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Why debate private school vouchers when we know that the same money invested in public preschool would do a lot more?
Here’s a good review of recent research on 6 specific programs that made a difference. The post concludes:
High-quality preschool can be a game changer for all our children, especially for those most at risk of arriving at kindergarten without the skills needed to succeed. The data show that existing large-scale state-run preschool programs are proving effective. The evidence clearly suggests that a federal-state investment that would allow states to grow and improve these existing preschool programs while simultaneously supporting other states as they create their own programs is the wise and prudent path to follow. Given the results highlighted above, encouraging, fostering, and funding preschool programs seems to be the ultimate no-brainer.
100 percent of French 3 year olds in pre-K. Only 51 percent in the US. Almost none in New Hampshire.
President Obama’s allies at the Center for American Progress are pumping his early childhood initiative. And they should. We do a good job in the U.S> educating well-off kids, but most poor kids start behind in school and never catch up. The countries that out-educate us do it by, among other things, starting early. In New Hampshire, we’re not in the game yet. Along with Mississippi and a few other states, we have not yet begun to consider state support for preK, a better way than vouchers to reach low income children.
Here’s the international comparison:
The United States is lagging far behind much of the developed world when it comes to enrolling children in preschool programs, ranking 24th and 26th among Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries in the enrollment and three- and four-year-olds, respectively.
The voucher debate is a waste of everyone’s time. We should work on improving how New Hampshire public education works for poor kids (it already works pretty well for better-off kids) rather than engaging in a debate about privatizing our local public schools.
You don’t need a study to tell you that using public money to send a few kids to the unaccredited religious schools is not going to improve education for New Hampshire kids. The religious, often creationist, schools that dominate the voucher tax credit program are fine for the families that want them. Many families, even those without much money, do find a way to send their kids. But private religious schools are not the basis of a strategy for helping thousands of New Hampshire kids escape poverty. Regardless out the outcome of the court case challenging the constitutionality of tax credit funded vouchers, we should shut down this pathetic program and get back to the real question of how to help the kids.
Sean Reardon’s piece, “No Rich Child Left Behind'” in today’s New York Times, stands aside from the political debate and looks at what the numbers tell us about the performance of our schools over the last decades. Here are some snippets:
Students growing up in richer families have better grades and higher standardized test scores, on average, than poorer students…
One way to see this is to look at the scores of rich and poor students on standardized math and reading tests over the last 50 years….I found that the rich-poor gap in test scores is about 40 percent larger now than it was 30 years ago….
This caution abyt Russ Whitehurst is relevant as we consider public support of pre-K in New Hampshire:
“Generalizations to state pre-K programs from research findings on Perry and Abecedarian are prodigious leaps of faith,” wrote Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst, director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution, last month. “Perry and Abecedarian were multi-year intensive interventions whereas state pre-K programs are overwhelmingly one-year programs for four-year-olds.” He also noted that today’s students face different the circumstances than those of 30 to 40 years ago.
Here’s an NPR piece you can listen to or read that captures the central tension of President Obama’s universal pre-K proposal:
WERTHEIMER: Now, President Obama says that spending money in preschool gives us a return that is seven times the investment. Where does that number come from?
VEDANTAM: Those numbers come from a couple of studies and called the Perry Preschool program and the Abecedarian program, Linda, that targeted very high quality and fairly expensive interventions at very disadvantaged children. And what those programs found – they followed these children out, not just for years, but for decades – is that the programs didn’t have just cognitive benefits – in other words, improvements in performance in academic scores – but they had life benefits. They had reduced the teen pregnancy rate. They reduce the crime rate. They had huge benefits later on.
So the president is on very solid footing when he talks about the return investment when it comes to those narrowly targeted programs.
The net is flooded with analysis of early childhood development programs and assessments of Obama’s pre-K proposal. I’ll sift through and highlight some of them them here. But it may be hard to improve on what David Brooks says in today’s NYT. I think this is the kind of balanced assessment suggested by the literature:
These state programs, in places like Oklahoma, Georgia and New Jersey, have not been studied as rigorously as Head Start. There are huge quality differences between different facilities in the same state or the same town. The best experts avoid sweeping conclusions. Nonetheless, there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that these state programs can make at least an incremental difference in preparing children for school and in getting parents to be more engaged in their kids’ education.
These programs do not perform miracles, but incremental improvements add up year by year and produce significantly better lives.
He goes on to summarize Obama’s approach this way:
Obama is trying to significantly increase the number of kids with access to early education. The White House will come up with a dedicated revenue stream that will fund early education projects without adding to the deficit. These federal dollars will be used to match state spending, giving states, many of whom want to move aggressively, further incentive to expand and create programs.
But Washington’s main role will be to measure outcomes, not determine the way states design their operations. Washington will insist that states establish good assessment tools. They will insist that pre-K efforts align with the K-12 system. But beyond that, states will have a lot of latitude.
It’s worth reading the whole thing here.
