Early Education in the News
SEATTLE has a ripe opportunity this fall to join the city-driven universal preschool movement, so long as forward progress doesn’t get entangled in local labor politics.
The Seattle Preschool Program will be on the ballot in November. A four-year, $14.5 million-a-year property-tax levy would pay for high-quality instruction for 3- and 4-year-olds. It would have a sliding fee scale to draw in a broad socioeconomic cross-section of the city’s children, and instruction would be based on tested models elsewhere in the county.
Research in Tulsa, Okla., Boston and elsewhere have shown that high-quality instruction for the prekindergarten set provides an academic rocket boost. Mayor Ed Murray believes the city’s plan could ultimately reduce poverty and crime while raising graduation rates.
Detroit has been chosen as one of five cities across the country to pilot a first-of-its-kind national model to bring innovation, quality and impact to children through Head Start and Early Head Start programming. Thrive by Five Detroit, a collaboration comprising Development Centers, Focus: HOPE, Southwest Solutions and Starfish Family Services, will not only serve children but their entire family. Pregnant women may enroll in the program, ensuring their children get the earliest start and caseworkers will help families achieve their goals related to housing, education and employment.
Both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives are working on legislature to try to make child care more affordable.
According to the 2013 Child Care Aware report, the highest cost for American families is now their child care. In the past, it was housing, but according to the report, the majority of the country is now paying more to send their child to a facility for care than they are for housing. Nationwide, the average cost for childcare is $12,000. In Pennsylvania, it costs, on average, $10,319 to get infant care.
If Eva and Ernesto Suarez’s infant daughters are not able to attend preschool, they’ll hardly be alone in Santa Cruz County.
According to a new study from Children’s Action Alliance (CAA), an Arizona group that advocates for improvements in education and other programs for children, only 18 percent of the county’s 3- and 4-year-olds are enrolled in preschool programs, the lowest percentage in the state. CAA research associate Josh Oehler also pointed out that while most Arizona counties saw preschool attendance decline between 2000 and 2012, Santa Cruz’s decline, from 36 to 18 percent, was the steepest.
Arizona overall had the 49th worst preschool participation rates in the country, according to the Arizona Kids Count study, which relied on data sets from the U.S. Census’ American Community Survey.
Local education officials and professionals interviewed for this story were unanimously concerned by the findings and offered up a number of possible explanations, including the ongoing effects of the Great Recession, a declining number of preschool providers in the area, and insufficient preschool resources for low-income county residents.
In a preview of what’s to come this fall, three high-level speakers debated Seattle’s proposal to pay for universal preschool in front of a roomful of business leaders. Voters will weigh in Nov. 4 on whether to fund a four-year pilot providing high-quality pre-K education to 2,000 4-year-olds. Total cost: $58 million, to be paid through property-tax increases.
The effort would align Seattle with numerous cities and states funding early-learning initiatives, from San Francisco to Florida. All are responding to compelling evidence about the benefits of preschool for young children. But many are also wrestling with significant questions about the staying power of those gains.
Study after study indicates the importance of helping kids get off to a good start with their schooling. Put simply, kids who learn important base concepts early in life are more likely to excel later. Kids who start off behind tend to fall farther and farther back from the pack.
And that’s why it’s so encouraging to hear the results after the first three years of the Washington County preschool program. This program, geared toward Title I students — low-income and at risk kids — started as a partnership between principals who decided to dedicate a portion of their funding to a preschool rather than in their own classrooms. They looked at the expenditures as an investment in their future students.
One of the earliest indicators of a child’s future success is the number of words he or she hears prior to kindergarten. Language development begins with the interplay of words between the parent and child and helps nurture vocabulary, which is considered the building block of education. The frequency and richness of natural conversation in a child’s first years plays a key role in development. An at-risk child who lacks these early interactions often enters kindergarten with a vocabulary 18 months behind that of a middle-income child. As the child ages, the gap widens instead of narrowing. The child risks falling so far behind that his or her prospects for graduating high school or finding a meaningful job are greatly diminished.
Years of research supports what Carmona knows firsthand. Most children who participate in early education programs are more prepared for kindergarten – academically, socially and emotionally – than those who don’t. Studies have indicated that early education translates into higher graduation rates, better paying jobs and a lower tendency to get in trouble with the law. Yet fewer than three in 10 children in America are enrolled in preschool programs. That is not the case in Oklahoma, one of three states to provide universal early childhood education. Oklahoma passed a law in 1998 that offers a education to every 4-year-old, regardless of family income. Today, 74 percent of Oklahoma’s children take advantage of the law.
The number of children attending preschool in South Dakota is going up, but the state still sits behind the national average in attendance. The 2014 Kids Count profile for South Dakota reveals a potentially alarming statistic that over 60-percent of children in South Dakota aren't attending pre-school.
A higher percentage of children live in poverty today than in 1990. The rate at first dropped from 18 percent but has since climbed again to 23 percent, said Laura Speer, the foundation's associate director over policy reform and advocacy. Some policies have helped economically fragile families, “but we live in a different economy now than we did in 1990,” she said. “What families face now to make ends meet is very different than it was, especially for those without a high level of education and without a highly skilled breadwinner in the household.”
