Early Education in the News
The deck is already stacked against children living in poverty, and now, there's growing evidence that living in poverty can negatively affect children's brains.
A study by researchers from universities in Michigan, Wisconsin and North Carolina found poverty can diminish the brain's gray matter — the tissue that processes information.
The reduction in gray matter volume was found throughout the brain but most noticeably in the frontal lobe, temporal lobe and hippocampus –– areas tied to learning. . .
They argued funding should be increased for programs that help those below the poverty line — but the effectiveness of those programs has been debated.
The Head Start program said its funding has been reduced the past few years, leading to 53,000 children being cut from the program. This year, the budget has been restored, but future cuts are feared.
For the past several weeks, much of Washington has focused on the Senate's efforts to pass a bill to replace No Child Left Behind. While the discussion has focused on many important topics, the primary education setting for 12 million children has not been part of the conversation: child care.
When policymakers discuss education, child care is rarely mentioned. And to some extent, that is understandable. Most child care in the U.S. is poor or mediocre when it comes to quality and is designed to enable parents to work rather than to educate children. At the same time, the majority of young children under five have working parents and spend a considerable amount of their formative years in child care. If we want children to be adequately prepared for success in elementary school, we must invest in helping families access high-quality child care.
From city halls to Congress, political leaders are embracing the potential benefits of early childhood education. And it's none too soon. As a nation, we're behind the curve. Just last month, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan joined two education leaders in the U.S. House – Reps. Richard Hanna, R-N.Y., and Bobby Scott, D-Va. – to pen an article highlighting America's weak standing (31 out of 39) among advanced countries when it comes to preschool enrollment for 4-year-olds.
What other countries know – and what we're just catching on to – is that early childhood education can yield a high return on investment. Most prominently, Nobel Laureate James Heckman has shown that early childhood investments improve cognitive development; build the so-called soft skills – such as motivation and self-control – that children need for lifelong success; and reduce the social costs associated with fighting crime and poverty.
That’s according to Charlotte Webb, coordinator of elementary education for the state Department of Education and state leader for the West Virginia Leaders of Literacy: Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, a statewide initiative that seeks to raise the third-grade proficiency rate among Mountain State students who qualify for free or reduced lunch to 66 percent over the next five school years.
. . .We are pleased that there is widespread bipartisan support for increased investment in high-quality early childhood education programs in this year’s state budget. Both Gov. Tom Wolf and House and Senate Republicans have proposed significant investments in these programs — $120 million and $30 million, respectively.
Such an investment would help many additional at-risk children gain access to curricula and services critical for developing into the skilled workers of tomorrow. . .
So, how do we help employers find workers to suit their needs? An important answer lies in quality early childhood education. Approximately 90 percent of the brain is developed by age 5. Tests measuring different forms of executive function skills indicate that these skills begin to develop shortly after birth, with ages 3 to 5 being a window of opportunity for the most dramatic growth.
Kindergartners who share, cooperate and are helpful are more likely to have a college degree and a job 20 years later than children who lack those social skills, according to a new study. Kids who get along well with others also are less likely to have substance-abuse problems and run-ins with the law. The research, which involved tracking nearly 800 students for two decades, suggests that specific social-emotional skills among young children can be powerful predictors for success later in life. . .
Steven Barnett, the director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University, said the study shows that schools can’t just be concerned with teaching social-emotional skills — that’s too broad a category. The study did not find strong correlations between aggressive behavior, for example, and later life outcomes. “We’ve got to be very fine-tuned about what exactly it is we need to help kids with,” he said.
Generations of Alabamians have improved their lives through education. The primary focus on K-12 education, however, short changes children who are not adequately prepared to enter kindergarten ready to learn. In recent years, we have found that school success and the foundation for adult productivity depend on an early introduction to learning.
All children deserve a strong start. But in far too many communities, children in poverty miss out. Without access to high-quality early learning programs, they fall behind. Many never catch up. . .
Just recently, Alabama's First Class Pre-K was once again recognized by the National Institute for Early Education Research for meeting all 10 of NIEER's research-based quality standards. This is the ninth year in a row that Alabama has received this number-one-in-the-nation recognition for pre-k quality.
Below are seven examples of what $12 billion construction budget could cover in a world where education and social services are valued above installing fish tanks behind home plate and exclusive above-field swimming pools.
1. School lunches. According to the School Nutrition Association, the public money spent on sport facilities could cover virtually the entire cost of the federal funds that subsidize national school lunch program every year.
2. Food benefits. Ten years-worth of stadium renovations could cover a year of supplemental nutrition assistance program food benefits to roughly eight million people, based on SNAP average monthly benefits.
3. Addiction treatment. Twelve billion dollars could provide year-long methadone maintenance treatment to over 2.5 million people struggling with drug addiction, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse.
4. Early childhood education. According to research from the National Institute for Early Education, the amount of money allocated for sport facility renovations could cover a preschool education for every three and four-year-old living under the national poverty line.
Despite the clear benefits, for thousands of children from low- to moderate-income families in Southeastern Pennsylvania and throughout the commonwealth, access to high-quality early learning is simply not an option. According the National Institute of Early Education Research, only four of every 10 4-year-olds in America are enrolled in public prekindergarten, and almost half of all children served attend programs that were not considered high-quality.
That is why, as the Senate considers the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, I have introduced the Strong Start for America's Children Act as an amendment. My legislation would ensure that more than 3 million children in our nation would have access to high-quality early learning, including 93,000 Pennsylvanians. The amendment creates a federal-state partnership to provide access to high-quality public prekindergarten for low- and moderate-income families across the nation. This means that a family of four, earning up to $48,500 a year, would have this opportunity for their children.
That's the case elsewhere in the U.S., too. The number of family child care facilities dropped about 12 percent between 2013 and 2014, according to a recent report. Over the same period, commercial day cares also declined by about 4 percent.
Even with the recent economic rebound, the day care industry still struggles. As people started going back to work, women in particular were finding low-wage work — "shift work, hospitality jobs that weren't affording them the high price of child care," says Mary Beth Testa, a lobbyist for the National Association for Family Child Care.
In a era where restaurant reviews, hotel ratings, and other crowd-sourced information is available at a mouse click or finger-swipe, finding out information on local day cares or preschools is rarely that easy.
Many child-care and early-education providers don't have websites, and if they do, they might not list basic information, like price. If parents have more than one care option, they may weigh them on "feel" alone, rather than in addition to hard facts on factors such as adult-to-child ratios, caregiver qualifications, or inspection results.
Debate on the bipartisan reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, officially known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), will resume Wednesday on the U.S. Senate floor. . . . Another important priority for Democrats is a universal pre-k amendment, offered by Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey. Casey asked for unanimous consent to call up the amendment Tuesday morning but Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander (R) opposed it and asked Casey and other sponsors come up with a different way to pay for the amendment. The amendment would close the corporate tax inversions loophole, which would provide around $30 billion in funding.
On Tuesday morning, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said Democrats will block a Wednesday vote to end debate if necessary because he wants to have time for Democrats to debate their amendments – a sentiment Murray agreed with.
“We’re going to have to have a reasonable time to debate those amendments and have votes on those amendments. Otherwise we’re not going to complete this bill,” Reid said, according to The Hill. Murray has included pre-k in the three amendments she would like to see debated.
"Mass incarceration makes our communities worse off, and we need to do something about it," President Obama declared at the 106th NAACP Convention in Philadelphia on Tuesday, before laying out the steps he'd like to see Washington take to address the problem. . .
Meanwhile, incarceration comes at a huge cost to taxpayers -- specifically $80 billion a year. For that much money, Mr. Obama said, "We could have universal preschool for every three-year-old and four-year-old in America... We could double the salary of every high school teacher in America." Reforming the system, the president said, should happen in three areas: "In the community, the courtroom and in the cell block."
The slow progress of early childhood legislation is not surprising. It has historically moved at a gradual pace as states make small adjustments to their preschool systems.
"Everything moved in a positive direction, but if you step back and say, 'What's the pace of growth?,' it's so slow,” Steven Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research, told Education Week in May.
The chairman of the Illinois Board of Education recently said he wants to focus on third grade. One way he wants to do this is by offering preschool to more students in the state. . .
The state budget for early education, which has been approved, increases funding to preschool by $25 million. The goal is to help get students started early so they can achieve a third grade reading level by third grade.
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., is continuing a several-year push to open up preschool to more children and hopes such an amendment could be included in a rewrite of the No Child Left Behind Act.
“If children learn more earlier in life they will earn more later in their lives,” Casey said in an emailed statement to The Era on Thursday. “Investing in locally driven, high-quality pre-k is good for children and good for the future of our economy."
At-risk kids who can’t access high-quality preschool experiences face an early deficit of their own — except the stakes are much higher than the outcome of a basketball game.
Without the benefit of quality early education, children’s math and literacy skills can be up to 18 months behind those of their more-advantaged peers by the time these kids start kindergarten. Adults may not see an 18-month deficit as insurmountable, but remember that a year and a half represents nearly one-third of a 5-year-old’s life.
That’s a huge disadvantage. Far worse than being down by 13 points in a basketball game. These children might be scrambling to catch up for the rest of their education — and possibly for the rest of their lives.
That’s bad for the children, bad for their teachers and bad for the country.
Lawmakers are working on major changes to the No Child Left Behind law, and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr. is hoping one of his ideas will make it into the rewrite of the law.
The Scranton Democrat has introduced an amendment that would fund universal preschool education by ending a corporate tax loophole that allows American companies to claim they are headquartered overseas to avoid paying their fair share. He predicts that the five-year federal and state partnership could bring an additional $30 billion to the tax rolls.
It's easier today for parents to gauge the development of a young child. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention even put out a checklist of development stages that parents can download to make comparisons. . .
Statistics show poor children enter school well behind their more affluent classmates and typically continue to lose ground academically from that point on. Some research also suggests that the younger the child, the greater the impact of growing up in poverty and being deprived of a nurturing environment that encourages learning. That underscores the importance of a new program, "A Running Start Philadelphia," whose goal is to provide high-quality early-learning opportunities for every Philadelphia child from birth to age 5. The initiative is part of Shared Prosperity Philadelphia, the antipoverty program Mayor Nutter started two years ago.
Parents, grandparents, siblings and friends gathered Wednesday in Orem to celebrate their young loved ones' completion of the free preschool program UPSTART. They join thousands around the state in final assessment evaluations and graduation programs that will continue throughout the month.
UPSTART is a computer-based program that features educational activities in math and science with an emphasis in reading. Children use it for 15 minutes a day, five days a week and can practice early literacy skills at their own pace. Nearly 15 percent of Utah’s preschoolers participated in UPSTART this year.