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

NIEER Weekly

Volume 16, Issue 15

April 14, 2017

Highlighting the week's most interesting stories and studies: A sweet tax, a desire for data and PreK redshirting

Hot Topics

Could taxes on sugary drinks be the future for funding universal preschool?

We’ll know more next month—after Santa Fe voters decide May 2 whether to join Philadelphia, Boulder, and a growing number of cities imposing a tax on sugary beverages and using the proceeds to finance universal preschool.

Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzalez has championed the 2-cents-per-ounce tax on soda and other sweetened beverages estimated to raise $7.7 million a year to provide free or reduced-cost preschool for 1,000 children in low-income families.

Philadelphia was the first city to impose a tax on sugary beverages to finance preschool. In January,  PHLpreK launched, financed by a municipal 1.5-cent-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened and diet beverages expected to raise about $410 million over the next five years, with about $210 million earmarked for enrolling 6,500 more children in locally funded quality pre-K programs.

PHLpreK partners with neighborhood providers and covers the cost of quality pre-K throughout the school day and school year. There are no income or employment requirements for families.

In November elections, Boulder added a 2-cents-per-ounce excise tax on distributors of sugary drinks; while three California cities (San Francisco, Oakland and Albany) each added a 1-cent per ounce excise tax. Support was overwhelming—54% in Boulder, 62% in San Francisco, 61% in Oakland and 71% in Albany. The taxes are projected to generate $15 million in San Francisco, $3.8 million in Boulder and $223,000 in Albany, according to estimates by each city. In Oakland, the tax was projected to generate $6 million to $10 million per year for general municipal purposes.

Berkeley was the first city to tax sugary beverages, approving a 1-cent-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened drinks in 2014 earmarked for the municipal general fund. Two years later, researchers reported a 20% reduction in consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages—enough to eventually reduce rates of obesity and Type 2 diabetes.

All this means that initiatives like that in Santa Fe are not just a convenient way of raising revenue for a good cause, but a double-barreled approach to supporting healthier development of our children—expanding access to high-quality early care and education while discouraging consumption of sugary beverages that contribute to problems of tooth decay, obesity and diabetes.

That’s what we call a win-win.

New on Preschool Matters…Today!

Data Literacy is More Than Just Test Results: Why it is Important in Early Childhood Education

Data have been used in education for many years. Good teachers and administrators have been using data to inform their practice and make decisions. Why is data use important? Because it is no longer acceptable for educators to solely use anecdotes and gut feelings to make decisions. Educators need hard evidence. To that end, there has been a growing emphasis for the past 15 years to make education a more evidence-based and data-driven discipline.

CEELO Update

Illinois Race to the Top—Early Learning Challenge 2016 Evaluation Report

CEELO this week shared an independent evaluation by Education Development Center, Inc. on Illinois’ RTT-ELC implementation, highlighting lessons learned and implications for policy. (Executive Summary)  
The RTT-ELC program is jointly administered by the U.S. Departments of Education (ED) and Health and Human Services (DHHS). States participating in RTT-ELC submitted proposals outlining  activities to improve early learning by coordinating existing programs, by improving, evaluating, and rating the quality of early care and education services, and by increasing access to high-quality programs, especially for children with high need.  
While Illinois faced a budget crisis and a new administration transition, the evaluation team found that RTT-ELC programs still had a positive influence.   


Daily Touchscreen Use in Infants and Toddlers is Associated with Reduced Sleep and Delayed Sleep Onset

Scientific Reports recently published research based on a survey of UK families showing that 75% of toddlers ages 6 months to 3 use a touchscreen daily—and suggesting that increased touchscreen use is associated with decreased sleep.

While traditional screen time, such as television and videogames, has been linked to sleep problems and poorer developmental outcomes in children, researchers relied on an online survey of 715 parents to examine whether touchscreen devices may be disrupting sleep for young children, when sleep is essential for cognitive development.

Results showed every additional hour of touchscreen use was associated with an overall reduction in sleep of 15.6 minutes.

A Quarter Century of Changes in the Elementary and Secondary Teaching Force: From 1987 to 2012

The teacher workforce in America’s schools grew by 46 percent and became more ethnically diverse from 1987-2012, according to A Quarter Century of Changes in the Elementary and Secondary Teaching Force: From 1987 to 2012, a new statistical analysis recently released by the National Center for Education Statistics in the Institute of Education Sciences.

The report looks at several key characteristics, including the number of teachers, the level of teaching experience, and the racial/ethnic diversity of the teaching force and how these demographic changes varied across different types of teachers and schools.