In case you missed it, on the occasion of President Obama’s State of the Union commitment to early childhood development, the PBS Newshour reran a 2011 report from John Merrow, the ultimate education reporter, on pre-K efforts in Chicago. I don’t seem to be able to embed in here, but click below to see it on the PBS site. It’s a very useful presentation of the challenges of access and quality in public pre-K programs. The transcript is here if you want to scan it quickly.
Watch Chicago Takes Early Aim at ‘Achievement Gap’ in Schools on PBS.
And here is John Merrow’s 2002, hour-long report on “The Promise of Preschool.” It is not at all out-dated.
Here, from Andrew J. Rotherham, is a good summary of the challenges involved in actually making pre-K happen:
President Obama made a big call for a federal – state partnership on early-childhood education in his State of the Union speech. As education initiatives go pre-K has substantial research behind it. The mixed results that are observed in many pre-K initiatives, and Head Start, owe more to execution shortcomings than the underlying value of quality pre-K education. And it’s also common- sense that preparing students for school, and closing the gaps that exist before they start school, is a smart way to get kids off to a good start in school. The issue is also ripe for a federal-state partnership.
Still, it’s a long way from here to there. Doesn’t mean the President can’t get something done, but here are four reasons the President’s pre-K initiative faces a tough ride in Congress:
1) It’s expensive. Delivering high-quality pre-K is an investment that pays off in the future – but it’s one that Washington has to pay for now. That’s a tall order in today’s fiscal climate, gives opponents an easy way out (“it’s important, but we can’t afford it”), and redirecting the funds from existing programs such as Head Start creates substantial opposition. The President didn’t outline how this would be paid for.
Many sources forecasted that President Obama would make a commitment to early childhood education last night and he delivered. Here’s what he said:
“…we [need to] equip our citizens with the skills and training to fill those [good] jobs.
And that has to start at the earliest possible age. Study after study shows that the sooner a child begins learning, the better he or she does down the road. But today, fewer than 3 in 10 four year-olds are enrolled in a high-quality preschool program. Most middle-class parents can’t afford a few hundred bucks a week for a private preschool. And for poor kids who need help the most, this lack of access to preschool education can shadow them for the rest of their lives. So tonight, I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every single child in America. That’s something we should be able to do.
Every dollar we invest in high-quality early childhood education can save more than seven dollars later on — by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime. In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children, like Georgia or Oklahoma, studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, form more stable families of their own. We know this works. So let’s do what works and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind. Let’s give our kids that chance.
What does the mean? A few days ago we told you about the Center for American Progress report calling for just this kind of early childhood commitment. The Center is closely aligned with the President’s thinking so it’s useful to look at what they proposed:
Under CAP’s plan the federal government would, on average, match state preschool expenditures up to $10,000 per child per year. This amount is enough to provide high-quality full-day (nine-hour) prekindergarten to families who want it, while also enabling families to choose shorter-day alternatives.
The total nationwide cost of this program would be evenly split between the federal government and the states. The U.S. Department of Education, however, would provide federal grants to state education agencies based on a matching formula that considers district concentration of poverty, state fiscal effort, and the cost of providing education. States would be required to contribute their own funding to receive the federal match. The estimated 10-year federal cost is $98.4 billion over existing spending levels. Our plan phases in over five years—first enrolling low-income children and expanding to full coverage by the end of the fifth year. Once the program is fully scaled, it will cost an additional $12.3 billion per year.
All children ages 3 and 4 should be able to voluntarily attend a full-day public preschool program. Preschool should be free for children from families at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty line ($46,100 for a family of four). Children from families above 200 percent of the poverty line should be charged a sliding tuition co-pay, ranging from about 30 percent of the cost to 95 percent of the cost (for families above 400 percent of the poverty line).
Eligible providers should include local education agencies (school districts, charter schools), Head Start programs, child care agencies, and community-based providers of prekindergarten programs in partnership with local education agencies.
This new Obama initiative could be especially valuable to New Hampshire, one of the few states without public pre-K. Are we going to be ready to take advantage of it?
The Center for American Progress concisely and persuasively makes the case for an investment in early childhood development. Here’s their summary:
This issue brief presents a plan to expand educational opportunities and care for children ages 0-5 years old by investing significant federal dollars to:
- Make high-quality preschool universally accessible to all 3- and 4-year-old children
- Enable more lower-income families to afford child care for children ages 0-3 years old
These policies would advance several important national priorities. First, expanding access to preschool and affordable child care would directly improve the lives of millions of mothers and fathers who are struggling to balance the demands of work and family. In addition to the increase in single-parent households, many more two-parent households now have two working spouses. As a result of these two trends, the share of American families with children that have a male breadwinner and a female homemaker dropped from more than half in 1975 to just one in five in 2011. Without a full-time parent caretaker, families with children under the age of 5 now spend an average of 10.1 percent of their household budget on child care. The burden on low-income families is especially heavy—families making less than $1,500 a month who pay for child care for children under the age of 5 spend on average 52.7 percent of their income on these expenses.