Early Education in the News

December 17, 2015

As the new governor of Kentucky takes over, it’s worth reminding ourselves how critical early childhood education has become to our state —and this commitment needs to continue.

Providing excellent early childhood programs is a statewide priority that truly transcends politics. In fact, a regional commission on early childhood issues that I chaired found much agreement on early childhood investment strategies by leaders with all sorts of perspectives.

Washington Post
December 17, 2015
Wealthy parents aren't just able to send their kids to top pre-schools—they can also purchase the latest learning technology and ensure their children experience as many museums, concerts and other cultural experiences as possible. Low-income parents, on the other hand, don't have that opportunity. Instead, they're often left to face the reality of sending their kids to schools without having had the chance to provide an edifying experience at home.

That might sound foreboding if not hyperbolic, but it's a serious and widespread problem in the United States, where poor kids enter school already a year behind the kids of wealthier parents. That deficit is among the largest in the developed world, and it can be extraordinarily difficult to narrow later in life.

This is one of the key takeaways from a new book about how United States is failing its children. The book, called Too Many Children Left Behind, is written by Columbia University professor Jane Waldfogel, a long-time researcher of poverty and inequality. And it will force almost anyone to reflect on the impact of unchecked inequality on children.


NJ Spotlight
December 16, 2015

“We work with the parents, we work with the community, we do health, we do dental, we do nutrition. Ours is an all-around family-and-child kind of program -- whereas a school is a school,” said Ruhl, the nonprofit’s executive director. “We have social-service staff, we have health staff, we have a registered dietitian. We have a lot of agreements with other agencies, so if our families need mental-health services or help with rent or any of that, we have resources at our fingertips,” she said. “The philosophy is, the whole family has to be ready for school, not just the child.”

That, said Ruhl, is the difference between a federally funded Head Start program like hers and a regular preschool. For 16,000 children in New Jersey and more than a million across the country, Head Start centers offer learning and socialization to help them overcome the barriers associated with poverty, at the same time that the support staff work to foster family stability.

Many of the Head Starts in New Jersey are also Abbott preschools. Through that program, which provides pre-K for all 3- and 4-year-olds in 35 disadvantaged school districts, the state shares the cost of eligible Head Start centers. The participating centers must also meet the Abbott standards, such as small class sizes and teachers with bachelor degrees and preschool certification.

Head Start has been hugely popular since it was started in 1965, maintaining support from both Republican and Democratic administrations. Its budget has steadily climbed to $8.6 billion, and President Barack Obama wants to add another $1.5 billion so every center can offer full-day care over a full school year in order to boost the benefits.

Seattle Times
December 16, 2015

I WAS proud to stand with Democrats and Republicans in the White House last week and represent Washington state students and families as President Obama signed an education bill, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), into law.

The broken No Child Left Behind law is finally gone. Our new law is a huge step forward for students and schools. But the work hasn’t ended — far from it. . .

I am especially proud that one of my top priorities, expanding access to preschool for more of our youngest learners, was included in the new law. As a former preschool teacher, I know that helping more kids start kindergarten on a strong footing is one of the smartest investments our country can make. I fought hard to include investments in preschool, and ESSA marks the first time that the nation’s primary education law includes dedicated funding to expand access to early childhood education.

December 16, 2015

The city is well on its way to achieving its short-term goal of having 2,000 more kids enrolled in highly-rated pre-school classes by next year. But it's still a long way from its ultimate goal of making strong preschools available for all families that want it. The PRE4CLE partnership between the Cleveland school district and more than 30 community organizations released an update Tuesday on its plan to greatly improve preschool opportunities for Cleveland's three- and four-year-olds.

It's a plan tied closely to the school district's improvement efforts and which aims to have kids better prepared to learn in kindergarten and beyond. The district and its partners have worked together on a three-pronged approach to add more quality opportunities -- adding more seats in highly-rated pre-schools, encouraging more private pre-schools to be rated by the state and making sure families know about openings in strong schools.

