Spring peepers and the war on Pre-K for All

February 27, 2015

In the past week I have seen many more attacks directed against Pre-K for All than I have in some time. This signals the start of the state budget season as surely as drumming woodpeckers and noisy peepers signal the arrival of spring. What I find surprising is how many preschool policy peepers promote misinformation based on research that is flawed or simply misused. story time 4

Good government requires good information, and that seems to be in short supply this budget season. Generally, the peepers protest that if everyone gets good preschool, achievement gaps will widen and public money will be wasted, because children from middle-income families do not benefit from preschool. I don’t know which is worse, the obvious logical contradiction or that the studies they cite to support these claims either include only children in poverty or find exactly the opposite–that children from middle-income families gain from high-quality pre-K though usually not as much as children in poverty. New York City in particular has suffered a sudden onslaught of misinformation that coincided with the Mayor’s budget presentation in Albany.

The Mayor’s new budget was greeted with accusations from a just-released report that the first year of the Pre-K for All expansion tilted the playing field in favor of children in wealthy neighborhoods. That claim is patently false. Nearly two-thirds of free, full-day Pre-K for All seats are in neighborhoods below the City’s median income. In just one year of Pre-K for All, New York City increased provision of pre-K seats in neighborhoods in the two lowest-income quintiles to 2.5 times the previous level. In other words, the Mayor’s initiative added more new places for children in low-income communities in one year than New York City had managed to add in the entire previous decade. The straight-up facts: Pre-K for all added 20,500 pre-K places in lower-income zip codes; 6,200 pre-K places in neighborhoods around the median; and another 6,800 in higher-income zip codes.

The same report put forward a survey as evidence that new Pre-K for All seats often just replaced existing places in preschools that did not receive Pre-K for All funds, through “wasteful competition.” Competition that increases choice and raises the bar for quality across early care and education in NYC is hardly wasteful. However, the survey provides no basis for any firm conclusions. Of the 264 providers who did not receive Pre-K for All funds contacted for the survey, less than 40 percent responded. The responses that were obtained appear to be “guesstimates,” rather than data from records, and counted programs as losing seats even when they had waiting lists from which to draw “replacements.” Extrapolation from these questionable figures to “lost seats” just doesn’t make sense.

More troubling than these manufactured problems with Pre-K for All is the proposed solution: to restrict publicly funded pre-K based on family income. This would paradoxically entrench disparities in early learning in the City. Whether or not one believes that every child deserves the option to attend a free, high-quality, full-day pre-K, who believes that separate means equal? Separate is not equal, it’s disparate.

Pre-K is a time for children to explore, create, learn, and socialize with other children and adults, as they build a foundation of skills and knowledge needed for school and life. Exposure to peers from different socioeconomic backgrounds is valuable to a child’s development, and to restrict pre-K access based on income undermines the goal of a fair and equitable education system that reflects the diversity of our cities, states, and nation.

Mayor de Blasio has led a historic expansion of pre-K in New York City, and has made it clear that he believes every 4-year-old, in every neighborhood, deserves to attend free, full-day, high-quality, pre-K. I agree. Others may have values that lead them to different conclusions, but everyone should be informed by accurate information. The orchestrated disinformation campaign to sow dissension, curtail funding, and damage the reputation of an effort that has not completed its first year, indicates that policy makers in New York and elsewhere will need to invest in good evaluations, not just to inform continuous improvement, but also policy making more generally. With a rigorous evaluation planned from the start, New York City results could inform policy decisions in other cities and states around the country. This does not mean a rush to judgment regarding impacts on children in year 1. As Don Campbell advised, summative evaluation of ultimate impacts should wait until a program is “proud.” We should evaluate progress along the way, however. New York City seems to have cleared the first hurdle with room to spare, the preschool peepers’ protests notwithstanding.

–Steve Barnett, Director


Young immigrants and dual language learners: Participation in pre-K and Kindergarten entry gaps

February 18, 2015

In a recent webinar, NIEER discussed what it means to be Hispanic and a DLL (a dual language learner) or Hispanic and come from a home with immigrant parents. We showed that Hispanic children, DLLs, and children with an immigrant background have lower rates of participation in center-based care (including Head Start) pre-K programs than White non-Hispanic children. We considered the impacts on enrollment of home language and of varied immigrant backgrounds, which make this group quite heterogeneous. We found that enrollment rates do show that while non-DLL Hispanics and Native Hispanics had enrollment rates above 60 percent, much like White children, about 45-50 percent of DLLs and Immigrant background Hispanics were enrolled in center-based care.

