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April 17, 2015

Early education: Profiles from 10 states

Sometimes getting and maintaining a job can be difficult enough for some people in poverty. To further make matters complicated, when these people are parents, they additionally have to care for others, their children, which includes finding a preschool or childcare facility to look after their children during the day. To highlight what some states are doing to ensure high-quality early childhood education, the Center for American Progress recently released a series of snapshots profiling early childhood policies in ten states drawing primarily from the research of the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER). NIEER compiles and releases an annual record of early childhood programs across the United States and aids in providing a glimpse at preschool across the nation. In its most recent edition, The State of Preschool 2013 report explains that across the US, the average state spending per child is $4,026. Keep this number in mind as each state is highlighted in turn.

Additionally, general trends are reported that may (or perhaps should) alert many readers. For example, 31 states throughout the nation have annual childcare costs that amount to more than annual community college tuition and fees for in-state students.

Although these states (Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, Nevada, Ohio, Virginia, & Wisconsin) differ somewhat in both their approach and the quality of their early childhood programming, several findings deserve illumination.

Colorado:

  • For children 6-years-old or younger, 43% live in low-income families.
  • Colorado ranks 37th out of 41 states in per-student funding for preschool ($2,159/student).
  • Biggest challenges: Colorado state preschool programs only meet 6 (out of 10) of NIEER’s benchmarks of (high) quality. Colorado programs could increase quality by requiring preschool teachers to hold a B.A. degree or having preschools offer at least one meal per day, for example.

Florida:

  • Over half (53%) of all children six or younger grow up in low-income households in Florida.
  • Florida ranks 35th out of 41 states in per-student funding for preschool ($2,242/student).
  • Biggest challenges: Florida meets only 3 of NIEER’s 10 benchmarks of quality. Maintaining ratios of 10 children per teacher or less and ensuring that teachers are provided appropriate training and resources are two ways in which these state programs can improve.

Georgia:

  • Fifty-four percent of children less than 6 years of age live in low-income families.
  • Georgia ranks 28th out of 41 states in per-student funding for preschool ($3,599/student).
  • Biggest challenges: Although Georgia meets 8 of NIEER’s 10 benchmarks of quality, only 4-year-olds are allowed to enroll in preschool. Opening enrollment to 3-year-olds would be a large step forward in terms of assisting those children most at-risk.

Iowa:

  • Roughly 4 out of 10 children (41%) ages six and younger in Iowa grow up in poverty.
  • Iowa ranks 32nd out of 41 states in per-student funding for preschool ($2,674/student).
  • Biggest challenges: Iowa meets only 6 of NIEER’s 10 benchmarks of quality. Alarmingly, the programs in Iowa only operate for 10 hours per week, having the programs operate on a full-day schedule would likely be a significant improvement for Iowan families.

Michigan:

  • Every other child (50%) under age 6 comes from a low-income family in Michigan.
  • Michigan ranks 18th out of 41 states in per-student funding for preschool ($4,452/student).
  • Biggest challenges: Michigan meets 7 of NIEER’s 10 benchmarks of quality. An example of how Michigan programs can improve is by allowing (and ensuring) preschool teachers at least 15 hours of annual in-service training. Additionally, to address earlier issues related to its limited operating schedule, Michigan increased its preschool program to a full-day schedule. Unfortunately, this resulted in fewer enrollments slot available for children.

North Carolina:

  • North Carolina has 1 of 4 state programs across the US that meet all 10 of NIEER’s benchmarks of quality.
  • North Carolina ranks 13th out of 41 states in per-student funding for preschool ($4,960/student).
  • Biggest challenges: Although North Carolina has placed a large investment in its youngest residents, it is not without need. Roughly 54% of North Carolinian families with children ages six or younger are impoverished and greatly benefit from having high-quality early education programs. Unfortunately, these efforts likely only cover the symptoms and do not address any underlying causes for these families being at-risk, although one could argue that perhaps that is not the purpose of early education.

Nevada:

  • Fifty-two percent of Nevadan families with children 6 or younger live in poverty.
  • Nevada ranks 33rd out of 41 states in per-student funding for preschool ($2,397/student).
  • Biggest challenges: Nevada meets only 7 of NIEER’s 10 benchmarks of quality. Nevada programs can seek higher quality implementation through ensuring that all assistant teachers have at least a C.D.A. (Child Development Associate) credential (or its equivalent) and by providing at least one meal a day to its children.

