Raising the Bar for Early Education

May 28, 2014

Is early education and care a profession or not? The debate has dogged the field for decades. Positions taken by the workforce and organizations representing their interests seldom come to full agreement in scenarios reminiscent of the “tastes great; less filling” debates. This in-fighting, often played out between public pre-K, Head Start, and child care, does not center around the acknowledged value of the workforce’s intentions, efforts or contributions; rather, it stems from the field’s failure to consider what actually qualifies as a profession and its willingness to take it to the next level. Too often, terms such as “job,” “occupation,” and “career” are used interchangeably with “profession,” only clouding the issue.

Sociologist Byrne Horton (1944) provides an interesting lens to examine the issue. Based on an analysis of characteristics found across professions, his “Ten Criteria or Earmarks of a Genuine Profession”[i] contend, that a profession must:

  1. Satisfy an indispensable social need and be based upon well­ established and socially acceptable scientific principles.

    Even stock photos make it clear: this job is tough. But is it a "profession?"

    Even stock photos make it clear: this job is tough. But is it a “profession?”

  2. Demand adequate pre-professional and cultural training.
  3. Demand a body of specialized and systematized knowledge.
  4. Give evidence of needed skills that the general public does not possess.
  5. Have developed a scientific technique that is the result of tested experience.
  6. Require the exercise of discretion and judgment as to the time and manner of the performance of duty .
  7. Be a type of beneficial work, the result of which is not subject to standardization in terms of unit performance or time element.
  8. Have a group consciousness designed to extend scientific knowledge in technical language.
  9. Have sufficient self-impelling power to retain its members throughout life. It must not be used for a mere steppingstone to other occupations.
  10. Recognize its obligations to society by insisting that its members live up to an established and accepted code of ethics.

Other sociologists and scholars (Katz, 1985; Moore, 1970; Rich, 1984) have echoed Horton’s criteria.

Obviously, for early childhood teachers, we can check off some of the above. The commitment to expanding a scientific knowledge base for early education is burgeoning and the work addresses an indispensable social need. Based on all the criteria, however, I’d be hard-pressed to issue a resounding “Yes” if asked whether the field of early education and care currently qualifies as a profession.

Many of Horton’s criteria, particularly those addressing professional training and knowledge, are not uniformly expected, met, or enforced across our field. In a field where high school graduates lacking adequate pre-professional training or specialized knowledge work immediately and independently on par with others who have invested years in specialized training and degrees, we have a problem.  When people enter the field without knowledge and skills beyond that of the general public, we have a problem. With a track record of high attrition confirming our field’s inability to retain its members throughout life – due in part to demanding responsibilities for which they were not prepared and low compensation – we have a problem. Let’s be honest: as a result of a well-meaning effort to open a wide early education and care umbrella inviting all comers with and without qualification, our field fails to meet requisite criteria to be recognized as a profession. The lowest common denominator defines our field and as such we stumble in advancing as a profession. More important, we do a disservice to children, families, and colleagues.

A profession establishes the gate through which only qualified and competent individuals may enter to provide service. We have too many gates lacking uniform standards of quality. The NIEER 2012 State of Preschool Yearbook reported only 30 publicly-funded preschool programs in 25 states require lead teachers to have a BA; New York requires a Master’s degree. Programs in 4 states (Florida, Massachusetts, Texas, one program in Vermont) did not require lead teachers to have either a BA or specialized training in pre-K. Several state-funded pre-K programs operating in partnership with community-based child care programs permit lead teachers to have high school degrees or certificates, creating an uneven professional field within the same state or community.  Head Start has made tremendous strides in advancing the qualifications and skills of its teaching corps, surpassing ambitious targets through a combination of policy and support. Alternate pathways are made possible for para-professionals who commit to becoming professionals. Years in the field may provide valuable experience, but if not systematically approached to attain knowledge and skills well beyond those held by the general public, such experience may simply reinforce unprofessional or ineffective behaviors.

In Early Childhood Education for a New Era: Leading for Our Profession, Stacie Goffin portrays early education and care as a field of practice where reform is driven by external and internal forces, arguing that we need to assume responsibility for elevating and accelerating internal change. Speaking at the Maryland Department of Education Research Forum (January 2014), she warned “(v)oluntary strategies (are) not leading to practitioners collectively capable of competent practice” and that change must come from the “inside out.” I agree. As a profession, we must hold ourselves to high standards of excellence and accountability, not justifications for mediocrity. The gauntlet has been thrown.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention the need for adequate resources to elevate early education and care as a profession. Each of Horton’s 10 criteria has an associated price tag if an indispensable social need is to be addressed by knowledgeable, skillful, effective professionals who remain committed and supported throughout their professional lives. Parents cannot be expected to carry the full price any more than we can expect the children. As columnist Thomas Friedman said in a recent interview, “If we will the end, we must also will the means.” States, communities, business, and the federal government need to step up.

Certainly, we are further along the path to being recognized and valued as a profession, but now is not the time to rest. Until the field of early education and care comes to agreement on criteria for its “profession” and commits to meeting exemplary standards differentiating it from a “job” or “occupation,” we are destined to be viewed by the public as a lesser profession and reap commensurate benefits. It’s time for us to raise the bar.

- Jim Squires, Senior Research Fellow

[i] B. J. Horton. (1944). Ten criteria or earmarks of a genuine profession. Scientific Monthly, (58), p. 164.


New York in a Preschool State of Mind

January 21, 2014

This afternoon, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo presented his budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2015, including significant investment in state-funded pre-K. The Governor called for an investment of $1.5 billion over five years, starting with $100 million in its first year up to $500 million in its fifth year. This funding is meant in addition to the $410 million the state already spends on its “Universal” Prekindergarten Program, with the goal of helping the program move towards the “universal” part of its name.

