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NIEER's weekly newsletter for the latest in early education news

NIEER Weekly

Volume 16, Issue 14

April 7, 2017

Highlighting the week's most interesting stories and studies: Head Start Improvement Act

Hot Topics

Head Start Improvement Act

Federal legislation introduced this week would “replace the existing Head Start program with block grants to states and Indian tribes for prekindergarten (pre-K) education,” according to the official Congressional Record summary. The legislation makes no mention of the Migrant and Seasonal Head Start program.

The proposal, sponsored by Sen. Mark Lee (R-Utah) and Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN,) would replace direct financial assistance to Head Start agencies with block grants allocated by the Department of Education—not the Department of Health and Human Services which currently administers Head Start—to eligible states and Indian tribes based on their proportions of children, aged five and younger, from households at or below 100% of the federal poverty level.

Grants would be used for subgrants to eligible entities providing pre-K programs, as well as for  administrative costs, technical assistance, oversight, monitoring, research and training. Under the current proposal, states and tribal governments would have “full flexibility to use grant funds to finance the pre-K programs of their choice…(and) may use grant funds to establish portable voucher systems” for attending private pre-K education programs.

This year’s legislation resembles a proposal by former Rep. Tom Price, now DHHS secretary, to create a Head Start block grant pilot program in eight states. That amendment was rejected 254-165, and current versions have not been scheduled for committee hearings.

Yet with Price at the helm of DHHS and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos advocating a federal voucher system, the idea of Head Start block grants could garner more support.

We see three key issues that any plan to shift Head Start funds to the states must address to avoid being a disaster and have any hope of producing real improvements.

First, the federal government recently introduced a system in which every Head Start’s classroom quality is assessed and that information is used for program improvement, or in the worst case in which programs fail to improve, can lead to loss of the contract to competitors. This was a huge step forward and it would be tragic to lose it.

Second, some states have abysmally low standards and a poor track record for their own preschool programs. If they bring Head Start down to their low standards we can expect real harm to children rather than benefits.

And lastly, Head Start needs more than just greater flexibility–it needs to raise quality and intensity. This will require adequate salaries to hire and retain high performing staff instead of the near poverty level wages now paid, so Head Start will either have to get more money per child or reduce the number of children served. There certainly should be no “wishful thinking” that block grants would allow funding to decrease without a decrease in quality.

NIEER’s State of Preschool Yearbooks document a wide range of availability and quality among state preschool programs. The low quality of some state efforts compared to Head Start is terrifying to those who have worked to raise Head Start quality during the Bush and Obama administrations.

We invite you to follow NIEER on Twitter @PreschoolToday and Facebook at Preschool Today. Please share your social media handles so we can connect. 

New on Preschool Matters…Today!

Boosting Language and Literacy Experiences in K-3 for DLLs

Attending high-quality preschool yields significant academic benefits for the rising population of young dual language learners (DLLs) in the US. Research has indicated that when Hispanic children attend high-quality preschool centers, their kindergarten readiness skills exceed those of children who did not attend. The recent National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine Consensus Report (2017) describes effectively educating children who are learning English as their second language as “a national challenge with consequences both for individuals and for American society” and recommends new teaching practice and policies. The federal Every Student Succeeds Act under Title I also enables states to implement high-quality preschool programs that can benefit all children, but particularly DLLs.

NIEER Activities

The PNC Foundation this week announced a new $5 million alliance with, enabling the online charity to include requests from Head Start teachers across the nation. A recent study conducted by the National Head Start Association showed that 94 percent of teachers need more resources to enrich the classroom, but 84 percent are unable to fund experiences they want to provide.

As part of this initiative, a donation of $504,000 funded 849 project requests in public and charter school pre-K classrooms in 22 states and Washington, D.C., where PNC conducts business. PNC also is matching, dollar for dollar, donations that support the pre-K public, charter, and Head Start projects listed on in the PNC footprint.

NIEER Director Steven Barnett, Ph.D. is a member of the PNC Grow Up Great advisory board. The PNC Foundation also supports NIEER research on early education in the PNC footprint.

CEELO Update

Information and Resources to Assist States in Developing Policy on Early Childhood Suspension and Expulsion

CEELO this week shared a new policy report, co-authored by Director Lori Connors-Tadros, of current research on the impact and prevalence of suspension and expulsion in early childhood programs and a summary of key federal and national policy on suspension and expulsion in early childhood programs. It also provides an overview of emerging state policy, descriptions of effective approaches for prevention, and considerations for states in developing policy in this area.


Seeing and Hearing: The Impacts of New York City’s Universal Prekindergarten Program on the Health of Low-Income Children 

Prior research suggests that high-quality universal pre-kindergarten (UPK) programs can generate lifetime benefits, but the mechanisms generating these effects are not well understood. A new National Bureau of Economic Research working paper examines the effects of the New York City universal pre-K program on health and healthcare use of children enrolled in Medicaid.

In 2014, New York City made all 4-year-old children eligible for high-quality pre-K programs that emphasized developmental screening. The program increased the probability that a child was diagnosed with asthma or with vision problems, received treatment for hearing or vision problems, or received a screening during the prekindergarten year, the paper states. Findings suggest that one way pre-K might generate benefits by accelerating the rate at which children are identified with conditions that could potentially delay learning and cause behavioral problems.

First Five Years Fund Resource List

State leaders are at the forefront of creating innovative early childhood care and learning systems around the country. The Child Care State Capacity Building Center (SCBC), one of the Office of Care’s Technical Assistance (TA) Centers, released a number of new resources this month that provide state leaders with early childhood technical assistance (TA) support.

The SCBC plays a critical role in helping state and territory lead agencies promote consistent, high-quality programs across states and local communities. Specifically the SCBC focuses on enhancing state level expertise in order to build partnerships and strengthen state early childhood systems.

CNA Podcast: The Harm of Missing School

Simone Robers, associate director of CNA Education and school crime and safety expert, discusses the gaps in current absenteeism data and the importance of parental involvement in curbing the problem. Chronic absenteeism, defined as missing 10 percent or more of the school year, is the single strongest predictor of dropping out of school. Students who are chronically absent tend to struggle with reading and are eight times more likely to be incarcerated in their lifetime.

Policy-Induced Disparities in Migrant and Seasonal HS Teacher Qualifications

Research published by Teachers College Record, reveals the Head Start program has made impressive gains in increasing the qualifications of its teachers due to initiatives implemented by the Administration of Children and Families to increase the qualifications of Head Start teachers nationwide. The slow growth in the qualifications of Migrant and Seasonal Head Start teachers and the resultant teacher qualifications disparity gap has been attributed to the unique characteristics of Migrant and Seasonal Head Start families and programs.

This study documents a widening annual teacher qualifications disparity gap between Head Start (HS) teachers and Migrant and Seasonal Head Start (MSHS) teachers and asks if the teacher qualifications disparity is a Head Start policy-induced outcome.

NIEER’s State(s) of Head Start report highlighted the issue of teacher credentials, along with a detailed profile of Migrant and Seasonal Head Start programs.

“Nowhere is the inadequacy of funding more apparent than with teachers,” according to a NIEER press release on MSHS. “The percent of MSHS teachers holding a bachelor’s degree or higher was below national averages, at 24 percent in MSHS compared to national rates of 30 percent for Early Head Start teachers and 73 percent for Head Start teachers. MSHS teachers earned substantially less than teachers in public school, with MSHS teachers earning $24,083, far less than the $57,092 for teachers in public schools.”

Don’t Use Kindergarten Readiness Assessments for Accountability

More than 40 states either have or are in the process of developing Kindergarten Readiness Assessments (KRA), a tool to measure children’s readiness for kindergarten. According to a recent Ounce of Prevention Fund report, “Uses and Misuses of Kindergarten Readiness Assessments, KRAs are often used inappropriately.

The authors note that a state that wants to effectively use KRAs as an accountability measure would need to invest in high amounts of training to ensure that scores are reliable, meaning that two different people scoring a child would produce the same score. This would require a both large investment by the state, and even with the extensive training, the reported noted that there would likely always be measurement errors or small variations.

The real value of KRAs are in individualizing children’s learning, informing instruction, connecting with families, preparing schools, and guiding early education investments to ensure that all children have a solid start in life.

CEELO recently shared Implementing a Kindergarten Entry Assessment (KEA) System, a Fast Fact brief reviewing experiences from states implementing KEAs, identifying key data points and reporting; and understanding what teacher and administrator supports and conditions are necessary.

This is the third Fast Fact focused on KEA. Previous briefs include Using Teaching Strategies GOLD® within a Kindergarten Entry Assessment System and a state scan of Assessment Tools Used in Kindergarten Entry Assessment.

State-Local Models and Approaches Designed to Build Strong Early Learning Systems: What States Have Learned

This document from the federal Early Childhood Training and TA System explores state-local models of early childhood system governance, including common characteristics of state-local approaches, types of models, and the vision statements of eight States: Vermont, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Iowa, Arizona, Oregon.



NIEER is seeking a Research Professor/Co-Director to assume major leadership responsibilities for the development and management of research, development of assessments including assessments of practice, and the provision of professional development and technical assistance relating to systems design and large-scale implementation of early learning initiatives.

To apply, please use this link provided by Rutgers University. Applicants are expected to provide a cover letter, CV, and three letters of recommendation.


What we know about the effects of pre-K in 6 consensus statements

Event/Live Webcast
Monday, April 17, 2017
9 am— Noon Eastern
The Brookings Institution
Washington, DC 20036

How can states optimize their pre-K programs to provide both the strongest early learning boost and a solid foundation for future learning? Brookings is hosting a discussion featuring leading pre-K researchers presenting results of a collaboration designed to build a consensus statement about the state of knowledge on pre-K education. That statement—presented in six consensus facts—is embedded in a fuller report on the role of pre-K curriculum, cost-benefit studies, financing, and more. A presentation of the consensus statement will be followed by two panel discussions. Register to attend or RSVP for the live webcast.

The NIEER ECE Consensus Letter signed in 2015 by more than 1200 researchers, relying on an extensive body of research in education, developmental psychology, neuroscience, medicine and economics, concluded that quality early childhood education programs produce better education, health, economic and social outcomes for children, families, and the nation.

Parenting Matters: Supporting Parents of Children Ages 0-8

Wednesday, April 26, 2017
Noon–1 pm Eastern

The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine recently released a report informing a national framework for strengthening the capacity of parents of young children birth to age 8 intended to provide a road map for parenting and family support policies, practices, and research in the US.

Three members of the study committee that authored this report will discuss the report’s conclusions and recommendations during the webinar. Register here.

Early Education in the News

ICYMI: Read this week’s key stories on early childhood education issues.

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