Education and health are both bright spots, with improvement across both since 2005. The number of children not attending preschool dropped to 54 percent from 56 percent. The number of high school seniors not graduating is down to 19 percent from 27 percent, a big improvement. (The survey compared some of the 2012 numbers reported this year to those from 2005 in order to look at what was happening mid-decade, before the recession, said Kimberly Varner, speaking for the Casey foundation.) But numbers can improve and still be distressing. The report said two-thirds of fourth-graders are not proficient readers and a like number of eighth-graders lag in math. Both were higher -- above 70 percent -- in 2005.
It's much more difficult for a standalone center to line up pre-K and kindergarten curriculums than it is for a pre-K classroom in a public or charter school, said Williams, of the New America Foundation. Since students might scatter from the community-based center to several public, private and charter schools, "it's going to be really hard to try to get any kind of reliable alignment," he said.
But quality control might be easier overall at the community-based centers, said Steve Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research. When school districts in poor areas of New Jersey began offering universal pre-K, the programs outside of schools were of lower quality than the public school programs, he said. But over time, they caught up.
Resources for choosing a child-care provider are antiquated. Only 27 states even post reports online on both regular monitoring and inspections of child-care centers, and only 24 do for home-based child-care. Costs are high. Child Care Aware America, a national organization focused on quality childcare, reports that the annual cost of day care for an infant is more than the average cost of in-state tuition and fees at public colleges in 31 states. And according to the news site Vox, the problem is just getting worse; the cost of child care is growing at nearly twice the rate of prices economy-wide. Given that the stakes are so high and the costs so steep, how does an already overwhelmed working parent find a decent, affordable child-care provider?
Vermont ranks second in the country in child well being. That’s according to the most-recent Kids Count Data Book, which is published annually by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The state is among the top 10 in all four of the ranked categories – economic well-being, education, health, and family and community. Voices for Vermont’s Children Research Associate Sarah Teel and Marianne Miller, Head Start and Early Head Start director for Capstone Community Action Council, discuss the report’s findings and look at areas of well-being that still have children’s advocates concerned.
Head Start may be too late. The iconic federal preschool program targets low-income kids between 3 and 5, but the brain forms critical language connections in its first thousand days, experts say. That’s the message the American Academy of Pediatrics sent to doctors who care for low-income children in a recent policy statement. A child who is read aloud to and has a rich language environment enjoys distinct advantages, the report argues, which linger well into the school years.
A 2012 study, cited in the APP report, found that 60 percent of high-income children were read to daily, while only 34 percent of those well below the poverty line were read to. “Children from low-income homes are much less likely to have a language rich environment,” said Dr. Pamela High, director of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island. “They hear fewer words and they know fewer words at age 3 than their more advantaged peers.” And while most people wouldn’t look to pediatricians as the front line of literacy, the APP notes that, for many toddlers, the family doctor is the only trusted professional who routinely sees them during those first three years.
Lincoln's public safety director and an Omaha state senator are calling for an expansion of early education as a way to prevent crime.
Indiana's three most populous counties are among five picked for the state's pilot program that will allow low-income Hoosier children to attend preschool.
For the third straight year, New Jersey slid down the rankings of overall children’s well-being and is now out of the top five in the nation, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s annual Kids Count data book, released Tuesday. New Jersey’s strong educational ranking, bolstered by highly regarded and widely available preschool programs, could not offset declines in health and poverty indicators measured by the Baltimore-based foundation. New Jersey regularly ranks high in the report’s indicators, and ranked No. 2 in education for the third straight year, thanks in part to state-funded preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds that reaches 80 percent of the state’s high poverty districts.
Many previous studies have shown a correlation between behavior problems and language skill. Children with behavior problems, particularly those with attention deficits and hyperactivity, such as in ADHD, often have poor language skills. Whether one of these problems precedes the other and directly causes it was until recently an open question. But in a longitudinal study published last year, researchers concluded that the arrow points decisively from poor language ability to later behavioral problems, rather than the reverse.
The current study, published in the journal Development and Psychology, shows that it does this by way of self-regulation, a varied concept that includes physical, emotional, cognitive, and behavioral control. Self-regulation is integral to children’s capacity to adapt to social situations and to direct their actions toward future goals. The absence of self-regulation abilities is a key predictor and component of future behavior problems.
Children in the District are attending preschool at higher rates, performing better academically and are more likely to have health insurance, according to an annual report of child well-being indicators released this week. But challenges remain steep for many children in the nation’s capital, where poverty rates are well above the national average.
Overall, Connecticut ranks seventh in child well-being, which is an improvement from last year when the state ranked at an all-time low of ninth place. The report did include some bright spots for Connecticut. For instance, the state scored 5th in the overall educational well-being of children. Only 37 percent of children in Connecticut do not have access to preschool, which is the lowest rate in the country. Gibson called for expanding the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit program and increased access to early childhood education programs.