Key findings include:

  • The number of teachers working in high-poverty schools grew by nearly 325%, while the number of teachers in low-poverty schools declined by nearly 20%.
  • While minority teachers remain underrepresented in the teaching force, the number of minority teachers grew by 104%, compared to 38% for other teachers. Minority teachers increased from about 12% to about 17% of all teachers.
  • The number of teachers at private schools grew at a higher rate than public school teachers, but remains about 12% of all teachers.

The report utilizes data from the Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS), a large-scale sample survey of elementary and secondary teachers and schools in the United States.

Leveraging University-School District Research Partnerships: Exploring the Longitudinal Effects of an Early Kindergarten Transition Program

The Journal of Applied Research on Children recently shared an article detailing the Early Kindergarten Transition program evaluation study conducted by a university-district partnership.

The EKT program is a free Multnomah County OR summer program bringing early childhood and school partners together to promote successful kindergarten transition for children and their families in high-need schools. As the EKT program began to expand in Portland Public Schools, district leaders wanted to measure its effectiveness.

The evaluation found that participating in an Early Kindergarten Transition (EKT) summer program had long-term positive impacts for students including higher attendance rates, higher literacy fluency scores, and increased likelihood of meeting literacy benchmarks.

Collective Impact of Social Innovation on a Two-Generation Learning Program with Hispanic/Latino Families in Detroit

The National Center for Families Learning released a Collective Impact brief on the results of a two-generation learning program with Hispanic/Latino families in Detroit. The brief “demonstrates a combined and focused effort that resulted in a collective impact for families. With a common agenda, professional development, continuous communication, and ongoing technical support, this mutually reinforcing partnership enriched the social capital of programs and delivered the promise of two-generation educational success.”

Social-Emotional Skills in Early Childhood Support Workforce Success

This national ReadyNation report examines how character skills formed in early childhood contribute to building a strong workforce with the necessary social-emotional skills for the 21st century economy. For example, a 20-year study examined the character skills of 800 kindergarteners and followed them until age 25. For every one-point increase in children’s character skills scores in kindergarten, they were:

  • 54% more likely to earn a high school diploma
  • Twice as likely to attain a college degree
  • 46% more likely to have a full-time job at age 25

State briefs reflect comments from major company executives across the country about why social-emotional skills are critical to their businesses’ success, and why they believe smart investments during a child’s earliest years ensure that employees are ready to succeed on their first day at work.

Is Your Child Ready for Kindergarten?

Many parents of preschoolers have bought into the concept of academic redshirting, choosing to delay their child’s entry into kindergarten for a year. These parents believe that their children need that extra year to develop the necessary skills and maturity to succeed in kindergarten.

Preschools and elementary schools often recommend redshirting, asserting that it bestows the “gift of extra time,” but parents should take such advice with a grain of salt. After all, a preschool stands to gain financially from the practice, since the school will likely capture another year’s tuition. And elementary schools may also have mixed motives: older children are easier to teach and they perform at higher levels, just by virtue of being older. In other words, older children make the school’s job a little bit easier.

With this article, we draw upon combined experience—Schanzenbach as an education researcher and Larson as a preschool director—to provide some practical, evidence-based advice. Notably, we find that Larson’s take on the issue, formed by 14 years of experience with preschoolers and their parents, accords perfectly with Schanzenbach’s conclusions based on academic studies: redshirting is generally not worth it.

Literacy Achievement Trends at Entry to First Grade

Recent shifts in policy and practice have brought an increasingly more academic focus to the early grades, evidenced in rising standards and the now widely accepted notion that kindergarten is the new first grade. These views however are mostly supported by teacher and parent self-reports and not by an analysis of literacy achievement data. This study outlines an up-to-date literacy profile for beginning readers using a multiple cohort database that contained achievement data for students at entry to first grade (n = 364,738) in the same schools (n = 2,358) over a 12-year period starting in 2002. The findings show that overall beginning of first-grade reading achievement for both low achieving and more typically achieving students improved measurably between 2002 and 2013 provides empirical support for the growing academic focus in the early grades. However, findings about the differential nature of that progress for low achieving students raise new questions and concerns about a growing literacy achievement gap in the early grades.



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.


Webinar on Equity and Culture in Teaching

Thursday, May 4, 2017
2-3 pm Eastern

The University-based Child and Family Policy Consortium is hosting a webinar discussing ways to provide high-quality teaching and cultural classroom learning opportunities and enable children of color to succeed. The webinar features Dr. Stephanie Curenton, associate professor and director of the Ecology of School Readiness Lab at Boston University School of Education. Register here.

Early Education in the News

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

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