Pre-K participation of Hispanics in center-based care

That is, only one in two DLL Hispanics or Immigrant Hispanics attend a center-based program. This suggests that aspects of language and immigration status are likely defining why children participate.

We then wondered about similarities between these enrollment patterns and kindergarten entry gaps. Using Whites as the group of reference, it turns out that Hispanic DLLs and Hispanic immigrant children have very large performance gaps in reading, math, and language. These two groups pretty much drive the overall Hispanic gaps observed at kindergarten. What about Hispanic children who are both DLL and of immigrant background? Hispanic DLL children from an immigrant background show very large performance gaps, unlike Native-born English-speaking Hispanics, who fare quite well relative to Whites. It appears we are failing this group.

Kindergarten gaps for Hispanic students, math, reading, and language

Patterns are somewhat different when we look at socio-emotional developmental gaps. These do not resemble those for reading, math, and language. On the contrary, while most Hispanics differ little from Whites in terms of approaches to learning, self-control, or problems with externalizing and internalizing behaviors , Hispanic DLL children who are Native-born show large gaps across all of these domains except for internalizing behaviors.

Kindergarten gaps for Hispanic children, social-emotional skills

Putting this all together, clearly policy makers should focus on increasing access, outreach, and participation in high-quality early education for any and all Hispanic children, but especially for Hispanic DLL children and children whose parents are immigrants. Moeover, policy makers and practitioners both should recognize how diverse Hispanics are as a group, and how the needs of DLL Hispanic children differ depending on their family histories .

Addressing these issues in early care and education begins with obtaining a better understanding who our children are and who are we serving (and not serving), including:

  • screening language abilities
  • developing guidelines and standards that address the needs of these groups
  • promoting the proliferation of bilingual programs
  • and, planning ways to engage and effectively work with diverse groups of Hispanic children.

How well we do this in the first years of their lives will have important consequences for their developmental pathways and their opportunities, and this will be reflected in the our society 15-20 years from now.

–Milagros Nores, PhD, Associate Director of Research


Will FY2016 be the year for children? Or déjà vu?

February 4, 2015

In January’s State of the Union address, President Obama highlighted several initiatives meant to simplify child care for America families. The White House’s budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2016, released on Monday, provides further insight into the costs and details of these programs as well as additional areas of focus within the early childhood world.

FY2016 budget table

Early childhood education is often referred to as a “patchwork” system in reference to the number of public and private stakeholders–with varying program requirements and goals–who are involved, and the federal budget is no exception. Several departments have larger programs that operate projects in early childhood education. The Department of Education oversees Special Education Preschool Grants and houses the current Preschool Development Grants program, as well as the President’s proposed Preschool for All program. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) also collaborates on the Preschool Development Grants program. HHS oversees Head Start, child care, and the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV). The President has also proposed expanding the current tax benefits for families paying for child care–a complex change to tax policy which would not be covered by either department as it is not itself a program.

Much of what the White House is proposing in this budget has been seen before. The Preschool for All program is similar to the version proposed in the FY 2014 budget, and the Preschool Development Grants seek to distribute funds to more states than those already awarded grants in FY 2015. A review of budget documents from the Education and HHS departments does reveal some suggested changes:

  • Special Education Preschool Grants would include appropriations language that would allow LEAs to expand the age range of eligible children to include children ages 3 through 5, as well as requesting a waiver of some reporting requirements for LEAs that exercise this flexibility.
  • Head Start requested an additional $1.1 billion to expand service to full-day and school-year calendars. There is also $150 million for Early Head Start and EHS-Child Care partnerships as well as $284 to help existing programs offset rising costs.
  • Child Care: In the requested increase, there is a proposed $266 million to implement the reauthorized Child Care and Development Block Grant Act. There’s also a requested $100 million for Child Care Pilots for Working Families, which would test and evaluate models for working families, including those who work nontraditional hours. The administration has also introduced a 10-year, $82 billion plan for mandatory funding for the Child Care and Development Fund, to ensure that all low-income working families with children ages three or younger have access to quality, affordable child care.
  • An expansion of the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit (CDCTC) up to $3,000 per child would triple the maximum credit for families with children under age five and makes the full CDCTC available to families with incomes of up to $120,000. While this credit is largely discussed as a way to help parents pay for the care of their young children, it can also be used for older children and dependents who are elderly or have disabilities.