Ohio:

  • Half of Ohioan families with children 6 or younger are impoverished.
  • Ohio ranks 21st out of 41 states in per-student funding for preschool ($3,927/student).
  • Biggest challenges: Ohio’s preschool programs meet only 4 of NIEER’s 10 benchmarks of quality. Significant improvements to the state’s early education system will likely be seen if class sizes are kept to below 20 students while maintaining a 1:10 teacher-child ratio. Additionally, requiring teachers to have a B.A. and assistant teachers to have at least a C.D.A. (Child Development Associate) credential (or its equivalent) will help ensure that Ohio children experience the best in early education.

Virginia:

  • Slightly over one-third (36%) of all families with children under six are living in poverty in Virginia.
  • Virginia ranks 23rd out of 41 states in per-student funding for preschool ($3,752/student).
  • Biggest challenges: Virginia meets just 6 of NIEER’s 10 benchmarks of quality. Noticeable improvements will likely be seen if teachers are required to have a B.A. and assistant teachers to have at least a C.D.A. (Child Development Associate) credential (or its equivalent) and if at least one meal was provided to children per day. Additionally, Virginia does not serve 3-year-olds in the state preschool programs and their inclusion would serve as a substantial improvement to the early education system, although considerable increases in funding would likely be necessary.

Wisconsin:

  • Forty-four percent of the families with children six or younger in Wisconsin are considered low-income.
  • Wisconsin ranks 29th out of 41 states in per-student funding for preschool ($3,366/student).
  • Biggest challenges: Wisconsin preschool programs meet only half of NIEER’s 10 benchmarks of quality. State programs would see improvements by requiring assistant teachers to have at least a C.D.A. (Child Development Associate) credential (or its equivalent), maintaining teacher-child ratios of 1:10 or less, and offering screenings and support services related to vision, hearing, and health.





April 16, 2015

Soft skills now, strong foundation later

Last Thursday, U.S. News and World Report published an article that I believe is long overdue and is music to my ears. In it, the article calls attention to the contrasts between early childhood education (i.e., preschool) and the education of children in early childhood (which the article defines as children birth to eight years of age). Moreover, the article calls out the education community for the visible distinction between preschool and elementary school programs, instead suggesting that perhaps an integration, rather than a separation would be beneficial to our nation’s youngest students.

The article continues by highlighting approaches that are increasingly considered and used in preschool classrooms but are not on the radars of many elementary school teachers and administrators. Namely, the higher-order cognitive processes involved in manipulating complex information, sustaining attention during learning and task completion, and inhibiting impulsive responses, collected grouped as executive functioning, deserve considerable focus. Within the developmental and educational psychology literature, strong executive functioning has repeatedly demonstrated close ties to both academic and social achievement, including math achievement and social adjustment. Moreover, as CPE highlights in an upcoming report to be published later this summer, executive functioning seems fundamental for some skills that teachers and administrators might be more familiar with given the current climate regarding college- and career-readiness. Specifically, critical thinking, which is a much desired skill that many children and students are hoped to be able to demonstrate by the time they graduate high school, appears heavily reliant on one’s ability to manipulate complex information and to follow through multi-step problem-solving procedures.

Although the U.S. News and World Report article offered several areas in which childhood educators should address (or rather continue to address beyond just preschool), one which I believe deserves specific recognition is that of social-emotional development. Research shows that children who demonstrate social and emotional competencies, showcased, for example, by being able to regulate one’s emotions and to exhibit prosocial behaviors such as cooperation and sharing rather than aggressive behaviors such as hitting and yelling are generally better adjusted in formal schooling settings (i.e., elementary school) and less likely to be held back in later grades.

Looking forward, I am eager to see more articles such as this that highlight just how important processes such as executive functioning and social and emotional skills are beyond the preschool classroom. –David Ferrier






February 9, 2015

High-quality preschool reduces later special education placement

A recent study released on Tuesday shows that children who attended high-quality preschools in North Carolina were significantly less likely to require special education services in the third grade. These findings were from a longitudinal study following children from at-risk families from birth to the end of third grade. Two programs, More at Four and Smart Start, both publicly funded programs in North Carolina, aim to provide high-quality child care to 4-year-olds living in poverty and to improve the quality and delivery of child care and preschool services for children from birth to 5, respectively. The focus on this developmental period of life is reflective of much developmental research showing that significant cognitive, social, and emotional development occurs across this timeframe and thus, it is a critical period to support. Furthermore, educational psychologist Jeffrey Liew highlights that cognitive and social-emotional development in early childhood can be heavily influenced by teaching efforts targeting those skills.

These findings evidence the importance of a high-quality early childhood education. Between the years 1997 and 2010, over 127,000 students were serviced by the North Carolina preschool programs. As reported in Thinking P-12: The school board role in pre-k education, appropriate class sizes, teacher qualifications, and teacher training, among others, constitute markers that differentiate low from high-quality programming.

Although the results from this study are encouraging, it is important for readers to not misinterpret the results. Furthermore, the study uses maternal education (at time of the childbirth) as a proxy for socioeconomic status (SES). While maternal education is an indicator of SES, the inclusion of additional at-risk markers, such as household income and whether or not the parent(s) are employed typically provides a more comprehensive picture.

That high-quality education in preschool reduced special education placement years later in third grade just reinforces the many reasons why addressing issues early can benefit children throughout life. Similar to the foundation of a house, early childhood represents the bedrock of development; when this foundation is built poorly or weakened for whatever reason (e.g., toxic stress, poverty, neglect), the integrity of the entire building is at risk. Through the implementation of high-quality education, these positive experiences can help to “repair the cracks.” As reported in our Research on Pre-K, children who are able to attend high-quality preschool programs, like the High/Scope Perry Preschool program, for example, tend to graduate high school, demonstrate higher achievement at age 14, and earn more income at age 40 compared to those who did not attend similar pre-kindergarten programs.

In conclusion, this study reinforces what we already know: high-quality early childhood education is one of the best ways to support optimal development. This study highlights that when cognitive, social, and emotional problems are addressed early through, children can stand to benefit the most before special education is required.

Filed under: Pre-k,preschool,research,special education — Tags: , , — David Ferrier @ 4:29 pm





December 19, 2014

The ROI of five ed reforms, according to Forbes

Many have tried to quantify the value of education— in fact, even we did in our video, Is it Worth It? But calculating what we get versus what we spend on public education is far from an easy exercise, as there are so many variables and value judgments that come into play.

Enter Forbes magazine, which attempted to determine what would happen if education policymakers put their money where their mouth is in five key areas: implementing the Common Core State Standards, strengthening teacher effectiveness and principal development, and expanding early education and blended learning.

Each comes with a hefty price tag that taken together would cost a cool $6.2 trillion over a 20 year period or $310 billion annually. In return, Forbes (with assistance from respected Stanford economist Eric Hanushek) predicts the U.S. would see its gross domestic product increase by some $225 trillion over the life of that generation’s professional career.

Where the initial outlay would come from— apparently hedge funds, inheritances and venture capital— is another story. What caught my attention about this study appeared to be a credible attempt to affix real dollars and cents to top education reforms and the benefits our country would reap from it.  Even if it’s hypothetical, a nearly 37 percent return on five major education investments is not something to ignore … though, apparently we have.






May 16, 2014

State of Preschool 2013: Enrollment drops, but quality rises

Earlier this week, the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at Rutgers University released its annual State Preschool Yearbook for the 2012-2013 school year, which offered both some good and bad news regarding preschool enrollment, funding, and quality.

For the first time since NIEER began reporting on preschool trends in 2001-2002, there was a decline in enrollment. Over 9,200 fewer three and four-year-olds were enrolled during 2012-2013 than during 2011-2012. The state-by-state analysis shows that 20 states increased enrollment during this time period while 11 states saw their enrollment decline, however, the states with declining enrollment tended to be much more populous states, such as California.

When adjusted for inflation, state funding for pre-K increased by $30.6 million in 2012-2013. Although this does not make up for the massive cuts that took place during the previous school year, this increase combined with declining enrollment resulted in a $36 increase in state spending per student. Per pupil spending varied greatly between the 40 states (plus D.C.) that offer state pre-K. Nebraska and South Carolina each spend less than $2,000 per child, while D.C. spends over $14,000 and New Jersey over $12,000 per child.

While progress has stalled or regressed in some areas, many states improved the quality of their pre-K programs based on the NIEER’s Quality Standards Benchmarks. These benchmarks measure quality based on factors such as class size, standards, teacher’s level of education and specialization in early childhood, and student-teacher ratio. For the first time, all state-funded pre-K programs (53 total) used comprehensive early learning standards. Four states, as well as, one of the three programs in Louisiana, met all 10 of NIEER’s benchmarks. Meanwhile, 16 states met eight or more of the benchmarks.

Overall, preschool saw some successes and faced some struggles this year. The decline in enrollment, although modest, is somewhat surprising given the increased attention that policymakers have been paying to early education initiatives. It will be interesting to see what enrollment numbers look like in the coming years. However, this modest enrollment decrease also represents a pause in the trend toward spreading little funding over more and more students each year, which expanded access but jeopardized quality in recent years. Quality is an area where things are looking up. Although there is still a lot of work to be done in meeting all of NIEER’s benchmarks, the progress that has been made over the last decade is promising and most programs are continuously working to improve the quality of pre-K education they offer.

For more information about the impact high quality prekindergarten can have on students check out CPE’s Pre-K research here.

-Patricia Campbell






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