All three, according to PRE4CLE leaders, contributed to having more than 1,200 more kids in highly-rated pre-schools this year than in 2013. "We made great strides in increasing the number of high-quality preschool seats available to Cleveland's children," PRE4CLE's 2015 annual report states. "In fact, we're more than halfway to our overall goal of creating and filling 2,000 new seats in our first two years."

NJ Spotlight
December 15, 2015

New Jersey’s long history of state-funded preschool may have opened another chapter yesterday with Senate President Stephen Sweeney’s proposed public investment plan that would include more than $165 million over two years in expanded preschool and other early-childhood programs.

Significant details are still to be worked out -- and the political and financial prospects are even more uncertain. Sweeney’s expected run for governor in 2017 certainly plays into the calculus as well.

But if enacted, the proposal from Sweeney and other Democratic leaders yesterday could be the first noteworthy expansion of the state’s landmark program since the late 2000s, and among the largest since the state Supreme Court first ordered universal preschool for New Jersey’s 31 poorest cities

Yahoo Parenting
December 15, 2015

There’s no shortage of research on the benefits of preschool. It not only gives kids an introduction to the school environment they will be a part of for the better part of two decades, but also provides opportunities to develop social skills, among many other benefits. From learning how to wait your turn to knowing the days of the week, preschool programs can provide plenty of useful education. Well-designed programs have been known to provide long-term success in school, including better test scores, lower chances of grade repetition, and higher educational achievement overall.

The Guardian
December 14, 2015

Children of all backgrounds who receive a preschool education are almost twice as likely to go on to sit AS-levels, according to a study by Oxford University.

The research, funded by the government’s department for education, also found that children who go to preschool were significantly more likely to take four or more AS-levels, suggesting that far more preschoolers end up taking an academic route into university than those who do not have the same educational start.

Preschool, also known as nursery school, refers to an educational establishment that offers early education to under-fives prior to the start of primary school.

Children who experience stimulated learning activities at home – such as singing and nursery rhymes, learning the alphabet, reading, playing with numbers and letters, or going on visits to the library – when they are under five are also more likely to achieve better A-level grades, researchers found.

The study is the latest report to be published as part of the EPPSE (effective preschool, primary and secondary education) project, launched in 1997. It followed 3,000 children from the age of three to 18 to identify the factors that can predict a child’s academic success, particularly the effects of a preschool education and a child’s early years home environment.

Seattle Times
December 14, 2015

Seattle’s new, subsidized preschool program has met its first-year goals — for enrollment, number of classrooms, and the racial and income diversity of students, according to the city’s education and early learning department.

Voters approved a $58 million property-tax levy last year to make preschool in the city more affordable and higher quality. The idea is to chip away at persistent academic achievement gaps between children who get lots of learning opportunities at home and those who don’t, which tends to mirror economic and racial divisions.

The tax pays for a four-year program, which advocates hope will demonstrate the value of early learning.  By the 2018-19 school year, it will have 2,000 students enrolled in 100 classrooms.

The Richmond Register
December 14, 2015

“Unfortunately, not all children have the same opportunities to develop and learn before they enter school,” Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt said in a release. “The reality is that poverty has a big impact on education in Kentucky. It is a reality that puts children at a disadvantage when they enter school and one that we must address from day one.”

Nearly 64 percent of the students entering kindergarten this year qualified for free- and reduced-price meals. For those who qualified, only 39.7 percent were kindergarten ready.

“We cannot let the opportunity gap determine a student’s future,” Pruitt added. “That’s why this data is so important. It provides kindergarten teachers with key information early in the school year that they can use to guide instruction and provide targeted support and interventions aimed at closing learning gaps before they have a chance to widen.”

Education Week
December 11, 2015

With Bernie Sanders proposing that all public universities become tuition-free zones for students of all stripes, and Hillary Clinton pushing a plan that would target middle- and low-income Americans with scholarship money, the higher ed debate is beginning to travel the well-worn paths early educators have trod for years. That is: Should we spend more money to make preschool free for everyone? Or, given limits on funging, should we target our spending to children whose parents couldn't otherwise afford preschool? 

