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

NIEER Weekly

Volume 18, Issue 3

January 18, 2019

Highlighting the week's most interesting stories and studies: Success Formula, NC Pre-K, What Works

Hot Topics

Formula for Success

Discussion about how best to provide stable public funding that can sustain high-quality pre-K programs while expanding enrollment made headlines this week.

Business leaders in North Carolina called on policymakers to set as a goal the expansion of NC Pre-K to serve at least 75 percent of the eligible population, and to modify the state pre-k funding structure to facilitate achieving this goal,  based on research and recommendations from NIEER.

“The overriding, fundamental barrier to expanding NC Pre-K is that revenues and other resources available to NC Pre-K providers are too often inadequate to cover the costs of expansion,” the report states.

NC Pre-K was launched in 2001 to provide to high-quality early learning opportunities to at-risk children. Research by Duke University recently found NC Pre-K boosted math and reading test scores and reduced special education placements and grade repetition through eighth grade for participating children.

However, NC Pre-K now reaches less than half the children it was designed to serve—despite steady increases in state funding.

Research by NIEER identified factors undermining the promise of NC Pre-K, and recommended policy changes to more effectively use state funding, including  explore “shifting NC Pre-K funding into the public-school funding formula in such a way that all children served can be jointly funded by state, local and federal dollars.”

New America reported this week that Wisconsin’s new governor has called for revising the state’s school funding formula to pay for full-day of 4K (kindergarten for four-year-olds) instead of a half-day.

That blog by Aaron Lowenberg discussing use of state funding formulas cited a 2016 NIEER paper noting the 11 states that financed pre-K with funding formulas saw an average of 3.6 percent annualized growth from 2005-06 to 2015-16 compared to a growth rate of only 1.1 percent for the other states that fund pre-K through grants. Non-formula states also saw greater pre-K spending declines once the Great Recession hit and only modestly recovered.

These data led NIEER to conclude use of a K-12 funding formula for pre-K doesn’t guarantee adequate pre-K funding, but does offer “a kind of shortcut to better pre-K funding.”

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NEW on Preschool Matters Today blog

Understanding What Works and What Doesn’t

Does what works in Pakistan work well in Malawi? And how can we know before we start funding wide-scale programmes in such African settings? Detailed and considered feasibility and pilot studies are one way of understanding how implementation of ECD interventions can be conducted in the best way prior to scaling up.

NIEER Activities

NIEER Founder and Senior Co-Director Steven Barnett this week joined SAS CEO Dr. Jim Goodnight and North Carolina business leaders for  release of a new NIEER report, Barriers to Expansion of NC pre-K: Problems and Potential Solutions, including recommendations on North Carolina’s funding structure for NC Pre-K to support program expansion.

PNC Financial Services and SAS commissioned NIEER to study local barriers to NC Pre-K expansion. In 2017, there were 44 counties that declined new expansion funding, even though eligible children were not being served. Again, in 2018, 34 counties declined expansion funding. NIEER determined a key factor is the way in which state funding for the program is structured.

Join NIEER for a webinar January 22 at 1 PM with PNC Regional President Jim Hansen to discuss the report’s findings. Register Now

CEELO Update

The Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes (CEELO) this week shared “State and Local Strategies for Transforming the Great Divide between Birth-Five and K-3″

CEELO/NIEER Senior Fellow Jim Squires delivered this presentation at the Alabama Early Childhood Education Conference, discussing the contextual differences between the two systems of early learning—birth-five years old and the K-3rd grade years of schooling. The session focused on qualities and characteristics of the two systems, ways to address alignment and coherence, and implications for system leaders.


Cross-domain development of early academic and cognitive skills

In this new release, editors discuss the background to a Special Issue of Early Childhood Research Quarterly which includes 22 articles addressing issues in academic and cognitive skills domains that develop together and are potentially affected by cognitive processes, motivation, motor skills, and other factors and domains.

The Special Issue includes both short-term and long-term longitudinal studies as well as research that employs experimental methods to understand the links between domains. Articles are based on analyses of samples from the United States as well as international populations.

Student Practice Opportunities in Core Mathematics Instruction: Exploring for a Goldilocks Effect for Kindergartners with Mathematics Difficulties

In a new article in the Journal of Learning Disabilities, researchers examined if there is an optimal amount of student practice that teachers should provide in core mathematics instruction to maximize the mathematics achievement of kindergarten students with mathematics difficulties. Researchers utilized a large-scale efficacy trial to examine this question.