The Obama administration has touted this budget as crucial to progress for the middle class. These proposals focused on the early years on life would fill major gaps in service for many of America’s children–children in low-income families who do not have quality care while their parents work; children whose families feel the “middle class squeeze” and could greatly benefit from the increased CDCTC; children with special needs for whom quality early intervention services can make a world of difference. However, two essential questions should be asked about each element of the proposal. First, is it designed in such a way that it will significantly improve the quality of children’s early educational experiences? Much of the potential benefit to children and society depends on the answer. Second, what is the potential for passage?  Without support across the aisle, as well as at the state level, these proposals will remain just proposals. Recent experience suggests that, at least for education, proposals designed to help every child will be better received than those that exclude the families expected to pay for them.

– Megan Carolan, Policy Research Coordinator


Healthy preschool habits can last a lifetime

January 30, 2015

By the end of January, gyms are slowly becoming less crowded, as many adults give up on their resolutions to lose weight or get in shape. But a healthy weight and staying active remain important for all ages throughout the year. January 30 is National Preschool Health and Fitness Day, underscoring the importance of beginning healthy habits early in life.

Child obesity remains a daunting problem in American society, as it can set children up for health problems beginning in early childhood. Data from the Centers for Disease Control in 2013 reported that 1 in 8 preschoolers was obese, and that children who were obese or overweight in preschool were five times more likely than normal-weight peers to grow into obese or overweight adults. A recent limited study of 44,000 preschool-aged children found that overweight and obese children in Head Start were more likely than children not enrolled to slim down. The study also found that children entering the program who were underweight were more likely to reach a healthy body weight during the program year. Because of how the study was structured– instead of having a control group, the Head Start children were compared both to children in low-income families receiving Medicaid, as well as to higher-income families with private insurance. This study does not pinpoint a specific reason why Head Start is effective in helping children reach a healthy weight, but it does add to a growing body of literature on the important role early childhood education plays in health and fitness.

Early childhood education programs can play an important role in providing families with resources and information to support healthy habits. Based on data from the 2012-2013 school year, state-funded pre-K programs prioritize screenings for healthy weight among many other aspects of health. About half of state-funded pre-K programs require at the state level that programs screen students height/weight/BMI, with another 43 percent allowing programs to decide locally whether to track this information.

health screenings

In a separate survey question, administrators indicate the 62 percent of programs provide child health services as part of their comprehensive services; 43 programs also reporting providing nutrition information, beyond the offering of healthy meals. These services provide an important opportunity to start a conversation with children and families about healthy habits that can last a lifetime. A NIEER policy brief explores the importance of addressing health in preschool programs as well as the positive impacts such programs can have on children’s long-term health and development.

There has been no shortage of efforts to increase awareness of healthy habits in early childhood education. The First Lady has made fighting childhood obesity a key area of her public profile through the Let’s Move! Campaign. Sesame Street provides resources for families as well as child care and education providers on both how to incorporate exercise into early day life and how to empower children to make healthy food choices.

-Megan Carolan, Policy Research Coordinator


Annie Rooney French on Early Learning Leadership Networks in Kentucky

December 23, 2014

CEELO logoAs part of a planned series of conversations on CEELO’s theme of Leading for Excellence in Early Childhood, CEELO staff member Kirsty Clarke Brown talked with Annie Rooney French Ph.D., Preschool Consultant with the Kentucky Department of Education. She described the Early Learning Leadership Networks in that state, and how they are integral to promoting early childhood program development.

Can you describe the Early Learning Leadership Networks and how they were started?

The Early Learning Leadership Networks were an extension of the K-12 Leadership Networks promulgated by Senate Bill 1 (2009), in the area of professional learning and support. The Leadership Networks (K-12) Kentucky’s Leadership Networks (K-12) are designed to build the capacity of district leadership teams (3-4 teacher leaders in each content area, 3-4 school leaders, 3-4 district level leaders) to implement new standards within the context of highly effective teaching, learning, and assessment practices. They are designed to ensure that each district has a core team that can scale implementation effectively districtwide. The Early Learning Leadership Networks (ELLNs) began in the fall of 2010. Each district was asked to assemble an early childhood teacher-leader team of up to four people. The teams includes a preschool teacher, kindergarten teacher, Head Start teacher, child care provider, and/or possibly the preschool director. The four main “pillars” of focus included the Standards (Pre-K and K), Assessment Literacy, Teacher Leadership and Highly Effective Teaching and Learning. The team members developed their own leadership skills and brought back knowledge about each of the pillars. There were four meetings a year. Meeting targets or objectives were developed by a state team, consisting of five regional teams. The facilitators for each of the five regional teams included consultants from the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE), consultants from the Regional Training Centers (RTCs), and higher education faculty. The state team held a retreat each summer to reflect upon practice and plan for the upcoming year. They continued to plan together during the school year at least once a month.

What topics they have addressed since their start?

In the first year, the principal focus was on mathematics, including alignment of the Kentucky Core Academic Standards for kindergarten with Kentucky’s Early Childhood Standards for 3- and 4-year olds. In the second year, ELLN teams developed their own competencies with the English Language Arts standards, as well as practiced using the Early Language and Literacy Classroom Observation (ELLCO) tool to measure literacy practices. The process of building ELA capacity continued into the third year. During the second half of the third year, teams focused on the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), including the conceptual shifts in science education leading to a deeper understanding and application of content, and the corresponding Kentucky early childhood science standard. Now that we’re in the fourth year, we decided to step back and allow the teachers to refine the knowledge they gained during the first three years and develop integrated units of studies using all the content areas in meeting the needs and interests of their children. Year four is also focused on the state’s Professional Growth and Effectiveness System (PGES), a new approach to measuring teacher and leader effectiveness, ensuring every child is taught by an effective teacher and every school is led by an effective principal. Preschool teachers and leaders play an integral part in PGES, and ELLN teams received guidance to support the developmentally appropriate implementation of the Danielson Framework for Teaching, including examining how early childhood fits within the framework.

From the beginning, ELLN facilitators have supported teachers with developing their own leadership abilities. Our guidance for that work was the book, Awakening the Sleeping Giant, Helping Teachers Develop as Leaders (Katzenmeyer & Moller, 2009).

In the area of assessments, teachers worked on integrating the assessment instruments into the teaching and learning process, becoming aware of the connections to the standards, and ensuring individualization to meet student needs.

 What was your role in facilitating the groups?

I am currently facilitating the statewide process for the ELLNs. During a two day retreat in the late spring, we plan the entire year. Then we meet monthly to plan the upcoming sessions and review the previous session, including reviewing evaluations and making adjustments based on participant feedback. We spend long periods of time in discussions about the agenda and how to best help the teachers examine their practices and create a community of learners. Our goal is to share the same content, but since each region is different, each of the RTC teams have the flexibility to adapt a bit, based on their population and needs. Basically, my role as a facilitator is to ensure that we keep on task and accomplish what we set out to do. We work well together.

What kinds of meetings do people attend? And  what tools or technology is used to connect group members? Is there a group website or forum for exchange, for example, or are all meetings in person?

The ELLN process is a departure from previous approaches to training, including the train-the-trainer model. Building on current professional learning research and the work of Learning Forward, we’ve moved away from isolated professional development activities toward a well-designed professional learning program that changes teaching and learning practices. We’re working on developing teacher leaders. The RTCs keep in contact with the teacher leaders through e-mails and other trainings throughout the year. Also, since the RTCs provide technical assistance and conduct the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale, Revised (ECERS-R) in their region as part of the Preschool Program Review (P2R), they spend a great deal of time in the classrooms of these teachers.

The meetings have been face-to-face. The numbers range from 50-140 attendees in each of the five regions. Kentucky has a communication and technological system in place the Continuous Instructional Improvement Technology System (CIITS), which is a “one-stop shop” for technological connections for the entire commonwealth. For example in PGES, the CIITS Educator Development Suite (EDS) serves as the technology platform for entering professional growth plans for each teacher. It is also a place where teachers may share lesson plans, videos and have access to a wealth of resources including Edivation formerly called PD360, an online, on-demand professional learning resource. One of our goals for the fourth ELLN year is to augment the postings of early childhood education materials.

What kind of support does the state provide to enhance the work of the ELLNs? How are districts and teachers supporting the work?

The Kentucky Department of Education provides funding to the RTCs for ELLN planning and curriculum development activities. This covers a stipend for the university faculty, rent for the facilities, books and resources for ELLN teams. The districts provide leave time for ELLN team members and substitute teachers to cover classrooms if necessary.

Do the administrator strand and teacher strand overlap or connect with each other at all?

The administrator strand of ELLN meets two times a year, in the fall and the spring. During the fall meeting, the administrators receive an overview of what to expect during the upcoming year, so that they can communicate effectively with teacher-leaders to ensure teams are making an impact. The administrator ELLN meetings occur before the first teacher ELLN day so that the administrators know what to expect. Based on action plans that have been successfully implemented, we found that some of the most effective teams were those whose administrator was a member of the ELLN team that met four times a year. Also, other successful teams were invited by the administrator to share their knowledge with the other educators in their district.

You have said that ‘using data to guide instruction’ was a strong outcome from the groups; can you talk about that a bit more? How did you encourage that, and what signs are there that it using data has been enhanced?

ELLN teachers are asked to bring data results of their students from the instructional assessment tool given at the beginning of the year. They are given time to look at the results either individually or as teams, and come up with the next steps to improve teaching, learning and assessment practices. This process also includes looking at the standards to determine the focus areas and knowledge of the next stages of development and/or achievement. Evidence of this may be found in lesson plans where teachers are including more individualization and small groups working on areas of development. Also we see increased evidence of teachers taking anecdotal notes in the classroom and using this knowledge to guide instruction. We have come a long way from setting up the environment and letting the children explore and discover. We still have strong developmentally appropriate practices, but now we are seeing more evidence of high quality teacher/child interactions that encourages deeper thinking and language skills.

You have also said that relationships are an outcome. Can you talk about how that happens and why it is important to the state work?

One of the major outcomes of these meetings was allowing the teachers time to engage in discussions about their work. We would schedule times during the ELLNs when teachers would share their assessment results and discuss the next steps with their team or the team from another district. Another important relationship that developed was the connection between the kindergarten and preschool teachers. This is something that was not present before the ELLNs.

What advice would you give to other states wanting to implement this kind of group?

The number one advice is to plan strategically. Teachers are very busy and they want relevant professional learning. In planning strategically, look at the big picture. Plan big and then make adjustments as you proceed. Understand the culture of the teachers in their settings and work with administrators to support their teachers. One of the major outcomes is improved connections between and among teachers. Also, the kindergarten teachers really liked being grouped together to discuss their unique issues. Finally, be patient. These improvements take time.

How has CEELO (if at all) been involved in developing/enhancing the work of the ELLNs?

CEELO connected me with the New Jersey consultants who are engaging in similar work.

During the June CEELO meeting last year, help was offered in the form of connecting to other states who are also working on the Danielson Framework with early childhood. Continued support in that area would be most appreciated.

How could CEELO be helpful?

CEELO could help us with research-based materials, examples of successful programs that have implemented similar programs, suggestions of speakers who would be able to present at our yearly conference in June, possible trainings for our facilitators, websites, and anything else you think would be helpful.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

You can find the latest information on our Early Learning Leadership Networks at this website.

Are there any other resources you would like to highlight for your state or other states?

New resources are planned for this site including an overview of the process, examples of action plans, Pre-K/Kindergarten connections, teacher leadership and others.


Early Education Has Its Day

December 11, 2014

Yesterday, the White House hosted its first Summit on Early Childhood Education. The Summit brought together a wide variety of stakeholders, including local government officials; private philanthropy; researchers; federal government officials; and business leaders. The President’s remarks can be seen here. The event also launched the InvestInUs campaign, administered by the First Five Years Fund to encourage private-public investment in a range of early childhood activities. The campaign released a profile of major private commitments, as well as highlighting notable “early learning communities” that may serve as models for other communities. The White House Council of Economic Advisers released a new report, The Economics of Early Childhood Investments, which examined the benefits of a wide range of early childhood education programs, from home visiting to kindergarten. A recap of the ongoing Twitter conversation can be seen here.

The Departments of Education and Health and Human Services also made major announcements aligned with the Summit. Eighteen states were announced as winners of competitive federal Preschool Development and Expansion Grants. Grant winners are displayed in Figure 1, with amounts in Figure 2.

Image Source: Department and Health and Human Services & Department of Education. (2014). What are preschool development grants? http://www2.ed.gov/programs/preschooldevelopmentgrants/pdgfactsheet.pdf

Image Source: Department and Health and Human Services & Department of Education. (2014). What are preschool development grants? http://www2.ed.gov/programs/preschooldevelopmentgrants/pdgfactsheet.pdf

Development grants are for states with no or small state-funded pre-K programs, while expansion grants are for those states with established programs to improve quality and increase access. More information on the current preschool offerings of these states is available here. The Departments estimate that this $226 million investment will expand services to more than 33,000 additional children in the first year alone and ensure that children are experiencing preschool of high quality. The Department has released score sheets and applications for winners and for those who did not receive funding.

The Department of Health and Human Services also announced preliminary grantees for their Early Head Start-Child Care partnerships. The program, which works with existing child care settings to expand access for infants and toddlers to high-quality care, will provide $435 million in funding to 234 grantees. The Department noted that it is still in negotiation with the agencies they’ve announced, and that the award amounts may be subject to change. The full allocation of $500 million will be awarded by the end of March 2015.

All told, this week’s announcements are adding new federal funds for early childhood education to 49 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Mariana Islands, and will serve an estimated 63,000 additional children. While state education departments and others who have worked hard on these applications are surely enjoying well-deserved celebrations, the greatest challenge may be on the horizon: implementing the plans and working toward the goal of expanding quality early education.

– Megan Carolan, Policy Research Coordinator, NIEER/CEELO


Remembering Dave Weikart’s legacy: How we can work together to help children succeed in school and life

December 9, 2014

This week, as the White House convenes an Early Learning summit, we reflected on how research has informed policy development in this area and the ways in which the HighScope Perry Preschool study and its creator David P. Weikart continue to be important. Dave led this study from its beginning in 1962 until his death on December 9, 2003, 11 years ago this week. Yearbook set 6The study, which continues today with midlife data now being collected, addressed a simple question: could a well-done preschool program help young children living in difficult circumstances do better in school? Regular waves of data collection over the years have answered a resounding yes. Indeed, the clarity of the affirmation prompted the broadening of the question: could such a program help these children do better beyond school in the rest of their lives? Again, the answer was a resounding yes, manifest in better jobs and economic productivity, prevention of crime, and an extraordinarily strong return on investment. The effects of this preschool program far exceeded original expectations, setting a new standard of expectation for preschool programs that made them the concern not only of parents and teachers, but also of public leaders concerned with educational achievement, crime prevention, and economic productivity.

Dave Weikart’s HighScope Perry Preschool Study inspired similar studies of the Abecedarian child care program, the Chicago Child-Parent Centers, and the Nurse-Family Partnership program. Like the HighScope Perry Preschool, all these model programs were found to have long-term effects and strong return on investment. Dave Weikart’s proven idea of well-done preschool programs has inspired a generation of public leaders to embrace preschool education for all children from low-income families as an achievable dream.

When some did not believe in the potential of children of color and children of poverty to achieve educational success, Dave did believe. When some did not believe that preschool education made a difference, Dave did believe. When some today do not believe that well-done preschool programs can become the norm for large public programs like Head Start, Dave would believe they can. He would insist that we stop making the compromises that keep our preschool programs from enabling our children to achieve their full potential. He would encourage us to remake education from the beginning so that teachers and students alike take initiative and assume responsibility for their learning and their lives.

–Larry Schweinhart, Steve Barnett, and John Love


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 196 other followers

%d bloggers like this: