Universal Pre-K: What does it mean and who provides it?

January 6, 2016

Inquiring minds often want to know which states offer “universal pre-K.” As states vary in what they define as universal pre-K (UPK) and in how far they have progressed toward fully implementing a universal program as intended, the answer is somewhat complicated.

Preschool classroomRegarding definition, the term UPK can mean simply that the sole eligibility criterion is age, in contrast to “targeted” programs in which eligibility is limited by child or family characteristics, most commonly income. This need not mean that the program is available to all applicants, as there may be caps on spending or enrollment that limit the number of children who can be served. The other common definition–and what universal means in most other developed countries–is that every child can (and very nearly all do) enroll, just as children in the US do in first grade.

A further complication is that when states launch UPK, they often cannot simply enroll all children who might want to attend immediately. It takes some time to create capacity, and states vary in how quickly they increase enrollment. Perhaps more importantly, states that express the intent to enroll all children all too often lose the political will to do so before they reach that goal, and fail to increase funding to keep enrollment expanding until it serves all who wish to enroll. An added wrinkle is that states often provide funding that incentivizes school districts to offer UPK (directly or through private providers), but they do not require school districts to do so (though districts must accept all who wish to enroll if they do offer UPK). In such a situation, not every location in the state may make pre-K available.

State examples help clarify the variations in definition and intent to implement. At present, only in Vermont; Washington, DC; and Florida can pre-K be considered fully universal, in the sense that every child can enroll and virtually all do, though in Florida, Head Start offers such a superior service that many families choose that over the state’s pre-K program. Oklahoma offers UPK in all but a few districts. West Virginia has been in the process of expansion, but may have reached ‘universal’ in 2015. Enrollment in these states varies from 99 percent, to as low as 70 percent in West Virginia which is still expanding (Barnett, Carolan, Squires, Clarke Brown, & Horowitz, 2015).

Five states–Georgia, Illinois (Preschool for All), Iowa, New York, and Wisconsin have policies that they and others call UPK for 4-year-olds, but which fall short of allowing all children to be served. Wisconsin is the only state with a specific constitutional provision for 4K, and will fund school districts to serve all children but does not require all districts to participate. Although the policy is quite similar to that in Oklahoma, fewer districts participate and enrollment remains considerably lower at 66 percent. In Georgia, enrollment is limited by the amount of funding available year to year, and enrollment has plateaued at about 60 percent. Iowa similarly serves about 60 percent at age 4, but it is less clear why it does not continue to expand. In New York, limited funding restricted enrollment and continues to do so, though New York City’s push to enroll all children led to implementing long-delayed increases in state funding to allow for expansion. Enrollment in New York is expected to reach 50% percent in 2015. Illinois is the most egregious example of the gap between intent or ambition and implementation. Designed to serve all 3- and 4-year-olds, the program has never enrolled even a third of age-eligible children. Illinois prioritizes low-income families for services, and currently serves just 27 percent at age four and 19 percent at age three (Barnett et al., 2014)

Finally, two states have unique policies that could be considered UPK of a sort. In California, Transitional K (TK) serves children who turn five between September 2 and December 2 of the school year. As these children then attend kindergarten the following year, TK is effectively pre-K. TK is available to all children who meet the age cutoff. In New Jersey, a state Supreme Court order mandated universal pre-K in 31 high poverty districts serving about one-quarter of the state’s children. Within these districts the only eligibility criteria are residency and age–enrollment varies by district but ranges from 80 percent to 100 percent.

Considerations regarding access, enrollment, and quality

When evaluating policies, it is also important to understand that UPK programs vary in quality as well as actual enrollment. Schedules, standards, funding, and teaching practices vary widely across the “universal” programs described above. Some require as little as 10 hours per week. Others offer a full school day with before- and after-school care, potentially reaching 10 hours per day. Some leave virtually all policy choices and guidance up to the local school district or program. Florida requires little more than a high school diploma of teachers in school-year programs. Others, like New Jersey, set high standards that every classroom must meet, and provide extensive support and guidance. State funding ranges from $2,200 per child to $15,000 per child. Observations of teaching practices in statewide evaluations indicate that some programs are overwhelming good to excellent, while others are mostly poor to mediocre. States differ in their choices regarding how much to invest in quality versus quantity, though it is clear that there need not be a trade-off if states can muster sufficient political will (Minervino, 2014). Indeed, some have argued that programs that do not reach most of the population may have difficulty obtaining support for adequate quality (Barnett, 2011).