Pre-K has become a hot topic in the Empire State.  New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, as we have written before, has made universal pre-K in the Big Apple a key focus of his campaign as well as his first month in office. De Blasio has noted that while many New York City children are served in publicly funded preschool programs, demand far outstrips availability, and he has proposed an increased income tax on those earning over $500,000 to raise the estimated $340 million needed to pay for pre-K for all. An increase in New York City income tax would need to be approved by the state legislature. Governor Cuomo has stated his support of pre-K but also his opposition to increasing taxes, remaining true to his word today by proposing a plan to build pre-K into the state budget without creating a new tax.

It is easy to see these proposals as an either/or proposition, but the best route for New York’s educational and economic prosperity is both. We applaud Governor Cuomo’s focus on high-quality, full-day universal pre-K and a renewed commitment to providing funding for the program. Implicitly, this recognizes that, to date, the program has undercut quality, provided mostly half-days, and fallen far short of universal in reach. NIEER’s estimate of the cost of a high-quality, full-day program in New York state is just under $10,000 per child. In its first year, the $100 million expansion of the UPK program could fully fund 10,195, or 4 percent, of the state’s 4-year-olds. This would barely chip away at the gap of 50,000 children de Blasio has reported as having no or inadequate access to pre-K.  However, that assumes that nothing is done to raise quality or extend to a full-day existing slots, which could more than consume the entire $100 million without serving any new children.

Giving New York City the autonomy to raise its own taxes in order to invest in educating its children would ensure real progress toward raising quality and providing a full day, while increasing access.  It also would protect the spirit of local control that exists in American education and is one of the key strengths of the American approach to public education. Other cities and towns in the state may choose to move ahead more quickly, as well.

Governor Cuomo’s proposal was only announced today, and key details remain to be specified. In the ensuing conversations about how to proceed, New York could learn important lessons from the Abbott preschool program in New Jersey, which has built one of the highest quality preschool programs in the nation (for a discussion of the lessons learned from this program, see Steve Barnett’s video lecture as well as recent coverage in Slate and The American Prospect). For pre-K to truly succeed as a system, the state needs to set feasible timelines and research-based quality standards. Programs also need support in meeting those standards, as seen in New Jersey’s support of early childhood educator training programs to create a qualified, highly effective workforce. Pre-K cannot exist in a vacuum, but must be coordinated with child care and Head Start programs in the state. This is already underway in New York’s mixed delivery model. Finally, New York state must commit to what it would actually cost to fully meet their goal of full-day highly effective early education for all with a hard deadline for achieving that goal. NIEER provides estimates of the per-child cost of a high-quality program in its Yearbook. A joint report from the Center for Children’s Initiatives and The Campaign for Educational Equity focuses on the questions of funding and timing specifically in a New York context. Basing program funds on what can be found in the budget, rather than studying actual costs of providing a quality universal program, is a recipe for underfunding.

It is heartening to see two such high-profile elected leaders competing over who has the “best“ pre-K plan. Particularly as UPK in New York has been underfunded for well over a decade, it is our sincere hope that Cuomo and de Blasio can work together on both state- and city-level initiatives to create a quality, stable program and ensure that all of New York’s children are off to the bright start they deserve. From our perspective, the best option is likely to be implementing both plans–and together they can transform New York into a model for Governors and Mayors throughout the nation who seek to provide the best 21st Century education and brightest future for all young children.

- W. Steven Barnett, Director, NIEER & CEELO

Megan Carolan, Policy Research Coordinator, NIEER  & CEELO


Emergency Preparation in Early Education Programs

October 29, 2013

Many families make emergency preparedness a priority in the home, explaining to small children what to do in case of a fire, devising “family reunification plans,” and stocking up on supplies in case of an emergency. However, a recent report indicates that schools and child care centers may not be giving safety the same focus. A year out from Hurricane Sandy, we’re providing resources on preparing for and recovering from emergencies, with a special focus on children.

Save the Children released its annual report examining state-by-state policies on emergency preparedness policies. Highlighting incidents as diverse as hurricanes, tornadoes, and school shootings, Save the Children graded the nation’s overall response on planning protection for children as “unsatisfactory.” Save the Children graded states on whether they required school and child care centers to meet the following four recommendations from the National Commission on Children and Disasters:

  • Evacuation/Relocation Plan: All categories of child care providers have a written plan covering multiple situations for evacuating children and safely relocating them to an alternate site.
  • Family-Child Reunification Plan: All categories of child care providers have a written plan for notifying parents in the event of an emergency, and reuniting children with their families.
  • Children with Special Needs Plan: All categories of child care providers have a written plan specifying how the needs of children with disabilities and those with access and functional needs would be addressed in the case of an emergency.
  • K-12 Multiple Disaster Plan: All public schools, including charter schools, to have a written plan that covers a number of emergency scenarios, including those resulting in evacuation, lock-down, and shelter-in-place. Fire/tornado drills alone are not adequate to address these needs.

States vary widely in meeting each standard (see Figure 1). Particularly troubling is the fact that just over half (53 percent) of states require detailed plans from child care centers explaining how they would tend to the special needs of children with disabilities during an emergency. For children with special needs–perhaps a child with autism who is overwhelmed by the sound of a fire alarm or a child with limited mobility because he is in a wheelchair–special attention is particularly important.

Figure 1: Percentage of States & D.C. Meeting Each Standard

Image

Save the Children also provides an interactive map to explore which states require each policy. While the grades in the report focus specifically on the need to improve state policies, Save the Children also offers resources to support both child care providers and families in developing emergencies plans. The basic guidance is the same for both:

  • Make a plan
  • Have a communications strategy
  • Practice emergency drills, and teach children skills like calling 911
  • Create a disaster kit, including important documents, first aid supplies, activities to entertain children, and food

Natural disasters and violence are dangerous for anyone, but young children are particularly susceptible to negative consequences, as “toxic stress” can have both short- and long-term impacts when it occurs during a crucial period of brain development. The Center for the Developing Child at Harvard University provides resources documenting the effects of such stress, along with recommendations for prevention and remediation, including a “Tackling Toxic Stress” series. Center-based learning experiences can help children cope with such stress, as highlighted in a recent NIEER brief, particularly when coupled with supports like parenting programs and home-visiting, to reduce toxic stress in the home.

There must also be a focus on how to help kids cope with tragedy they’ve already experienced. As we saw repeatedly in 2012-

Girl dressed like firefighter

A student tries on a firefighter’s coat and helmet at the Child Development Center on Kleber Kaserne in Kaiserslautern, Germany. Accessed via the U.S. Army Flickr Stream, used in the public domain.

- with the tornadoes in Moore, Oklahoma; the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings; and in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which Save the Children reports impacted over 250 child care centers about a year ago– schools can be ground zero for both tragedy and recovery. Here’s how parents and teachers can help mitigate the emotional turmoil kids experience.

  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency provides tips on coping with disaster, organized by children’s age range.
  • The Federal Office of Head Start has numerous resources on helping children in Head Start programs through emergencies, including resources on social-emotional support for both children and adults and an Emergency Preparedness Manual for providers.
  • Parents and teachers may be unsure how to talk to children about what they have experienced without adding stress. PBS provides general information on how to talk to children about news in an age-appropriate way.
  • The National Association of School Psychologists provides tips for talking to children about violence that can also guide conversations after natural disasters.
  • Sesame Street offers a number of interactive resources for parents and children addressing emergencies, mostly focused on natural disasters.

It is particularly unpleasant to think about disasters affecting children in schools and child care centers–places that are meant to be safe spaces for growth and exploration–but it is the responsibility of all adults who care for children to face this task. The Fred Rogers Company provides guidance on how to help children navigate scary events with Mr. Rogers’ classic advice:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers–so many caring people in this world.

Policymakers, parents, and program directors can be those helpers.

-Megan Carolan, Policy Research Coordinator


(Almost) Everything You Wanted to Know about Pre-K in the Federal Budget

April 12, 2013

Since President Obama announced his goal of quality early education for 4-year-olds in his State of the Union address, the education world has been buzzing for more information. Details provided earlier this month indicated that the president’s plan would call for funding the program through an increase in the tobacco tax from $1.01 per pack to $1.95. The release of the president’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2014 provides significantly more insight into the administration’s Preschool for All initiative.

The Department of Education budget clarifies that the proposal is for a federal-state partnership to provide all low- and moderate-income 4-year-old children with high-quality preschool with added incentives to expand these programs to reach children from all income levels.  The plan is part of a larger approach to expanding and sustaining middle-class opportunity. Education Department documents laid out key elements of the Preschool for All proposal; many are similar from the bills introduced in both the House and Senate since the State of the Union, including:

  • high staff qualifications, including a BA degree for teachers;
  • professional development for teachers and staff;
  • low staff-child ratios and small class sizes;
  • a full-day program;
  • developmentally appropriate, evidence-based curricula aligned with state early learning standards;
  • salaries comparable to those in K-12 education;
  • on-going program evaluation to ensure continuous improvement; and
  • on-site comprehensive services for children.

The Department of Education is requesting $75 billion over 10 years in budget authority for this plan with $1.3 billion requested for FY 2014.  This is mandatory federal spending that is not dependent on an annual or periodic appropriation bill.

State funding allocations would be based on the number of 4-year-olds in families at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Table 1, based on the Education Department’s School Readiness budget justification, shows how state and federal shares vary over time for both regular and reduced rate states.  The “regular” rate applies to states not yet serving half of the children below 200 percent of poverty; the “reduced” rate incentivizes pre-K for all children when at least half the children above 200 percent FPL are served.

Table 1.  State/Federal Share of Pre-K Program at Regular and Reduced Rates

Program Year

Regular Rate

Reduced Rate

State Share

Federal Share

State Share

Federal Share

Year 1

9%

91%

5%

95%

Year 2

9%

91%

5%

95%

Year 3

17%

83%

9%

91%

Year 4

23%

77%

17%

83%

Year 5

29%

71%

23%

77%

Year 6

33%

67%

29%

71%

Year 7

43%

57%

33%

67%

Year 8

50%

50%

43%

57%

Year 9

60%

40%

50%

50%

Year 10

75%

25%

71%

29%

The budget also requested $750 million in discretionary funds for FY 2014 for Preschool Development Grants. These funds would provide competitive grants to states “most willing to commit to creating or expanding a high-quality preschool system that can serve all of their 4-year-olds from low- and moderate-income families.” At an Education Department press conference on Wednesday, these grants were characterized as helping states address systemic issues in preparation for expanding preschool, which would include building facilities and workforce development. Eligible states would include “low capacity” states with small or non-existent state-funded pre-K programs as well as states with “more robust” programs looking to support quality improvement and expand access.

How many 4-year-olds children stand to benefit from the president’s plan? Back of the envelope calculations based on data from the ECLS-B study indicate that as many as 1.67 million 4-year-olds who live below 200 percent FPL could benefit because they do not now have access to a quality pre-K program (based on the numbers who attend no program or a program that is not high quality). This includes 365,000 African-American children and 565,000 Hispanic children. Rather than a “federal takeover” of early education as feared by some, the president’s plan would build on state efforts that work and improve those that fall short.  With its added incentives to offer quality preschool for all, this plan could increase the number of children attending high-quality pre-K programs at age 4 from less than 1 million to around 4 million nationally.

The federal budget also makes provision for younger children.  The Department of Health and Human Services budget has $1.4 billion in new Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships; an additional $200 million to support high-quality child care; and $15 billion over 10 years to support home-visiting programs.

At the state level, a so-called “sin tax,” such as the proposed tobacco tax, is not an uncommon way to fund programs for children. NIEER has written before about the pros and cons of this approach as well as a more comprehensive look at various state funding structures for early education. In fact, tobacco taxes fund early education through  First Five California and First Things First in Arizona while Kansas and Maine both report using tobacco settlement funds for various components of early childhood education.

children in sandbox

Several other noteworthy initiatives were included in the Education Department’s budget, as noted by Education Week:

  • $300 million for Promise Neighborhoods;
  • $112 million to help schools develop emergency plans, collect school safety data, and improve school climate;
  • $1 billion for a Race to the Top competition focusing on improving student outcomes in college without increasing tuition; and
  •  $215 million for competitive School Improvement Grant program focused on school turnarounds and district capacity.

It’s heartening to see early childhood education at the top of the agenda for new investments in education. The proposed federal investment in pre-K together with the other proposed measures can increase the number of children ready for the early elementary grades, expanding the opportunity for all children to achieve long-term academic, social and economic success.

- Megan Carolan, Policy Research Coordinator, NIEER

- Steve Barnett, Director, NIEER


Yes, Public Preschool is a Smart Investment

March 22, 2013

child with blockNote: This blog post is in response to the question posed by The New York Times in its Room for Debate forum: “Is Public Preschool a Smart Investment?”.

Early education and care programs have two goals — child care so parents can work or go to school and education so children learn and grow optimally.  Unfortunately, much of what is called child care in the United States is what others would call “child minding.”  Ensuring that children are safe, warm, and fed is not enough to support their healthy development, which also requires well-trained, adequately paid teachers who receive coaching and supervision plus sufficiently teacher-child ratios. This helps ensure caregivers provide children with educational content and play experiences that include language, math and science as well as attending to their social, emotional, and physical development, which are equally important. In a high-quality early childhood education and care setting, children learn language, how letters and books work, and about numbers, shapes, and dimensions. But they also learn how to test a theory, concentrate, self-regulate, develop attention skills, get along with others, and more.  The end result is they start kindergarten better prepared to learn and live full lives.

The evidence for pre-K is substantial and far beyond the few studies commonly mentioned, such as the Perry Preschool Program (which skeptics criticize for being old and small).  To date, there are summaries of 123 studies in the U.S. and about a third more elsewhere in the world that demonstrate the effectiveness of high-quality pre-K programs.  From all the studies out there one concludes that early educational intervention can have substantive short- and long-term effects on cognition and social-emotional development, as well as on school progress, antisocial behavior, earnings, welfare participation, and even crime.  A multiplicity of programs across various social and economic contexts, including large public programs, have been shown to be effective.  Among the recent evidence are long-term studies from Michigan and the Abbott preschool program in New Jersey.  So how can we choose not invest in it when the evidence also shows that for every $1 spent we get far greater returns?

The President’s pre-K proposal would help states provide high-quality pre-K for low- and middle-income families, which is crucial considering that children of lower income groups start kindergarten more than a year behind in language and math than their upper income peers.  And this gap is very resistant to later efforts to close it.  Recognizing that parents want quality learning experiences for even the youngest children, the President also proposed partnerships between child care and Early Head Start, a program for at-risk children under age 3 with a track record of success.  Improving quality in child care for younger children, particularly the most disadvantaged, while providing expanded pre-K to 4-year-olds is too important to be an either/or choice. We can do more for children of all ages and the President proposes to do that, but ensuring that every child has access to quality education at least by age 4 is an attainable goal right now while pursuing that broader agenda.  State leaders have figured out that pre-K is a good choice for families and children in their states and politically viable as a bipartisan policy –  last year, 39 states offered state-funded pre-K programs, and enrollment – all voluntary – has nearly doubled in a decade.  Even cities have started to push for pre-K programs, such as the recent efforts in San Antonio by Mayor Julián Castro.  Nevertheless, finances are difficult for many families, cities and states.  A little federal help will go a long way toward ensuring that all families, especially low- and middle-income ones, can have access to high-quality education for their preschoolers.

- Milagros Nores, Associate Director of Research, NIEER


Not Just Wishful Thinking

January 10, 2013

Steve BarnettEnsuring that all our children are ready to succeed when they enter kindergarten is a tremendous task, made much more difficult in the United States by high levels of poverty and low levels of parental education. One in four preschoolers lives in poverty, nearly half in low-income families. Twenty-seven percent are born to mothers without a high school diploma or GED. Assessments at kindergarten entry show that surprisingly many children from middle-income families are poorly prepared to succeed. There are many public policies that could contribute to reducing this problem, and there is no single solution, but let us consider one that seems obvious and for which there is considerable evidence, public preschool programs.

Public preschool education could be an important part of the solution, but currently it is not given a chance. Ensuring school readiness through preschool education is precluded by low levels of investment and high levels of wishful thinking. Far too many children lack access to preschool education, and it is least available to those who could benefit most. The majority of 3-year-olds in homes where Spanish is the primary language don’t attend any preschool program. Some don’t qualify for publicly funded programs because their parents work long hours to keep them out of poverty. Others live in states that don’t fund any preschool program at all or in neighborhoods that aren’t served. As a nation we spend far more public money on prisons than on preschools. Federal and state governments together spend less on preschool education than Americans spend on pet food.

The latest research on preschool program outcomes to cross my desk is the third grade follow-up of the national randomized trial of Head Start. It is now clear: Head Start produces no perceptible lasting gains in any domain of child development. This does not rule out very small persistent gains, but Head Start is not meeting its goals. Yet, much of the field seems to be in denial, responding that bad public schools erode the effects of Head Start. Somehow they fail to see that even initial gains are quite small and that children in the study made much larger gains in kindergarten and the early grades than they did in Head Start. Other studies confirm that learning gains in kindergarten are much larger than in Head Start. The root of the problem is that Head Start is locked into a program model that fails to focus on intensive education and pays teaching staff abysmally. This model has failed every true experimental test (Early Head Start, the Comprehensive Child Development Program, the Child and Family Resource Centers).

State pre-K programs often are little better than Head Start since they too usually lack the funding and standards of public education for kindergarten. State subsidized child care (as opposed to preschool education) is so poor that it may actually harm child development on average. Clearly, just shifting Head Start to the states is not enough to solve the problem. However, for all the faults of public education, one only has to look at growth curves for learning over time to conclude that if preschool were supported like kindergarten, children would be much better prepared. And, looking at the programs found to produce substantive lasting gains for children in well-controlled studies, the common theme is that they are much more educationally intensive than our current preschool programs. It is time to face facts and change directions.

If the United States is to effectively address the school readiness problem, public preschool programs must provide much more intensive education to many more children. Only public preschool education for all children is likely to achieve this goal. Means-tested programs exclude too many children who need help. The federal government should incentivize states to offer preschool programs that meet a small number of well-defined criteria for quality and set a goal to serve all children by a certain date. Then let states innovate as they have a track record of creating flexible public-private preschool partnerships. The focus of accountability should be on strong teaching and truly substantive gains in broad child development. Head Start should be integrated into public education as a funding stream to enhance the education of young children in poverty so that they start early and receive the best teachers and smallest classes. Once we stop thinking of preschool as charity and start thinking of it as an investment in everyone’s future we might actually do what is necessary to meaningfully improve the education of young children.

- Steve Barnett, Director, NIEER

This entry is cross-posted to The National Journal and is in response to the post “Pre-K for Everyone?” by Fawn Johnson.


Learning about Teaching: What We Know about Early Ed Professionals

May 8, 2012

Our 2011 State Preschool Yearbook got a lot of attention for sounding the alarm on decreasing per-child funding threatening program quality. Nothing is more important for providing a high-quality early education than highly effective teachers and assistant teachers. NIEER’s research-based quality standards benchmarks credit teacher requirements in five different ways:

· Lead teachers must have a bachelor’s degree or equivalent;

· Lead teachers must have specialized training in early childhood education;

· Assistant teachers must have a Child Development Associate (CDA) credential or equivalent;

· Lead teachers must receive at least 15 clock hours per year (or 6 credit hours per 5 years) of professional development; and,

· Regular site visits are conducted to monitor program implementation.

Of the 39 states offering state-funded pre-K in the 2010-2011 year, only eight states (plus the Louisiana NSECD program) met all five of these benchmarks for lead and assistant teachers. A related issue is teacher pay, which is on average much lower in preschools than in elementary schools. Although 19 states required all lead teachers to have a BA with specialized training, a mere 7 states had this requirement and pay them comparably to kindergarten teacher salary as of 2009-2010.

As can be seen in the graph below, the percent of programs meeting each teacher qualification benchmark has certainly increased over time, though some more so than others. For example, the increase in programs requiring at least 15 hours per year of professional development—from 64 percent to 84 percent—indicates a growing understanding that continued support for teachers is necessary beyond just initial training. The growth in requiring lead teachers to have a BA has been comparatively slow, but is especially laudable considering the economic difficulties of the last decade and the fact that more advanced teacher degrees likely drive up the program costs.

This table displays programs meeting the teacher qualification benchmarks over a 10-year period as a percent, to take into account the changing number of total programs each year. Information on site visits was not collected until the 2004-2005 year.

Where programs still consistently fall short is in the qualifications required of assistant teachers—only 26 percent of programs required assistant teachers to have a CDA in 2001-2002, which increased to only 31 percent of programs in 2010-2011. Only two programs exceeded the benchmark by requiring an AA for assistant teachers in all settings of their preschool programs (i.e., nonpublic and public), while at least four programs had no formal educational requirements for their assistant teachers. It is clear that the focus over the last decade has been strengthening lead teacher requirements, perhaps out of the assumption that these teachers have the bulk of the interaction with children. However, considering that most programs require an assistant teacher in order to meet the 1:10 staff-to-child ratio we look for, assistant teachers have a clear presence in the early childhood classroom. If preschool programs are truly to have effective team teaching, states must provide adequate pay, supports and training for assistant teachers to ensure all staff interactions with children are of high-quality and developmentally appropriate.

The question of how to ensure we have great teachers in pre-K classrooms is not only for program administrators to answer; teacher preparation programs need to step up. A recent study from the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment explored higher education programs that prepare early childhood education teachers. As noted by Laura Bornfreund of the New America Foundation, diversity across states makes good data hard to come by:

“…[E]arly childhood preparation programs vary greatly for a few reasons. States lack common education and licensing    standards for teachers of children, birth to 5. Some states don’t require student teaching at all. At the institution level, preparation programs are often housed in different departments. Some may be based in the School of Education but often they are located elsewhere, such as Family and Consumer Science Departments, for example. And when early childhood preparation programs say that they are including infants and toddlers in their scope, they may primarily address K-3.”

In educational settings, diversity is a wonderful thing—there’s hardly a loftier educational goal than students and staff from different backgrounds working and learning together. But the current diversity in the requirements and quality of teacher preparation programs has nothing to do with ensuring that the teaching force is diverse and produces a cacophony of bureaucracy and lack of standardization in preparation that serves neither teachers nor students well.

All this comes on the heels of a Government Accountability Office report on the early child care and education (ECCE) workforce that found the 1.8 million employees in pre-K, child care, and Head Start are still faced with low levels of education and compensation. The report found that preschool teachers, who were the highest paid among these professionals, still only made about $18,000 per year (excluding pre-K teachers in elementary schools). Data from the American Communities Survey indicated that 72 percent of these workers lacked an associate’s degree or higher. Clearly, the preparation, support, and compensation of today’s early childhood workforce is out of sync with what we know is best to provide our children with a high-quality early education.  Despite these challenges, ECCE teaching staff do the best they can for our children, understanding that, as Garrison Keillor said, “Nothing you do for children is ever wasted. They seem not to notice us, hovering, averting our eyes, and they seldom offer thanks, but what we do for them is never wasted.”

So to the 1.8 million ECCE teachers out there—thanks on behalf of the millions of young children you serve everyday!

- Megan Carolan, Policy Research Coordinator, NIEER

- Steve Barnett, Director, NIEER


Investing for Today and Tomorrow: Early Learning in the Federal FY 2013 Budget Proposal

February 15, 2012

Starting the week on an exciting note for elected officials, advocates, and policy wonks, President Obama released his proposed budget for fiscal year 2013 on Monday morning. Education was a clear priority throughout the press conference at Northern Virginia Community College in Annandale, Virginia, particularly on preparing students for 21st century jobs by focusing on career and technical skills. As readers of this blog can attest, early education is an important building block in preparing students for a life of learning and earning.

Details of the budget are still being fleshed out, but there seems to be good news for early education in the White House’s proposal, as outlined below.

Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) proposed budget:

  • Department-wide discretionary budget of $76.4 billion, a $0.3 billion increase over the FY2012 level.
  • Head Start and Early Head Start: Set to receive more than $8 billion to serve about 962,000 children and families, which would maintain the enrollment expansion seen in the 2009-2010 program year. The proposal acknowledges that it will support the implementation of the new Head Start re-competition regulations.
  • Child care subsidies:  Additional $7 billion over 10 years to support child care subsidies for low-income children.
  • Child Care Development Block Grant: Additional $300 million to improve the quality of child care facilities.

Department of Education proposed budget:

  • Department-wide discretionary budget of $69.8 billion, a $1.7 billion increase over FY2012 level.
  • Race to the Top (RTT): $850 million for another round.  According to a Department of Education press release, a “significant portion” of these funds would be allocated for an expansion for the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge, which would continue under the joint tutelage of the Departments of Education and HHS.
  • Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA): $472.7 million in Grants for Infants and Families, to provide early intervention services to children birth through age 2 with disabilities and $372.6 million for IDEA Preschool Grants for children ages 3 through 5 with disabilities.
  • Promise Neighborhoods: Proposed increase of $100 million for this competitive grant program that seeks to help high-need communities develop cooperative strategies to improve outcomes for children through both educational reforms and life outside the classroom. Past winners have focused energies specifically on early education as a tool.
  • Investing in Innovation Fund (i3): Requests $150 million for the Investing in Innovation Fund (i3) to build on three previous i3 competitions. The Department’s budget summary only goes so far as to suggest that priority “could be given to projects proposing to improve early learning outcomes.”
  • Institute for Education Sciences (IES):  $30 million in new research and development grants for early learning and elementary, secondary, and postsecondary education.

In addition, the National Women’s Law Center has information on additional federal programs in the FY13 proposal that support families with young children, including the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit. Of course, not all child care funding goes to children under 5 (though most does) and early education will only be a modest fraction of such high-profile initiatives such as i3, Promise Neighborhoods, and RTT.

Laura Bornfreund, Maggie Severns, and Clare McCann at Early Ed Watch compiled the helpful table below to track changes since FY2011 in some key programs used for early education.

 

As noted by the New America Foundation’s Key Questions on the Obama Administration’s 2013 Education Budget Request, there are still a number of questions surrounding the place of early education in this budget, including whether the portion of RTT funds earmarked for early learning would be distributed at the state level or district level. They also note that the budget proposal encourages districts to redesign school schedules to better serve students through the 21st Century Community Learning program, though it is unclear so far whether states will be encouraged to apply this to the early grades, such as extending half-day kindergarten into full-day services.

It’s worth noting that a presidential budget proposal is, according to Birth to Thrive, just “the first move in a high-stakes game that will be complicated this year by presidential and congressional politics.” Considering the sharp partisan divisions seen in recent legislative battles, the pressure of the Budget Control Act to cut spending by $900 billion over 10 years, and the high-profile politics of an election year, it is hard to say exactly how much of this proposal will ever see funding. The great strength of the budget proposal, though, is to allow the president to lay out his priorities in greater detail than any speech or campaign ad could. Early education is clearly an administration priority, though perhaps not as high a priority as we would like.  All of us concerned about the future of America’s youngest learners must ensure that elected officials remember that high-quality early education programs are a good economic investment both short-term and in the future.

- Megan Carolan, Policy Research Coordinator, NIEER


The Pre-K Debates: What the Research Says About Teacher Quality

February 10, 2012

The body of research on teacher quality is, if nothing else, a mixed bag, in terms of both quality and approach. Studies of the effects of preschool education levels have employed techniques ranging from simple correlations to complex statistical analyses that seek to account for the complexities of interrelated policies and practices that affect teaching and learning. Given just how complex policy and practice are, it may be that the simple correlations are just as informative for policy purposes, but neither approach is particularly satisfactory.  Controlled randomized trials that look at teacher quality might get us farther, but even these may not tell us what we really want to know, and they are few and far between in any case.  Little wonder, then, that some studies find that teachers with higher levels of education have stronger effects on children’s learning while others do not. A 2007 NIEER quantitative summary (meta-analysis) of the literature found a modest positive effect of teachers with a bachelor’s degree compared to those with less education. A few studies in that analysis deserve extra attention because they have obvious strengths:

1. The Cost, Quality and Outcomes Study of child care found that higher levels of teacher education and pay were associated with higher quality as measured by structured observations, and children’s cognitive test scores. A reanalysis that controlled for location and center found no differences between teachers with bachelor’s degrees and those with associate’s degrees or high school diplomas. However, the reanalysis fails to take into account that programs basically hire all their teachers under the same budget constraint, that teachers within a center are not independent performers, and that centers like to assign difficult-to-teach kids to better teachers.

2. The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) study of early care and education has an advantage over most studies because it includes measures of education in the home, thereby more completely modeling the processes that contribute to children’s learning and development. And, it does so over multiple years and not just a few months. Several NICHD studies have found that teacher education contributes to children’s learning and development.

3. Two studies that found no effects of teacher education on children’s learning are a University of Nebraska study of child care centers in four Midwest states and a University of North Carolina study using data from the National Center for Early Development and Learning (NCEDL) Multi-State Study of Pre-K. The latter involved more than 230 classrooms and 800 children. While both have relatively large samples, nether takes into account teacher assignment, apparently assuming that it is random and they do not measure home learning processes. In the Nebraska study, only about seven teachers out of the hundreds interviewed had salaries above $30,000.

To my mind, the most informative evidence comes from real policy changes such as when the New Jersey Supreme Court ordered high-quality preschool provided to all children in 31 low-income school districts. This “natural experiment” was implemented in a public system wherein most children were served by private providers under contract to the districts. Teachers lacking the necessary credentials received scholarships to attend more schooling so they could meet the new standard of a bachelor’s degree and early childhood certification. Salaries were raised to public school levels.  Teachers received coaching on a regular basis. It comes as no surprise to many involved in this dramatic, albeit painful, transition that the quality of teaching as measured by direct observation was transformed, changing from poor-mediocre to good-excellent.

Of course, we can’t pinpoint teacher qualifications as the sole source of success in New Jersey, and I wouldn’t.  Raising qualifications requirements without raising pay from its typically abysmal level is a recipe for disaster.  Honestly, would the field really be debating whether preschool teachers needed to be well-educated if wages were not at issue?  In addition, coaching and a continuous improvement process are certainly important, but it would be equally misguided to conclude that specialized training and professional development alone could produce quality teaching over the long-run with low wages and poorly educated teachers.

Education research rarely provides a basis for certainty and this is particularly true of studies looking at teacher effectiveness where so many variables matter. If policymakers want greater certainty than the existing evidence provides, different sorts of studies will be needed that are based on real policy changes. In the meantime, leading experts in the field provide us with well-reasoned arguments for and sometimes against requiring higher levels of education for preschool teachers than is currently the case in most classrooms across the nation. Their arguments are well represented in The Pre-K Debates, a new book edited by Ed Zigler and Walter Gilliam at Yale and me.  If nothing else, it is always interesting to see university professors argue that their students don’t learn anything useful or that minority students can’t make it in higher education. I’m always happy to put forward Rutgers University as a counterexample.

- Steve Barnett, Director, NIEER

Note: This post is part of a series discussing issues of contention from The Pre-K Debates. For my analysis of universal preschool’s role in economic mobility, see this earlier post in the series.


The Bottom Ten: A Closer Look at No-Program States

June 6, 2011

The State of Preschool 2010 provided some good news regarding two new pilot programs in Alaska and Rhode Island, meaning there is no longer a “dirty dozen” of states without preschool education programs. However, 10 states still have not made preschool a priority and lack such programs for young learners. These “Bottom Ten” states do provide some services to their youngest learners through federal special education and Head Start programs, though enrollment is limited only to those most “at-risk,” whether due to disability or meeting a low-income threshold.

“Preschool-age children in these 10 states are denied the opportunity of early learning experiences that will help them succeed both in school and later in life,” says W. Steven Barnett, NIEER’s co-director and author of the report. “In particular, states in the Mountain West and Upper Midwest with predominantly rural populations need to find a way to provide access to high-quality pre-K.”

In this post, we take a closer look at the bottom 10 states that don’t fund pre-K programs meeting our definition of a state program.  For additional information on these and all other states, visit the State Data page.

Ten states don't provide state-funded pre-K programs.

Hawaii

Although Hawaii does not have a state-funded pre-K program that meets the criteria of the report, the state funds several initiatives providing early learning services. The state’s Preschool Open Doors Project provides low-income families with subsidies to purchase preschool education for their 4-year-olds and, in limited cases, 3-year-olds with special needs. Income eligibility is reassessed and children can be removed from the program based on increases in family income, so the Preschool Open Doors Project is best viewed as offering support to working families rather than as a dedicated educational program.

Other prekindergarten initiatives in the state include the Pre-Plus Program, Junior Kindergarten, Keiki First Steps, and Special Education Preschool. In addition, the state is piloting pre-K programs in two elementary schools. Although remarkable progress has been made, the “Youngest State” still has room to grow in serving its youngest learners.

Idaho

Idaho dedicated $1.5 million in TANF funds to supplement the federal Head Start program in the 2009-2010 school year, enrolling an additional 195 children in the program. But, even with these children, Idaho enrolls less than 7 percent of the state’s 3-year-olds and less than 15 percent of the state’s 4-year-olds in special education preschool and Head Start. Only Utah enrolls a smaller proportion of 3-year-olds, and Idaho is in the bottom five states for enrollment of 4-year-olds.

Indiana

Enrollment of 4-year-olds in special education preschool and Head Start in Indiana is just barely at 15 percent, with only five states enrolling fewer 4-year-olds. Earlier this year, pre-K was notably absent from Governor Daniels’s education reform agenda. At that time, the office of the state Superintendent of Public Instruction expressed interest in investing in state-funded pre-K but noted that the state funding for such a program was unlikely to be available in the near future.

Mississippi

In 2008, the state established Mississippi Building Blocks, a public-private program designed to provide effective support to and increase the quality of existing child care centers. In 2010, a special commission of business leaders and education experts began studying the program as a basis for establishing a statewide model.

When accounting for early education access through Head Start and special education preschool, Mississippi is in the top 5 states enrolling 3-year-olds, serving a higher percent of 3-year-olds than most states with state-funded pre-K programs. With nearly 27 percent of 3-year-olds served in these federal programs, Mississippi’s enrollment is topped only by Vermont, Illinois, and New Jersey. These four states are the only ones to serve more than a quarter of their 3-year-old population.  In addition, Mississippi enrolls almost 37 percent of 4-year-olds in federal pre-K programs.  Despite these advances, Mississippi’s lack of state-funded pre-K makes it an anomaly in the South, where nearby states have committed themselves to universal access.

Montana

Federal special education preschool and Head Start programs in Montana enroll nearly 15 percent of 3-year-olds and 22 percent of 4-year-olds in publicly-funded early learning programs.  This places Montana in the top 20 states for 3-year-old program access, but the bottom 20 for 4-year-old access.  Relying on these programs limits access for most children in the state, and Montana cannot truly be the “Treasure State” for young children until the state makes available access to high-quality pre-K.

New Hampshire

New Hampshire provides slightly more than $300,000 in state supplemental funds to the federal Head Start program. Rather than using these funds to enroll additional children as most states do, New Hampshire dedicates this funding to enhancing teacher salaries.  Less than 9 percent of 3-year-olds are enrolled in a state or federal program in New Hampshire, below the national figure of 14 percent. With only about 11 percent of the state’s 4-year-olds enrolled in special education preschool and Head Start, New Hampshire ties with Nevada for the bottom spot for 4-year-old enrollment in state and/or federal pre-K programs.

North Dakota

North Dakota enrolls 16 percent of its 3-year-olds and nearly 24 percent of its 4-year-olds through federal Head Start and special education preschool. But, the Grand Forks Herald notes that Head Start has a waiting list of more than 800 children throughout the state, indicating that demand outpaces access. State Representative Kathy Hawken told the newspaper, “This particular (legislative) session has not been kind to children. We have pretty much defeated most of the bills that had to do with kids, whether it was health care or prenatal care or CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program). We didn’t fund school nurses. We didn’t fund Head Start.” In addition, earlier this year, the state Senate defeated a bill to fund a $1.5 million pilot preschool program in four school districts. However, a recent law does include expansion statewide of Gearing Up for Kindergarten, a parent education program designed to prepare 4-year-olds for school.  North Dakota has weathered the recession better than most states – since 2006, the state has had the smallest increase in the unemployment rate nationwide, as well as the largest increase in per capita income.  Investing in the future workforce through pre-K can solidify the state’s path to economic prosperity and maintain this growth for future generations.

South Dakota

Existing special education preschool and Head Start programs enroll 16.5 percent of the state’s 3-year-olds and 24.5 percent of its 4-year-olds. Additionally, the Starting Strong Sioux Falls public-private pre-K pilot program was in its third year during the 2009-2010 school year. In response to positive outcomes from this pilot program, a pre-K pilot is being planned for Rapid City. While these pilot programs are encouraging, state-funded early education is only available in select areas. Statewide, the “Land of Infinite Variety” consistently shoots down any attempts to vary preschool education opportunities with the inclusion of state-funded pre-K.

Utah

Utah enrolls only 6 percent of its 3-year-olds and almost 13 percent of its 4-year-olds in special education preschool and Head Start. This makes the state last in the nation for enrollment of 3-year-olds. For enrollment of 4-year-olds, Utah exceeds only New Hampshire and Nevada. Unfortunately, Utah is not alone in its underinvestment in young children, as it is one of the four Mountain West states that fail to provide state-funded pre-K.

Wyoming

With no state-funded prekindergarten program, Wyoming still enrolls nearly 17 percent of its 3-year-olds and 26 percent of its 4-year-olds in special education preschool and Head Start. But this means only children with special needs or from low-income families have access to high-quality early learning opportunities. The “Equality State” could benefit from heeding U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s comment at The State of Preschool 2010 press conference that educational inequality is the civil rights issue of our time and increased access to quality pre-K and other early learning opportunities is the way to begin addressing disparities.

2009-2010 Enrollment of 3- and 4-Year-Olds in Preschool Special Education & Federal and State Head Start

State Percent of 3-year-old population (SpEd) Percent of 4-year-old population (SpEd) Percent of 3-year-old population (SpEd + HdSt††) Percent of 4-year-old population (SpEd + HdSt††)
Hawaii 3.8% 5.1% 8.4% 14.5%
Idaho 3.7% 5.6% 6.7% 14.7%
Indiana 5.2% 7.0% 9.7% 14.8%
Mississippi 4.1% 6.9% 26.9% 36.8%
Montana 2.6% 5.0% 14.9% 22.1%
New Hampshire 5.5% 7.1% 8.8% 11.4%
North Dakota 4.8% 7.1% 16.1% 23.7%
South Dakota 5.3% 8.0% 16.5% 24.5%
Utah 3.9% 6.1% 6.5% 12.8%
Wyoming 10.7% 16.7% 16.8% 26.0%

†† This figure includes federally funded and state-funded Head Start enrollment.
Source: The State of Preschool 2010: State Preschool Yearbook

Preschool provides a return on investment these states cannot afford to miss out on. Years of research have demonstrated the benefits of high-quality preschool. Compared to children without high-quality preschool, children who attend are more likely to graduate high school and go on to higher education. They are less likely to require special education or repeat a grade, become teenage parents, or commit crimes as teens or adults, all at great savings to taxpayers. As adults, they are more likely to be qualified to fill the demand for skilled workers that will keep America competitive in the global economy.  As revenues begin the return to pre-recession levels, each of these ten states in particular must take a good look at their fiscal house and choose to make investment in their future a priority.

- Jen Fitzgerald, Public Information Officer, NIEER

- Megan Carolan, Policy Research Coordinator, NIEER


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