A think piece on preschool enrollment published this week by Sarah Garland, Executive Editor of The Hechinger Report, asks that question and arrives at the less-than-satisfying conclusion that, in this country at least, we have no idea what works best. We do know, however, that we are not doing what works best.

Not all the children who qualify for the free programs we do have are actually able to attend because there isn't enough funding to serve all of them, and many families who don't qualify still struggle to find high quality care they can afford. The U.S. ranks 30th among OECD countries, a common proxy for advanced economies, in school enrollment for 3- and 4-year-olds. We do better at enrolling kids in college, but our rates of college-going have barely grown in recent decades.

U.S. News & World Report
December 11, 2015

The needs of our nation's littlest learners have garnered increasing attention in 2015. Although early learning still takes a back seat to K-12 education and higher education in national policy debates, state and national politicians are incorporating calls for early childhood investments into their stump speeches, philanthropic funders are targeting resources to early learning and, according to a new First Five Years Fund poll, average Americans increasingly recognize the importance of early learning for children's long-term success.

Here are some of the early childhood stories that captured attention in 2015 – and what they might mean for the year ahead.

December 11, 2015

About half of the children in the two largest public preschool programs in California – Head Start and the California State Preschool Program – speak a language other than English at home, but there is a good chance they will not be in classrooms with teachers and teacher assistants who are bilingual or trained specifically in instructing English learners.

This reality has broad implications for the ability of California’s public education system to promote successful outcomes for students who are learning English. Two-thirds of English learners did not meet the standards on the Smarter Balanced tests aligned with the Common Core standards, which were administered last spring for the first time. The results underscored the importance of early education programs in getting younger children who are not proficient in English better prepared before they get to kindergarten.

Early education experts say children who are English learners would be better prepared if they were taught in their native languages while also learning English – a goal included in the state’s preschool standards. But Head Start and the California State Preschool Program – which support tens of thousands of students across the state – don’t require teachers to be bilingual, making it more difficult to attain that goal. Combined, those two programs serve about a quarter of the state’s 4-year-olds.

Teachers’ qualifications, including the language skills they bring with them and the training they have received to help children learn English, are crucial for preparing English learners for kindergarten so they can keep pace with their English-only peers, said Lea Austin, a researcher with the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at UC Berkeley.

The Star Press
December 10, 2015

Gov. Mike Pence’s surprising decision last year not to apply for a federal education grant that could have brought Indiana up to $80 million to spend on preschool for low-income youngsters was a costly one for Hoosier children and families.

Last week brought a glimpse of the staggering tally.

According to a story in the Indianapolis Star, the prekindergarten funding available through the state’s $10 million pilot program doesn’t even begin to address the needs in the five counties where it’s available. The majority of families who applied for the program were turned away. In Marion County, about 70 percent of the 5,000 who applied were rejected. In Lake County, only 40 percent of those who applied were accepted. And Vanderburgh County, which had the highest acceptance rate, rejected about 35 percent of applicants. The program is also offered in Allen and Jackson counties.

Texas Observer
December 10, 2015

In September, DFPS began trying to keep the detention facilities open to house women and children by creating a new child care licensing category for family detention centers. But Grassroots Leadership, an Austin nonprofit that has fought for the closure of family detention centers since 2006, filed suit against DFPS in order to block the licensure, and a Travis County district court halted the state’s efforts in late November. Instead, ruled Judge Karin Crump, the state would have to complete the normal administrative process required when creating new child care licensing rules and hold a public hearing.

Washington Post
December 10, 2015

The new law will significantly reduce the legal authority of the education secretary, who would be legally barred from influencing state decisions about academic benchmarks, such as the Common Core State Standards, teacher evaluations and other policies.

But Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who is stepping down at the end of the month, claimed victory, saying that the new law incorporates many of his ideas about the best way to improve schools, such as federally funded preschool.

That was a top priority for Murray, a former preschool teacher, who initially sought funding for preschool for low-income children but settled for a $250 million annual grant program to help states organize existing systems.

PBS Newshour
December 9, 2015

A long-awaited rewrite of federal education law appears headed toward final congressional approval. The Senate voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to end debate on a widely criticized No Child Left Behind Act, setting up a final vote Wednesday. The sweeping legislation would give the states greater control over the nation’s public schools but still maintain annual testing to gauge student progress. . .

Murray, a former preschool teacher, said the legislation would still hold under-performing schools responsible, but would leave it to the states to decide how to do that. Murray also praised the bill for including a key priority for her — a focus on early childhood education. “For the first time ever, our federal education law will recognize the importance of early learning with the grants program that we have put in place. It’s a very good beginning state for our nation,” Murray said in an interview. The grants program will use existing funding to help states improve quality and access to early childhood education.

The Hechinger Report
December 8, 2015

A fight between Democratic presidential hopefuls Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton over how to make college affordable bears a striking resemblance to an old debate on the other end of the education pipeline: Should publicly funded preschool be “universal” or targeted only to the neediest kids?

Early education advocates have been down this road many times already, and several had opinions about the pros and cons of universal vs. targeted as the debate hits higher education. In early education, universal pre-K — or, the Bernie Sanders approach — has had some political success. New York City launched free pre-K for every 4-year-old. In Washington, D.C., 3-year-olds get to go free, too. In New Jersey, a lawsuit made free preschool available for all kids living in the state’s poorest cities and towns. And Oklahoma, among the reddest of red states, has had universal pre-K for more than 15 years.

“I think the New York City approach is exactly the right thing,” said W. Steven Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research. “There is this approach that government should only do things for poor people and everybody else should be off on their own. I think that that’s not a good approach to education. Education in the United States is already more unequal and uneven than most places in the world.”
“I think it is a problem if people view [preschool] as charity,” he added. “‘Beggars can’t be choosers’ — that’s not a good approach to education. I want the most advantaged people in the community lobbying the politicians in charge of these things to ensure that it’s high quality.”

Huffington Post
December 8, 2015

Preschool is important. But those tasked with educating the nation's littlest learners are not well-compensated for their efforts. A new report out from the National Association for the Education of Young Children shows that a majority of voters think early childhood educators deserve more pay. This makes sense given that a survey of preschool teachers also featured in the report reveals that some are struggling to get by.
Early childhood educators earn notoriously little money. A 2014 report from the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment found that preschool teachers typically only make six dollars more an hour than fast-food workers (with mean hourly wages of $15.11 and $9.07, respectively) -- though early childhood educators are often required to have a bachelor's or associate's degree.

"If fast food workers deserve $15 per hour, then surely those teaching our most vulnerable children every day deserve significantly more," David Nocenti, Executive Director of the child care network Union Settlement, told the outlet in September. Eighty-five percent of voters said they think it's "very important" or "extremely important" that early childhood educators are well-compensated. Over 90 percent of surveyed voters also said that they "play a critical role in helping children grow and develop." 

The Atlantic
December 8, 2015

But for some more astounding than these discipline statistics were the thousands of the nation’s youngest learners—nearly 8,000 preschoolers—suspended from school in the same year, often for relatively minor disruptions and misbehaviors. For researchers and educators immersed in this work, why preschoolers are put out of school and the entrenched racial disparity seems most closely tied to reasons such as teacher bias and children living in poverty whose hitting, biting, and pinching is frequently labeled misconduct rather than developmental delays.

Walter S. Gilliam, a psychologist and researcher at Yale University’s Child Study Center, led the first expansive study of preschool expulsions a decade ago. In a random national sample of more than 4,500 state-funded pre-k classrooms in 40 states, his 2005 report revealed 3- and 4-year-olds were expelled from pre-k programs more than three times as often as students in kindergarten through high school. The rates of preschool expulsions varied dramatically with age, gender, and race: 4-year-olds were expelled at a higher rate than 3-year-olds; boys were over four times as likely to be ousted from prekindergarten as girls; and black children were expelled about twice as often as Latino and white youngsters, and over five times as often as Asian-American children.