Researchers found that three individual practice opportunities for every explicit teacher demonstration of mathematical content was associated with increased mathematics achievement for students with mathematics difficulties compared to fewer practice opportunities. Researchers suggest their findings have implications for teachers, including facilitating frequent student practice opportunities during core mathematics instruction and in designing professional development for teachers who work with students with mathematics difficulties.

Incentivizing Physical Activity Using Token Reinforcement with Preschool Children

A new article in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, researchers combined several single‐subject designs to assess the effects of contingent and noncontingent token reinforcement on moderate‐to‐vigorous physical activity (MVPA) exhibited by four preschool‐aged children. Higher overall levels and longer bouts of MVPA reliably occurred when tokens were delivered contingent on MVPA for 3 of the 4 children when compared to baseline (no token) and for 2 of the 4 children when compared to noncontingent‐token conditions.

Researchers report their results demonstrated that the delivery of tokens contingent on MVPA can increase and maintain MVPA exhibited by preschool‐aged children. They further suggest the results demonstrate that token economies can be used to increase MVPA. Researchers suggest that their research adds to the evidence base supporting the use of token economies to address a range of behavior problems.

Letter Sound Characters and Imaginary Narratives: Can They Enhance Motivation and Letter Sound Learning?

A new article in Early Childhood Research Quarterly examined if explicit academic instruction designed to promote motivation and learning can increase preschool children’s motivation for school tasks and letters and children’s learning of letter sounds. The treatment group received instruction using letters with letter sound characters integrated into the letter shapes (integrated mnemonics) and short narratives about the letter sound characters. In the comparison group, plain letters and alphabet books were the foundation of instruction.

Researchers found that instruction designed to enhance motivation was not significantly different on motivation than the comparison group instruction and that instruction using letter characters integrated into letter shapes produced superior learning of letter sounds compared to instruction not including integrated letter shapes. They also found that academically focused and teacher-directed instruction did not lead to motivational decline in this study.

Researchers suggest that small differences in the nature of letter sound instruction matter for learning and that relationships among motivation, learning, and instruction were discernible in preschool children in this study. They further suggest that instruction including letter characters integrated into letter forms and imaginary narratives appears to be a superior approach to basing instruction on plain letters and alphabet books.

Feasibility of Integrating Physical Activity into Early Education Learning Standards on Preschooler’s Physical Activity Levels

In a recently released study in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health, researchers explored the feasibility and preliminary efficacy of integrating a health behavior intervention into early education learning standards on physical activity, diet, and sleep behavior of preschoolers. The intervention consisted of lesson plans and activities embedded into Massachusetts early learning standards and were implemented four days per week for 12 weeks. The control preschool participated in their usual curriculum.

Researchers found preliminary evidence that integrating health behaviors into learning standards is feasible and potentially an effective way for increasing preschoolers’ physical activity level.


Northwestern University

The Northwestern University Two-Generation Research Initiative at the Institute for Policy Research is seeking a postdoctoral research scholar with a PhD in psychology, public policy, economics, or other relevant social science discipline to conduct evaluations of existing two-generation programs using surveys, direct assessments, program administrative data, and video- and audio-recorded interactions.

The position will be a one-year appointment with renewal for a second year contingent on satisfactory performance and available funding. Interested applicants should submit a cover letter, curriculum vitae, first-authored scholarly writing sample, and the names of three references to Marisa Sclafani at Review of applications is underway.


NC Early Childhood Foundation

Tuesday January 22, 2019
1 p.m. ET

Join NC Early Childhood Foundation for a webinar featuring PNC Regional President Jim Hansen and NIEER Founder and Co-Director, Steve Barnett discussing a new NIEER report, Barriers to Expansion of NC pre-K: Problems and Potential Solutions, including recommendations for efficient and effective methods to publicly fund high-quality preschool programs.

Barriers to expansion of state pre-K, in North Carolina and elsewhere, include lack of pay parity between private pre-K providers and the public schools, how programs are influenced by funding mechanisms, and what can be done to address the problems.

PNC Financial Services and SAS commissioned NIEER to study local barriers to NC Pre-K expansion. NIEER determined a key factor is the structure of state funding for pre-K programs. The study outlines recommendations to modify the state’s approach to pre-K funding. Register Here

Early Education News Roundup

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

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