–Steve Barnett and Rebecca Gomez, NIEER

 Barnett, W. S. (2011). Four reasons the United States should offer every child a preschool education.  In E. Zigler, W. Gilliam, & W. S. Barnett (Eds.), The pre-k debates: Current controversies and issues (pp. 34-39). Baltimore: Brookes Publishing.


Year in Review

December 18, 2015

Looking back over 2015, it’s been a year packed with action around early childhood education at NIEER, in the states, and across the country.

young childUS News wrote here about their 5 biggest stories in early education, including the expansion of NYC UPK (we addressed that early, here); the release of Vanderbilt’s study of TN pre-K (which we also mentioned and discussed); an overhaul of Head Start performance standards; calls for transforming the early childhood workforce; and an increased national awareness of the need for parental leave.

In January, child care was highlighted in the State of the Union address, in February we reviewed that and the federal budget implications for pre-K. The Common Core State Standards were in the news often this year; NIEER provided clarity with expert help in a comprehensive blog forum.

Also this year, Head Start turned 50, and DHHS proposed revisions to standards for Head Start.

In May, we released the State of Preschool Yearbook 2014: “State pre-K programs may have turned a corner in 2013-2014, but progress remains slow. . . . At the 2013-2014 growth rate it would take about 75 years for states to reach 50 percent enrollment at age 4 and 150 years to reach 70 percent enrollment. Even a return to the average rate of growth since 2001-2002 would leave the nation 25 years away from enrolling 50 percent of 4-year-olds in state funded pre-K.”

This summer, experts wrote for us about leadership in early education. As Presidential campaigns revved up, early childhood issues were front and center in the mix of topics important to candidates and the public, for a while.

Throughout the year, people have been paying increased attention to the importance of the early childhood workforce; see our 2015 favorites blog post list below for some more highlights on that.

In November, Congress reauthorized CCDBG; CLASP covers that here. Even more recently, we’ve seen the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) passed (see some useful links on that courtesy of NAECS-SDE in this week’s newsletter), and increased funding for some early childhood programs proposed this week.

ICYMI, we are currently counting down our most-viewed blog posts of 2015 on Twitter (@PreschoolToday). Here’s a summary of greatest hits. Note that some of our most-viewed are not from 2015, but cover issues of enduring interest: Children, poverty, and preschool; The highly qualified workforce early education needs and deserves; and Children and technology.

From 2015, the following were popular:

We look forward to sharing much more coverage of important early childhood issues in 2016.

 


Finishing the job we started: the next best step in early childhood education

December 16, 2015

By Valora Washington and Jeffrey Gross. Valora Washington is the Founder and Director of the CAYL Institute (www.cayl.org) and CEO of the Council for Professional Recognition (www.cdacouncil.org). Jeffrey Gross is Director of the New Americans Integration Institute at the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy (MIRA) Coalition (www.miracoalition.org).

Massachusetts has often been on the cutting edge of early child care and education reform. Both political parties, a generation of educators, and business leaders across the Commonwealth have affirmed that investing in young children matters a great deal to the state’s economic vitality and social progress.

The progress we have made will be sustained to the extent that we stay abreast of changing economic and demographic realities, even as we continue to push for higher standards and quality improvements. Those new realities include the fact that both our young children and the early childhood workforce that supports them are increasingly English language learners.

Child listening to bookThese two new realities are not changes on the margin. They must be central to our thinking about how we sustain our place as a national leader in early childhood education. One out of four young children in Massachusetts now speaks a language other than English at home. In Massachusetts, and nationally, the immigrant share of early childhood workers has tripled since 1990 and is now 20 percent of the workforce. During this time, the state’s early childhood workforce has also grown by about two-thirds, from 27,000 to 45,000—nearly 40 percent of that growth from immigrant workers. Most of these early educators are women, over age 40 and working in family or home-based child care.

Just 13 percent of all early educators in Massachusetts are considered English language learners. Among immigrants, this figure grows to 55 percent, most of them speaking Spanish, Portuguese, Haitian Creole, or Chinese. Immigrant workers are also three times more likely than their native-born peers to lack a high school degree and almost twice as likely to lack a bachelor’s degree—the aspirational standard for early educators in Massachusetts.

What is at stake here? We must recognize that no matter how motivated, English language learners in our child care workforce face steep odds navigating a career pathway to the bachelor’s degree increasingly required for early education teachers. This growing workforce is often segregated in same-language communities and low-skilled positions, robbing young dual language learner children of linguistic and cultural supports that can help them succeed. The potential gains for these children—in terms of improved health, a decreased achievement gap, and stronger long-term outcomes—stand to benefit all of us.

These changing realities represent a challenge and an opportunity for the Commonwealth. We are no strangers to change: we created the Department of Early Education and Care, the first such agency in the nation, and pioneered the roll-out of model language standards for English language learners in early childhood. Looking to the future, both the CAYL Institute and MIRA’s partners at the Migration Policy Institute have independently issued reports that call attention to these new realities—and ways Massachusetts can work to address them. Based on extensive research and lessons learned in other states, we know there are effective ways to create stronger educational and career pathways for these early childhood educators.

Implementing these strategies starts with the commitment of political and higher education leaders. Collaborative work across many Massachusetts agencies is needed to mine local and regional data, target outreach initiatives, offer comprehensive supports, and create flexible higher education teaching and learning options. Regardless of what language these educators speak, we all must realize that they touch the lives of tens of thousands of children growing up here—children whose school readiness we all have a stake in.

Given the complexity and cross-departmental nature of the challenge—and how much is at stake for the future of both our children and the early education workforce—we call on Governor Baker to convene a task force to better realize the aspirations that he and many others have set forth: a highly qualified and competent early care and education workforce that can provide the best possible start in life for all children. Let’s finish the job we started, face current realities, and create the synergy that will keep Massachusetts a leader.

 


School Mobility: Implications for Children’s Development

November 30, 2015

More than one-fifth of children in the United States are living in poverty. Children growing up in poverty face numerous adversities that can negatively affect their learning and development, starting at a very early age. For example, these children are less likely to have access to books and to hear rich vocabulary; and are more likely to be exposed to violence in their neighborhoods, attend low-quality, under-resourced schools, have stressed parents, live in crowded and/or noisy homes, and have unstable home environments. All of these stressful life experiences can compromise children’s learning, as well as their cognitive and social-emotional development.

The article “Does school mobility place elementary school children at risk for lower math achievement? The mediating role of cognitive dysregulation.” focuses on one specific poverty-related risk: school mobility, or changing schools. Approximately 45% of children change schools at least one time prior to the end of third grade, but rates of school mobility are even higher for low-income, ethnic minority students living in urban areas. Further, changing schools has been linked to lower academic achievement, particularly when children experience many school changes over a short period of time.

boy playing with blocks 2Less is known about why changing schools negatively affects children’s academic achievement, or how it affects children’s self-regulation. Of course, it may be that changing schools simply disrupts learning, particularly if children miss school or experience a discontinuity in curricula. However, the mechanism may be more complex. Building on developmental psychology theory and research that poverty-related risks are stressful, and that stress is associated with lower self-regulation, we tested the hypothesis that school mobility, one poverty-related risk, would compromise children’s self-regulation. And, based on prior research demonstrating a strong association between children’s self-regulation and math skills, we hypothesized that lower self-regulation would negatively affect children’s math skills. Here we define self-regulation as higher-order cognitive abilities that involve attention, inhibitory control, and planning. The current paper only focused on math achievement and did not measure reading achievement for several reasons. First, there is an abundance of prior research finding strong associations between children’s self-regulation and math achievement. Second, neuroscience research supports similar underlying brain regions involved self-regulation and solving math problems. And third, learning and doing math requires children to use complex, effortful, higher-order processes that also underlie self-regulation abilities.

