Volume 17, Issue 3

Hot Topics

Lessons Learned

A recent New York Times Magazine article called attention to the high expectations and low wages faced by many preschool teachers, and revived discussion over whether raising education qualifications for pre-K teachers would be helpful or harmful.

New Jersey’s Abbott preschool program was highlighted for both requiring all lead pre-K teachers to hold a bachelor’s degree and paying them comparably with public school teachers.

Those teacher requirements were part of a groundbreaking education policy mandated by the state Supreme Court requiring funding parity along with quality preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds in the lowest-income school districts. And they did make a difference.

In 1999-2000, less than 15 percent of preschool classrooms were good to excellent, and nearly one in four was less than minimal quality, NIEER research found. By 2007-08, the vast majority of classrooms were good to excellent and poor quality was virtually extinguished.

As always there is more to such a complex story than even a lengthy newspaper article can capture. In a response, Sara Mead of Bellwether points out, “as someone who’s studied New Jersey’s Abbott program, I fear that the article misses some key points about it that have implications for what policymakers can take away.”

Preschool teacher pay is constrained by what parents can pay–so innovative thinking around financing to help with childcare costs is needed, Mead writes. “New Jersey’s model offers important lessons on how to increase qualifications and compensation in publicly funded pre-K programs.”

“But without broader strategies that consider the health of the larger early childhood sector, we risk creating or exacerbating a bifurcated landscape in which teachers in publicly funded programs have higher qualifications and training, while those in many childcare settings continue to have low levels of education and wages.”

In particular, it is important to understand how New Jersey created a pipeline for poorly paid teachers and assistants in fee-for-service programs to become highly qualified professionals. In addition, the NYT story may have confused some readers by alluding to “fade-out effects, albeit less significant ones than in many other preschool studies.”

A nearly universal finding is that pre-K’s initial impacts on children’s learning exceed those even a few years later. Often this has been called “fade-out” but that term conflates two very different types of programs and patterns of effects.

Some pre-K programs have been found to have small initial effects and little lasting impact. Others produce larger initial gains and smaller, but still meaningful, lasting improvements in achievement together with such other benefits as reductions in the need for special education and grade repetition that save taxpayers money and put children on a path to greater lifelong success.

NIEER research has found that the Abbott pre-K program is in the second category.

For example, by 5th grade Abbott pre-K was associated with a reduction from 19% to 12% in grade repetition and from 17% to 12% in special education. Such differences are much larger and more consequential than what many readers might have supposed from reading that the Abbott pre-K program suffered from “fade-out.”

To learn more about the legacy and future of New Jersey’s program, mark your calendar for Abbott Preschool at 20: Building on Success a conference on March 14, 2018 at ETS in Princeton, NJ examining the road to program implementation, best practices at the core of the program, and ways to build on the program’s success.

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

Quality Preschool Key to a Stronger, Fairer New Jersey

This year marks the 20th anniversary of what has been called the Abbott preschool program — a national and international model of high-quality, effective, preschool education that, despite its success, has yet to be offered to most children in New Jersey.

For almost a decade, New Jersey led the nation in improved outcomes for children in low-income districts through quality preschool. But the Great Recession hit our state’s budget hard and former Gov. Chris Christie, who denigrated preschool education as mere babysitting, failed to expand access and let state funding per-child slide.

NIEER Activities

With support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, NIEER recently launched a multi-year study engaging more than 1,000 children in 16 New Jersey school districts to see how preschool policies and practices at school district, school, and classroom levels influence child outcomes.

Since September, NIEER has conducted initial assessments of more than 500 children in 141 classrooms across 49 sites. This month, NIEER began collecting health-related data, measuring children’s height and weight, collecting saliva from children and teachers to monitor cortisol levels as a gauge of stress levels and distributing activity trackers to measure children’s activity and sleep patterns.

Research has indicated a link between physical activity and children’s cognitive performance, as well as social-emotional skills such as self-regulation. In addition, lack of physical activity for young children is a concern due to high rates of childhood obesity.  

We believe this study is the first using activity trackers to gauge how preschool programs affect children’s well-being and development. We hope to share new insights about how preschool policy and practice affect children’s physical activity, and how the level of activity influences physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development.

CEELO Update

The Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes (CEELO) recently shared the new Tool to Guide Decisions Regarding Kindergarten Entry Assessment (KEA) Selection and Implementation, designed to assist in the process of selecting, revising, or implementing a Kindergarten Entry Assessment.  CEELO developed the resource in response to state request for technical assistance with the KEA decision-making process.


