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No, Pre-K Isn’t a Waste Just Because Your Mom Can Read – (EdWeek)

Sara Mead begs to differ with Melinda Wenner Moyer, who’s post we highlighted here.  She takes issue the thrust of Ms. Wenner Moyer’s post, which I chose to ignore in favor of some good points…but here she is:   

That’s the provocative suggestion of this recent Slate article. Unfortunately, it’s wrong.

Deck aside, the article, by Melinda Wenner Moyer, is largely unobjectionable. Its core argument is not actually that preschool is a bad investment, but that affluent parent freak-outs about getting Junior into the “right” preschool (which outlets like theNew York Timesand Slate so love to cover) are totally pointless. I can get down with that.

But the reality, of course, is that most parents aren’t Coastal elites trying to get into the92nd Street Ypreschool or anguishing over Reggio Emilia vs. Montessori. In fact, 48% of children under age five live in low-income families–whose kids are bothless likelythan middle-class or affluent peers to go to pre-k and reap great benefit from it.

Moreover, the author is simply wrong that, “Research suggests that preschool only benefits children from these disadvantaged families.” The strongest existing research support for pre-k does come from studies of early interventions designed to help disadvantaged youngsters–such as the High/Scope Perry Preschool and Chicago Parent Child Centers projects. Because many publicly funded preschool programs limit services to low-income kids, research on these programs also tends to find results only for more disadvantaged youngsters As a result, the evidence base for pre-k’s value to poor and low-income kids is much stronger than for middle class or affluent children. That said, a rigorous evaluation of the impact of Universal Pre-k in Oklahoma clearly found that children from all socio-economic groups benefitted from participating in the program–but low-income and poor kids benefited more than their middle class peers.

No, Pre-K Isn’t a Waste Just Because Your Mom Can Read – Sara Mead’s Policy Notebook – Education Week.

A mom’s thoughts on pre-K (Slate)

This piece by Melinda Wenner Moyer in Slate about the role of pre-K in a child’s development is unusual in its good, straight-forward sense.  While the headline emphasizes a comparison of preschool philosophies, Ms. Wenner Moyer actually collects in one short article a lot of good thinking about early childhood development.  Here’s a taste, but it’s worth reading the whole thing and, probably, her many other good-humored posts from the front lines of being a mom: 

…In work they conducted at the University of Kansas and chronicled in their book Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children, Betty Hart and Todd Risley recorded, for two-and-a-half years, a full hour of conversation every day between parents and children from 42 American families of differing social classes. Children with professional parents heard about 30 million words by the time they turned 3, compared with 20 million in working-class families and 10 million in welfare families. In addition, the ratio of parental encouragements to reprimands was about 6-to-1 among professional families, 2-to-1 among the working class and 1-to-2 in welfare homes. These different experiences closely tracked with the children’s later academic and intellectual performance, and otherstudieshave since supported these findings.

But what does all this have to do with preschool? Research suggests that preschool only benefits children from these disadvantaged families (in particular, families that arebelow the poverty line, whosemothers are uneducated, or who areracial minorities). This could be because preschool acts as a kind of “equalizer,” ensuring that for at least a few hours a day, these kids get the same high-quality interaction with adults as more advantaged children do, which helps to even the developmental playing field.

For instance, in astudypublished last year, University of Texas psychologist Elliot Tucker-Drob assessed a number of different characteristics in a group of more than 600 pairs of twins. He looked at the scores the children got at age 2 on tests of mental ability; whether or not they went to preschool; how “stimulating” their mothers’ interactions were with them; their socio-economic status and race; and finally, how well they scored on reading and math tests at age 5. Because he was comparing what happened to identical twins, who share all of their genes, and fraternal twins, who on average share half (yet both sets typically grow up together), Tucker-Drob could home in on the effects of environment and genetics on the kids’ outcomes.

A hell of a lot of math later, Tucker-Drob reported that the home environments of children who do not attend preschool have a much larger influence on kindergarten academic ability than do the home environments of preschoolers. In other words, a bad home situation becomes a much smaller problem when your kid goes to preschool; when you have a good home environment, preschool doesn’t really matter. (Granted, children from poor families tend to go to lower quality preschools than wealthy kids do, but for them, a bad preschool is usually better than nothing.)How important is preschool? If you are researching early education philosophies, not very. – Slate Magazine.

