level. The statistics should mobilize, not paralyze, us as a region to come together for family and child well-being. In the words of Jason Purnell, forum panelist, speaking to the everyday needs of families facing “the toxic cocktail of poverty and stress … We have not decided that every child deserves access to high quality early childhood.”
Richard Kendell, co-chairman of Education First, said there is a need for lawmakers and educators to unite behind the strategies and investments that will have the greatest impact on school outcomes.
"We have more plans than we know what to do with," Kendell said. "We just don't execute them. We just don't get it done."Utah, Kendell said, is not the magnet for talent that it should be. With a graduation rate of roughly 80 percent, Kendell said, the state loses between 9,000 and 10,000 high school seniors each year who are bound for poverty and dependence.
"Our future is all about talent," he said. "You want the best engineers and the best accountants. You want the most proficient, productive, energetic and inventive people you can find to drive your business and drive this economy."
In the 2015 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama said child care is a must have for working parents. Now, the state of Montana is asking parents for feedback on early childhood education programs. . .
Cornelious said many of her students that had attended preschool did better in middle school, high school and in college than those who didn't attend a preschool.
Early childhood education, especially when families choose to go through private providers, can be expensive, so the state put out a survey to identify concerns parents face when choosing the right program. The survey hopes to help expand opportunities for low-cost public preschools. Issues facing parents who want to enroll their children in preschools include quality, accessibility and what their children are being taught.
Quality is taken for granted at expensive, top-flight schools, and at any rate, children from wealthy and middle-class families often do well in elementary school regardless which preschool they attended. But studies find that less-advantaged 3- and 4-year-olds need top-notch pre-K programs if they are to overcome the serious barriers to success that they face, and their parents cannot afford Montessoris or even mid-range schools. The centers and homecare settings where most of them spend their days are in many cases not up to the task.
There are many good centers with well-trained, caring teachers and even national accreditation, but research on private childcare finds that, on average, programs are mediocre and some are quite bad, with children doing little more than watching TV.
Accurately gauging the quality of individual centers is virtually impossible. For example, while the state’s big childcare chains say they use sophisticated curricula developed by child development experts, each franchise operates on its own, and there is no independently published evidence that their programs have a positive impact.
Studies of publicly funded programs, like New Jersey’s Abbott preschools, show that if they meet a set of stringent standards they can measurably improve long-term academic achievement and social outcomes for poor and disadvantaged students. Since the state program is largely limited to 35 towns, low-income kids in other communities stand to gain the most from quality improvements in private centers and home settings.
As the County Commission moves toward developing a Children’s Services Council in Alachua County, a key element of our efforts must be the establishment of a pilot early learning center in collaboration with the School Board and the University of Florida’s College of Education.
The proposed Children’s Service Council must focus on program improvement as the key to enhancing the outcomes of early learning and care throughout the county. A model program, where developmentally appropriate and effective practice can be demonstrated to the whole community, would be a marvelous way to do this. Increasing the number of children served or improving the coordination of services for children are laudable goals, but, if the quality of learning and care that goes on in our county’s early childhood classrooms is not improved, we will not see the positive outcomes we seek.
Eight years after the No Child Left Behind Act expired, the House passed compromise legislation to reduce the federal government’s role in the public education system.
Wednesday’s 359-64 vote follows years of stalled efforts to replace the Bush-era No Child Left Behind.
The Senate is slated to consider the bill next week and send it to President Obama, who is expected to sign it into law.
The measure keeps in place the law’s trademark annual reading and math testing requirements for students in grades three through eight. High school students would only have to undergo the testing once. Science tests would also be given three times between grades three and 12.
However, the legislation would prevent the federal government from requiring or incentivizing states to adopt any set of education standards like Common Core.