Findings from the State Policy and Research for Early Education (SPREE) Working Group

The National Conference of State Legislatures’ State Policy and Research for Early Education (SPREE) Working Group this week shared a framework listing top principles of effective early learning systems, focusing on preschool through third grade.

SPREE is a bipartisan group of eight state legislators, two legislative staff and six early learning experts from around the country. The report, reflecting two years of study, highlights high-quality P-3 education, governance structure, community and family engagement, and educator development to provide educational equity that can help close the opportunity gap, improve school readiness, and combat other complex challenges facing children birth to age eight.

Bilingualism Narrows Socioeconomic Disparities in Executive Functions and Self-Regulatory Behaviors During Early Childhood: Evidence From the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study 

Research has shown that executive functioning during early childhood can be influenced by socioeconomic status and bilingualism. In a recent paper published in Child Development, researchers utilized a nationally representative sample of children ages 5 to 7 to examine the relationships between bilingualism, executive functioning and self-regulation.

Researchers report that bilingualism moderated the relationship between low-socioeconomic status and executive functioning and self-regulatory behaviors in young children. In short, researchers emphasize that bilingualism has the ability to enrich executive functioning and self-regulatory behaviors among underprivileged children.

Home Literacy Environment and Shared Reading in the Newborn Period 

While the American Academy of Pediatrics and Reach Out and Read formally emphasize the importance of reading to young children starting at birth, little data has been analyzed on the home reading practices of newborn infants. In an article in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, researchers surveyed 223 families seen for 2-week well-child visits. Differences in both book ownership and having initiated shared reading were found among the families.

For those families who have a history of not being read to or who do not enjoy reading, researchers suggest that encouraging parents to incorporate language-rich activities, including shared reading with their infants may be especially important. Researchers also suggest that there is an opportunity to help families by providing children’s books in early infancy through primary care.

Physical Activity and Sedentary Time during Childcare Outdoor Play Sessions: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis 

In a systematic review and meta-analysis published in Preventive Medicine, researchers examined physical activity levels and sedentary time of young children (2–5 years) during outdoor play periods at child care centers. While many children still engage in substantial amounts of sedentary time, researchers found that young children have the potential to be highly active during outdoor play sessions at center-based child care.

Authors suggest that further research be conducted on both the frequency and duration of outdoor time which best supports young children’s physical activity and limits sedentary time in child care.

The Classroom Language Context and English and Spanish Vocabulary Development

In a recent article from Early Childhood Research Quarterly, researchers investigated the relationships among English and Spanish receptive vocabulary development and both the language used for instruction and the proportion of Dual Language Learners in class. They examined these relationships by utilizing a nationally representative sample of dual language learners (DLLs) attending Head Start.

Findings suggest that using bilingual instruction and sharing classrooms with English-dominant peers can promote English vocabulary development without a cost to Spanish vocabulary development in dual language learners.

What Counts in Preschool Number Knowledge? A Bayes Factor Analytic Approach toward Theoretical Model Development 

Individual differences in preschool children’s mathematical knowledge can vary and these individual differences strongly predict later mathematics achievement. In a new article released in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, researchers identified five variables of unique importance to explaining individual differences in preschool children’s symbolic number knowledge.

Analyses revealed that knowledge of the count list and nonverbal approximate numerical ability were much more important to explaining individual differences in number knowledge than general cognitive and language abilities. Authors further note that knowledge of the count list is likely a proxy for explicit practice or experience with numbers


Survey on IDEA Reauthorization

The Division for Early Childhood is seeking assistance crafting potential recommendations for Individuals with Disabilities Education Act reauthorization.

While IDEA reauthorization is not on the current congressional schedule, DEC wants to be prepared to provide feedback when needed.

The DEC Policy and Advocacy Council has drafted a set of 15 proposed recommendations based on past member input and via a town hall meeting at the 2017 DEC Conference. DEC is seeking broader stakeholder input via this online survey.  Deadline to respond is February 9, 2018.


Big Questions for Young Minds: Extending Children’s Thinking

NAEYC Webinar
Tuesday Jan. 23, 2018
4–5 pm EST

Authors of one of NAEYC’s bestselling books, Big Questions for Young Minds: Extending Children’s Thinkingwill explore how asking rich, thoughtful questions that meet children at their individual developmental levels extends children’s thinking in the classroom and beyond.

Join this webinar to learn how to use the six levels of questioning outlined in the book and to discuss developmentally appropriate sample questions.  Register here

Early Education News Roundup

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

Highlighting the week's most interesting stories and studies: Lessons from New Jersey, Pre-K Practice & Policy, New Research