Obama Evaluating Early Childhood Education Push In Second Term (HuffPo)

We would want New Hampshire to be in a position to take advantage of this national pre-K education opportunity if it becomes a real resource.  From the Huffington Post:

the White House is considering a major step to boost early childhood education. According to sources close to the administration, Duncan and the Department of Health and Human Services are outlining a plan to create universal pre-kindergarten for 4-year-olds from low- and some middle-income families — approximately 1.85 million children. The plan, which is projected to cost as much as $10 billion to implement in full, is still under review by the White House, but sources said that last Tuesday, Linda Smith, an HHS official, discussed the proposal at a meeting of early childhood advocates.

Currently, about 800,000 3- and 4-year-olds from low-income families receive support through the federally funded Head Start program. In addition, about 100,000 families are enrolled in Early Head Start, which provides support to expectant mothers and infants. Whereas Head Start emphasizes things like health, nutrition and emotional development, the new program would integrate preschool into the existing K-12 school system and focus more on academics. It would also expand access to early childhood education beyond lower-income families to eventually include the middle class.


MA Governor Proposes Universal Access to Early Education

They are thinking expansively about early childhood development in Massachusetts.  Be sure to click on the link and read the whole post.

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick today announced a bold proposal to provide universal access to high-quality early education for the state’s young children. It is part of his plan to invest almost $350 million in early education over four years, starting with $131 million in fiscal year 2014. In addition, Governor Patrick proposed changes to the state’s Chapter 70 school funding to encourage more school districts to offer pre-kindergarten for 4-year-olds.

via MA Governor Proposes Universal Access to Early Education «.

Look at what Denver does for its four year olds

Here is the Denver Preschool Program.  Basically, they rate the quality of each partner preschool and offer “tuition support” of up to $365/month, depending on family income, to help families send their kids  You can go here to see the tuition support calculator.

They didn’t have to establish new programs.  What they did do is establish quality standards and incent higher quality by paying more tuition support if parents attended higher quality schools.  Pretty powerful.

Head Start Advantages Mostly Gone by 3rd Grade, Study Finds (EdWeek)

All the studies of early childhood development emphasize that the good results come only from the high quality programs.  We should keep that in mind as we consider the potential for enhanced early childhood development efforts here in New Hampshire.  Here, a just-released federal study makes that point again:

While Head Start participation benefited children’s learning and development during their time in the federally funded preschool program, those advantages had mostly vanished by the end of 3rd grade, a new federal study finds.

In the final phase of a large-scale randomized, controlled study of nearly 5,000 children, researchers found that the positive impacts on literacy and language development demonstrated by children who entered Head Start at age 4 had dissipated by the end of 3rd grade, and that they were, on average, academically indistinguishable from their peers who had not participated in Head Start. The new findings, released today by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, are consistent with an earlier phase of the study which showed that many of the positive impacts of Head Start participation had faded by the end of 1st grade.

The $8 billion Head Start program serves nearly 1 million low-income children.


NYT: Poor Students Struggle as Class Plays a Greater Role in Success

An investment in early childhood development improves the chances kids at risk have for a good life, but the challenges are still daunting, as Jason DeParle describes in this amazing piece of reporting in  Poor Students Struggle as Class Plays a Greater Role in Success – (NYTimes, 12/23/12).

He tells the stories of 3 young women from very poor families in Galveston, TX.  Here are some of the points he makes:

The Gap continues

The Gap continues


Thirty years ago, there was a 31 percentage point difference between the share of prosperous and poor Americans who earned bachelor’s degrees, according to Martha J. Bailey and Susan M. Dynarski of the University of Michigan. Now the gap is 45 points.

Neighborhoods have grown more segregated by class, leaving lower-income students increasingly concentrated in lower-quality schools. And even after accounting for financial aid, the costs of attending a public university have risen 60 percent in the past two decades. Many low-income students, feeling the need to help out at home, are deterred by the thought of years of lost wages and piles of debt.

In placing their hopes in education, the Galveston teenagers followed a tradition as old as the country itself. But if only the prosperous become educated — and only the educated prosper — the schoolhouse risks becoming just another place where the fortunate preserve their edge.

“It’s becoming increasingly unlikely that a low-income student, no matter how intrinsically bright, moves up the socioeconomic ladder,” said Sean Reardon, a sociologist at Stanford. “What we’re talking about is a threat to the American dream.”


Income has always shaped academic success, but its importance is growing. Professor Reardon, the Stanford sociologist, examined a dozen reading and math tests dating back 25 years and found that the gap in scores of high- and low-income students has grown by 40 percent, even as the difference between blacks and whites has narrowed.

While race once predicted scores more than class, the opposite now holds. By eighth grade, white students surpass blacks by an average of three grade levels, while upper-income students are four grades ahead of low-income counterparts.

“The racial gaps are quite big, but the income gaps are bigger,” Professor Reardon said.


The impact of investing in early childhood development


high scope graph larger


At this point, the jury is in.  Early childhood development programs enable many kids at risk for a life of crime and poverty to change their fates – they live better lives and cost society less.  If you want to be inspired, download this Planet Money podcast and this story from This American Life and listen to them in your car.  Don’t think about it.  Do it.  Now.  You’ll be glad you did.

Poor kids start off at a tremendous disadvantage.

  • Compared with kindergartners from the poorest 20% of our families, children from the top 20% are four times as likely to have a computer at home, have three times as many books, are read to more often, watch far less television, and are more likely to visit museums or libraries. (here)
  • Children from professional families know an average of 1,116 words when they are 3 years old, compared to 525 words for children in families on welfare. (here)
  •  And children who score poorly on academic assessments before entering kindergarten are more likely to become teen parents, engage in crime, and be unemployed as adults (here, p.144)

But an investment in early childhood development does improve kids’ achievement all the way through school.   One study that followed kids for a long time, comparing children who got a very intensive early childhood development program to those who did not (The Abecedarian study, and here) found:

  • Children who get high quality early development are more likely stay in school: 40% of the early learning kids were in school at 21 years old compared with 20% of the those without that help.
  • About 35% of the young adults from the early learning group had graduated from a 4 year college or were attending one at the time of the assessment.  Only 14% of the others  had done so.
  • Early learning children had higher test scores, not only at first but all the way through school.
  • Early learning kids had significantly higher academic achievement in both reading and math all the way through school.

Many other studies show the same thing:

  • A 2004 analysis of the High/Scope Perry Preschool early learning program participants were 20% more likely to graduate from high school, 14% more likely to be employed and earned $548 more per month at the age of 40 than non-participants. (here)
  • High school dropouts live an average of nine fewer years than graduates. (The Social Costs of an Inadequate Education, p16, Columbia University, October, 2005)

New Hampshire has just achieved universal kindergarten but is one of only 11 states that have not yet made an investment in early childhood development.

Kunin on early childhood development

Madeline Kunin’s new book, The Feminist Agenda, has a great Chapter 7 on early childhood development.  Here are some key quotes (click on the first one and you can step through them all):


Invest in Coos Kids is organizing for early childhood development in the North Country

Invest in Coos Kids

Invest in Coos Kids is a program of the Family Resource Center in Gorham.  They work with the wide variety of local organizations and state agencies to get the most help possible kids and their families from the time they are born until they enter first grade.  Incomes are lower and poverty rates higher in the North Country than in the rest of New Hampshire so The Gap is a big factor in the lives of North Country children.  They often start school with a smaller vocabulary, having read fewer books and sometimes with more emotional issues than higher income kids.  When they start behind, they seldom catch up.  Invest in Coos Kids is trying to turn that around.

Funded by the Neil and Louise Tillotson Fund of the NH Charitable Foundation, an amazing North Country resource, Invest tries to be sure that all possible sources of support get to Coos kids.  They provide resources for parents and try to get all the sources of help for kids in the North Country moving in the same direction toward shared goals for the kids, getting them ready to learn in school.

What Invest is learning about how to partner to get kids ready for school could be a resource for New Hampshire as we figure all that out.  Call Cathy McDowell for more information.