We used data from the Chicago School Readiness Project (CSPR) which was an intervention implemented in Head Start classrooms in areas of concentrated poverty in Chicago. The 602 children initially enrolled in CSRP were predominantly Black or Hispanic and living in families with incomes below the federal poverty level. Children were followed from ages 3 or 4 years old, through fourth grade. The sample for the current study is limited to 381 students for whom there was available data from Head Start through fourth grade. On average, children moved 1.38 times between Head Start and third grade. Forty children changed schools 3 or 4 times during this time period, which we defined as “frequent mobility”.

We found a linear “dosage” effect of school mobility predicting children’s fourth grade math achievement such that children scored 3.35 points lower on fourth grade math achievement tests for each time they changed schools between Head Start and third grade. This translates into 2.5 months of learning. Children who changed schools frequently, 3 or 4 times over the five years, demonstrated lower math achievement in fourth grade–they scored 10.48 points lower on the state standardized test, an equivalent of 8 months of learning. Children who changed schools frequently were also reported by their teachers to have lower self-regulation skills. These lower levels of self-regulation were found to partially explain why children who changed schools frequently scored lower on math achievement tests. Self-regulation explained about 45% of the association between changing schools frequently and math achievement in fourth grade. It is important to note, however, that we did not find a difference in math achievement or self-regulation between children who never moved and those that moved at least once time.

Taken together, the results of this study suggest that problems with memory, attention, and inhibitory control may result from the stress associated with changing schools frequently during early elementary school, which in turn negatively affects children’s math achievement. The potentially harmful effects of school mobility for young children, especially when it occurs frequently, highlights the need for interventions, policies, and practices to prevent school mobility and/or support children, families, and teachers when it does occur. School-based interventions to increase family engagement and satisfaction with the school by fostering positive relationships between parents and school staff are one promising strategy for preventing school mobility.

–By Allison Friedman-Krauss, Assistant Research Professor, NIEER

 

 

 


Empty windows of opportunity?

October 26, 2015

John T. Bruer, Brookings Nonresident Senior Fellow, Economic StudiesCenter on Children and Families, recently wrote about the seductive appeal of brain science in assuring optimal brain development and life-long wellbeing. He noted that “The advocacy literature tends to tell only half of the story about the effects of experience on synapse formation. The full story raises doubts as to how much specific guidance neuroscience can provide policy makers about what should go into those windows of opportunity.”

We often hear that brain science has established the importance of early windows of opportunity during brain development that can be exploited to assure optimal, life-long development. Although neuroscience has established the existence of a few such windows, it is largely silent about what we should put in them. The relevant brain research does not provide much specific guidance to policy makers and educators.

Policymakers should be aware that (i) brain science might tell us that windows of opportunity exist, but it cannot now tell us what to put in them and (ii) windows of opportunity are at best only half of the developmental story.

The neuroscience is summarized in the figure below. Between birth and adolescence, depending on the brain area, the number of synapses grow in excess of adult levels, then are eliminated, until synaptic densities settle at mature levels. Critical or sensitive periods tend to occur during these periods of synaptic excess. These are the windows of opportunity nature provides.

 

Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 5.07.23 PM

 

Some presentations of the science (e.g., The National Research Council–Institute of Medicine’s From Neurons to Neighborhoods) provide a highly qualified discussion: the human data are limited; most data derives from studying animal sensory systems; the finding may not be generalizable to all brain development; sensitive periods are largely unexplored in humans.

These presentations also address the phenomenon of life-long, experience-dependent synaptic change (shown at the top of the figure) that allows us to learn throughout life. The policy literature tends to drop the qualifications and to ignore the implications of life-long neural change.

In contrast, scholarly treatments caution that we are largely ignorant of which specific experiences–and when–matter during development, and that we should not focus on sensitive periods at the expense of life-long learning. Thus, policymakers should be aware that (i) brain science might tell us that windows of opportunity exist, but it cannot now tell us what to put in them and (ii) windows of opportunity are at best only half of the developmental story.

