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

NIEER Weekly

Volume 16, Issue 22

June 2, 2017

Highlighting the week's most interesting stories and studies: Play is Learning; Purple is the new Black; and a new SEL resource

Hot Topics

All Work and No Play

This week media coverage of a new journal article revived the false conflict between play and rigorous early learning.

The Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology published “Do academic preschools yield stronger benefits? Cognitive emphasis, dosage, and early learning,” which led to a New York Times story with the headline: “Free Play or Flashcards? New Study Nods to More Rigorous Preschools” which became a hot topic (ahem) among writers, researchers and educators.

As ECE PolicyWorks aptly noted, “The Times editors…obviously had not read Einstein Never Used Flashcards by Kathy Hirsh-Pasek and Roberta Golinkoff.”  Indeed, far too many seem not to have learned that–to quote Dr. Benjamin Spock–children love play not because it’s easy but because it’s hard.

In 2014, NIEER published a blog forum exploring the importance of play in early childhood education, along with valuable resources on the topic including a presentation  by Shannon Riley-Ayers and Ellen Frede, “Seeing the Learning in Play” and a NIEER Policy Brief from Ellen Frede and Debra Ackerman, “Preschool Curriculum Decision-Making: Dimensions to Consider.

NIEER also promoted #playislearning during the annual Rutgers Day community event, providing opportunities for free play with blocks, puppets, and sand while helping families understand the benefits of play, such as: building sustained attention as children create and focus on their own stories or explorations for extended periods, understanding symbolic representation through pretending and abstract thinking, developing cooperation and problem-solving skills through games, puzzles and enhancing cognitive development through imagination games and physical activity.

We must stop pitting play against rigor and academics. How children learn matters. What they learn matters. Intentional teaching by strong, well-supported teachers is essential if we want all children to have the opportunity to live and learn well, but this is far from the antithesis of play.

As US News recently noted, “reviews of preschool programs that have been shown to produce lasting benefits also show that these programs use high-quality, research-based, age-appropriate curricula.” New State of Preschool yearbook quality standards benchmarks do not require a specific curriculum but do require state guidance for selecting and state support for implementing a chosen curriculum.

It’s past time to move beyond false debate and to focus on providing children a robust, evidence-based early education.

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! Blog

A Purple agenda for (Early) Education

Education policy has become as polarized as the rest of American politics. In the new administration, disagreements over standards, funding, school choice, and students’ civil rights are sure to intensify. Yet despite this polarized state of affairs, liberal and conservative education priorities are converging in a number of important respects, driven in part by mounting research findings. Common ground is emerging where conservative commitments to character formation, strong families, and local solutions meet liberal commitments to services that help low-income families overcome obstacles to improving their quality of life.

NIEER Activities

Building Powerful Pre-K

In a presentation this week to the New Jersey School Boards Association, NIEER Co-Director Ellen Frede, discussed why children need powerful pre-K, why they don’t already receive it and how to change that. Dr. Frede identified these key challenges for New Jersey:

  • State funding for pre-K is limited to a small number of districts
  • Public programs across all levels of government still don’t reach even half the children at age 4
  • State support for continuous improvement is limited to even fewer districts
  • NJ needs to align and integrate child care, Head Start, pre-K, pre-K Sp. Ed. and K-3

Head Start in the States: Variation in a Federal Program

NIEER Director W. Steven Barnett, Ph.D. joined an Education Writers Association conference panel discussing the future of Head Start. Serving nearly one million children from birth to age 5, Head Start is the nation’s largest early childhood education program. But within this new political landscape, the future of the program is opaque.

Despite the fact that Head Start is a federally funded, national program, NIEER’s State(s) of Head Start report published in December reveals that access to Head Start programs, funding per child, teacher education, quality of teaching, and duration of services all vary widely by state.

CEELO Update

School Improvement Starts Before School: Under ESSA, States Can Start Re-Orienting Districts Toward The Early Years

The Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes (CEELO) is proud to partner with New America on this blog series highlighting early learning opportunities and challenges under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) offers an opportunity for states to take a new look at state accountability and school improvement. This policy area has been a focal point of ESSA implementation in many states, and for good reason: it’s one of the areas where states have the most influence on (and leverage over) local decisions. It’s also an area where states have significant new flexibility. That combination makes it a key opportunity for early childhood advocates, who can help states shape systems that will strengthen the focus on early grades — and help states create a more sturdy bridge from the pre-K years to the tested grades. 


Oklahoma School Readiness Reach-by-Risk Report, 2016

Research Connections has just released the third and final study in the Oklahoma School Readiness Reach-by-Risk Series. The study is intended to provide policy makers and other early childhood education stakeholders with the most current data available on school readiness risk factors across multiple domains and the reach of services provided in each of the state’s 77 counties.

Do Parents Know ‘High Quality’ Preschool When They See It?

High quality early childhood education (ECE) programs can lead to substantial benefits for children, however many children are not attending programs of sufficient quality to yield meaningful developmental gains. A recent Child Care and Early Education Connections research report explores whether parents are able to assess ECE quality, based on data from a sample of low-income families with four-year-olds attending publicly-funded ECE programs.

To address this problem, states have increasingly turned to Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS), early childhood accountability systems that aim to improve ECE quality through incentives, supports, and information campaigns. Such informational interventions hinge on the assumption that parents are currently unable to assess ECE quality.

The report finds parent evaluations of their programs were not systematically related with any of the measures of quality, suggesting a role for informational interventions in ECE markets.

Homeless Children and Youth in Public Schools

According to the US Department of Education Condition of Education report, some 2.5 percent of students in U.S. public elementary and secondary schools were reported as homeless children or youth (1.3 million students) in 2014-2015. This percentage varied from 2.0 percent in suburban school districts to 2.4 percent in rural districts, 2.6 percent in town districts, and 3.7 percent in city districts. The largest numbers of homeless students were enrolled in city (578,000 students) and suburban districts (422,000 students), compared to rural (149,000 students) and town districts (139,000 students).

Social and Emotional Learning

The Future of Children released a free, downloadable “Social and Emotional Learning” issue edited by Stephanie Jones and Emily Doolittle.

The Future of Children is a collaboration of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University and the Brookings Institution focused on sharing the best social science research about children and youth into information that is useful to policymakers, practitioners, grant-makers, advocates, the media, and students of public policy. The groups publish one journal and policy brief each year in addition to other projects.

Early Education News Roundup

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

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