To see the full paper, Windows of opportunity: Their seductive appeal, visit the Brookings website here.


What the State of Preschool can tell us about Dual Language Learners in state programs

October 21, 2015

The NIEER State of Preschool Yearbook collects data on a variety of topics relating to early childhood, including how states are serving dual language learners. According to Child Trends, nearly 22 percent of U.S. children live in a household that speaks a language other than English, therefore, it is important to analyze what supports early childhood programs are providing for students and families who speak a language other than English. [WIDA]

Dual language learners account for a growing population of young children, and providing strong supports for DLL children early can contribute to their long-term success. NAEYC suggests ensuring linguistically inclusive environments so children can communicate freely, as well as talking, singing, reading, and other activities that build a child’s vocabulary while providing increased opportunities to develop listening skills. NIEER’s policy brief Preparing Young Hispanic Dual Language Learners for a Knowledge Economy, specifically talks about the importance of access and quality for young Hispanic children, though much of the information provided can be applied to children from other minority language and cultural backgrounds as well.

The NIEER State of Preschool Yearbook asked states what support services their program offers to English language learners; below is a breakdown of some of these supports and why they are necessary for academic growth. It should be noted that the Yearbook survey asks about supports that are written into policy. In practice, supports may be provided beyond what is noted, and may be determined locally, at the discretion of local districts and providers.

Thirteen state programs require a systematic written plan on how to work with dual language learners in order to ensure quality and consistency:

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 2.33.48 PM

Eleven programs provide professional development or coaching to teachers to enhance teaching to children who are dual language learners:

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 2.33.55 PM

Twenty programs are required to screen and assess all children to determine home language. Districts are required to assess children in their home language, according to the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) Part C and Part B. Research has shown, however, that programs struggle to assess in their home language children who might also have a learning disability. Language issues in assessment can lead to an over- or under-identification of actual disabilities–often, children may be classified as having a learning disability, when in fact, they have difficulty communicating in the language in which they were tested. It is important to know which states screen and assess children to identify dual language learners, to more clearly understand these issues, and begin to provide the necessary accommodations where necessary.

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 2.34.01 PM

To learn more about screening DLL and special needs, see CEELO’s Fast Fact, Training to Screen Young ELLs and DLLS for Disabilities.

Seventeen programs provide information in the family’s home language to parents. It is essential for programs to be able to communicate effectively with the child’s family, as parent engagement is a key element of good practice.

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 2.34.07 PM

As noted above, in many states there is no specified policy around providing services for Dual Language Learners and their families; decisions are instead made locally. The Yearbook survey to states asks How many English language Learners are served in the program?; only 18 state programs among those responding are able to answer with a number or percent. The survey also provides a checklist for states to outline services to provided to ELL families, including: Bilingual non-English classes are permitted in pre-K; Professional development or coaching is provided for teachers; Programs are required to screen and assess all children; Translators or bilingual staff are available if children do not speak English; A home language survey is sent home at the beginning of the year; Information must be presented to parents in their primary language; and A systematic, written plan must be in place on how to work with English Language Learners. Many states have policies requiring at least some of these elements within the state program, yet 17 programs answered that they ‘do not regulate services’ for DLL’s at all.

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 2.34.13 PM

As the population changes, it would be helpful to understand how many children whose first language is not English are being served in state programs, as well as understanding more clearly what supports and practices can best serve those children and their families. To that end, NIEER has included in its 2015 State of Preschool Yearbook survey a number of supplemental questions on this topic, including more detailed information about the number of children served, and questions about the ways that teachers, children, and families are supported within state programs. We hope that this new data will help to inform the field as it works to assess how best to serve DLL children.

–Michelle Horowitz, NIEER Assistant Research Project Coordinator


Early STEM – Fuel for Learning

October 6, 2015

José, a preschooler in Mrs. Hardy’s classroom, had never talked in class. He was a dual language learner (DLL), and it was already December. His teacher was participating in our SciMath-DLL professional development project where she had been learning about how to incorporate moScreen Shot 2015-10-06 at 9.41.23 AMre science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) into her classroom and how to engage DLLs in these activities. One day, she set out ramps and cars and let the kids play with them. Then she asked the children if they knew how they might make the cars go down the ramps more quickly? “Blocks!” said José, as he ran to the block center to get blocks to prop up his ramp. His classmate, Molly, looked shocked and said, ‘He talked!” This child’s teacher was amazed at how rich (although relatively simple) STEM materials provided the fodder needed to encourage José to express himself out loud.

Children are natural scientists and are curious about their world. Even infants have an innate sense of quantity that is the foundation for more complex mathematics, such as counting and geometry (e.g., Hespos et al., 2012). Young children–including my 19-month-old–love to throw or drop objects down the stairs to observe what will happen . . . over and over again. Although not fully verbalized, they are conducting trials to test out a hypothesis about gravity and the physics of movement based on prior experience!

SciMath-DLL is a professional development model that aims to embrace these natural predispositions, to help teachers find the STEM in what children are already doing, and to design their own intentional learning experiences for their children. SciMath-DLL seeks to improve the quality of early STEM teaching and learning for all children, including DLLs. This is important. Recent research that has found that how children do in math and science by the end of preschool predicts how well they will do in these subjects later–even into adolescence (Duncan et al., 2007; Watts et al., 2014; Grissmer et al, 2010)! And early math skills predict later reading skills too–even better than early reading skills predict later reading. Unfortunately, many children and especially children who live in low-resource communities or who are DLLs, start preschool behind their peers in key domains and stay behind without intervention (Barnett, 2008; Denton & West, 2002).Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 9.41.50 AM

The challenge is that many early childhood educators do not have the confidence or background knowledge to teach STEM effectively (Greenfield et al., 2009) or to work with DLLs (Freedson, 2010). Many educators did not participate in many–or any–STEM courses in their pre-service preparation programs (Zaslow et al., 2010). Our model aims to address this issue by using key STEM concepts as focal points at in-service interactive workshops, Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), and individual Reflective Coaching Cycles (RCCs). We weave throughout all components our approach to teaching STEM to young children. For example, we encourage educators to look for the STEM in every day activities (e.g., figuring out how many orange slices are needed at snack time so every child gets one), to thoughtfully expand the language strategies they use with children (e.g., “Emmanuel said he thinks the metal ball will sink in water. Emmanuel, why do you think that?”), to incorporate literature into STEM activities (fiction and nonfiction), and to “think outside the kit” when gathering materials to explore (e.g., using found or recycled materials to explore sorting).

Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 9.41.30 AMOne teacher who was working with us–Ms. Anabela–who had done a length measurement lesson with her kids using worksheets and different types of units, reflected on her lesson: “My first lesson was a complete disaster because I had too much going on . . . After we talked about it, and I was like duh. The objective was there; the idea was there; the whole mapping it out, though, was not.” Ms. Anabela, in a later class, asked her kids how they might measure themselves using blocks on the rug. The teacher’s and children’s ideas of what measurement could look like expanded. The students were so excited to find out who was taller, that they asked Ms. Anabela and then the assistant teacher to be measured as well. The kids found additional ways to do measurement around the classroom to solve real problems (e.g., keeping track of the height of the water in the water table).

Just as José and Ms. Anabela found concepts that fueled their interests and promoted learning across STEM and language, we hope that other children and teachers will find the joy in STEM that encourages and motivates them to push their own learning and teaching boundaries. SciMath-DLL works with teachers to reflect on their practice, build their STEM knowledge base, and enrich their teaching using an innovative approach to professional development. We view our model as collaborative, with all of us bringing our own expertise to the table in a common goal to improve STEM learning for all young children.

Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 9.41.41 AMTo learn more about SciMath-DLL, please visit scimathdll.com, or email us! Dr. Alissa Lange, Principal Investigator (alange@nieer.org) Hebbah El-Moslimany, Project Coordinator (he-lmoslimany@nieer.org).

Work presented here is made possible by grants from the National Science Foundation (DRL-1019576 & DRL-1417040). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

–Alissa A. Lange, Assistant Research Professor, NIEER

 


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 273 other followers

%d bloggers like this: