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April 2, 2014

The role of technology in early education

toddlertabletAs technology becomes an increasingly important and ever present part of our lives, many are starting to ask what the appropriate role of technology is in the lives of young children.  While some parents and child advocates are concerned about possible negative impacts of excessive “screen time” for children, others believe that appropriately used digital media has the ability to help children learn in new ways and prepare them for a lifetime of learning. A recent brief from the New America Foundation proposes several essential actions to prepare early education for the digital age.

There are three important characteristics that must be taken into consideration when deciding the appropriate role of digital media in a child’s education: the content, the context, and the characteristics of the child.  Passive use of digital media or allowing children to watch adult-oriented TV shows can have negative consequences, but when the context and content are aligned to meet the needs of an individual child, interactive media can be used to promote learning and exploration, even for very young children.

There is enormous potential for technology use in early education, but expectations need to be set high and technology needs to be used as a supplement to, not in place of active play and exploration. We need to retire the harmful idea of “technology as a babysitter” and instead see it as something that can productively promote back-and-forth interaction between children and their parents, teachers, and classmates.

This can take many forms: reading an ebook with a classmate, video chatting with a relative who lives far away, or using a math app to practice counting skills while a teacher supervises. If technology is integrated into learning activities both at home and at school, children start building skills at a very young age that prepare them for a future as a student and citizen in the digital age. However, as with many of the issues we discuss here, the risk lies in poor implementation.

We can give toddlers tablets, but unless they have parents and teachers engaging with them to ensure the media they are consuming is developmentally appropriate and substantive, we might just be providing preschoolers with very expensive playthings (and veering into that “technology as babysitter” territory). As the role of technology in our society continues to evolve, I am hopeful that networks of parents, teachers, providers of children’s media, and other professionals who work with young children will work together to share information and high-quality materials.

March 20, 2014

Could math be the key to successful prekindergarten?

apple_and_slateboardPrekindergarten has been a hot topic in education for some time now, and with the White House proposing $1.3 billion for Preschool for All grants in the 2015 budget, it is unlikely to go away anytime soon. Various studies have shown the long-term benefits that pre-K can have for children, especially those from low- and moderate-income families. However, many of the studies we continue to cite today as evidence of pre-K’s effectiveness (such as the HighScope Perry Preschool and the Abecedarian Project) are decades old and focus on extremely small and intensive programs. Although these programs clearly illustrate the positive impacts that high-quality prekindergarten can have on children well into the future, they do not single out specific elements made these programs successful.  Furthermore, programs such as these would not be scalable today with how rapidly pre-K programs are expanding in many states.

A new study starting in New York this year hopes to determine what factors contribute to high-quality pre-K programs. “Making Pre-K Count” is following approximately 4,000 prekindergarten students at 69 different school sites throughout New York City and will continue to follow them at least through third grade. Half of the students will be taught using a math curriculum called Building Blocks, which has shown in short-term studies to improve the math and verbal skills of young children. Math is not something that is traditionally emphasized in prekindergarten classes, but some research indicates that developing math skills early can predict math and reading achievement well into elementary school, as well as help students learn to persevere academically. Children who maintain these early math skills are also more likely to graduate from high school and pursue a postsecondary education. There is also a professional development piece to the Building Blocks curriculum, with teaching coaches visiting prekindergarten classes weekly to help teachers implement the curriculum and advise them on the use of formative assessments

While we know there are benefits to high-quality prekindergarten, there has been much debate recently about what “high-quality” actually means.  The rapid expansion of pre-K programs throughout the country makes more up to date research on what types of programs are effective a necessity. A study like Making Pre-K Count will surely be expensive and time consuming, but has the potential to lead to some real breakthroughs on what an effective, scalable prekindergarten model looks like in the 21st century.

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

-Patricia Campbell

Filed under: CPE,Pre-k,research — Tags: , — Patricia Campbell @ 1:16 pm

October 24, 2013

New report shows states compare favorably to other countries in math and science

Results from a new study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) at the U.S. Department of Education has found the vast majority of states score above the international average in 8th grade math and science. Although U.S. eighth-graders compared relatively well to their peers in other countries in math, the comparison was even more favorable in science, where just three states scored below the international average. However, the average 8th-grader in most states has obtained a basic knowledge and understanding of both math and science and can demonstrate it in a variety of practical situations.

But the study also highlights the fact that there is a huge variation in student performance across states. While there are a number of states that compare more favorably to the highest performing countries in the world, there are other states whose performance matches the performance of developing countries. For students in all states to have a chance to compete in the ever growing global labor market they, at the very least, must possess basic math and science skills.

Here’s what the study found:


  • Over two-thirds (36) of states’ average score were significantly above the international average of 500.
    •  Six states (West Virginia (492), Oklahoma (491), Tennessee (490), DC (481), Mississippi (476), and Alabama (466) scored significantly below the international average.  These scores are similar to those of New Zealand (488), Kazakhstan (487), Sweden (484) and Armenia (467) among others.
  • Massachusetts was the highest scoring U.S. state (561 points) and outperformed all but five of 47 countries as well.
    • Massachusetts was outperformed by Korea (613), Singapore (611), Hong Kong (586), and Japan (570).
  • Nearly a two-third of U.S. states performed as well as or better than the traditionally high performing country of Finland (514).
  • Alabama was the only state whose average score (466) fell within the TIMSS Low benchmark (400-474), an indicator of whether a student possesses knowledge of whole numbers and decimals, operations, and basic graphs.
    • On the other end of the spectrum, Massachusetts was the only state to score above the TIMSS High benchmark (550) which indicates that students can apply their understanding and knowledge in variety of relatively complex situations.
    • The remaining 50 states’ average score fell within the Intermediate benchmark (475-549) which indicates a student can apply basic mathematical knowledge in a variety of situations.


  • Nearly every state (47) performed above the international average of 500 while two states (Arizona and California) did not perform significantly different than the international average.
    • Mississippi (486), Alabama (485) and DC (453) scored significantly below the international average. These scores are similar to those of Kazakhstan (490), Turkey (483) and Iran (474), among others.
  • Massachusetts (567) and Vermont (561) were the highest scoring U.S. states and performed as well or better than every country except Singapore (590).
    • Massachusetts and Vermont performed as well as Chinese Taipei (564), Korea (560), and Japan (558) and outperformed such countries as Finland (552), Hong Kong (535) and England (533).
  • The District of Columbia was the only place where students’ average scores did feell within the TIMSS Low benchmark (400-474) which indicates whether a student has a grasp of elementary knowledge of life, physical, and earth sciences.
    • On the other end of the spectrum, eight states (Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Vermont, and Wisconsin) scored above the TIMSS High benchmark (550), which indicates whether students can apply their knowledge and understanding of the sciences to explain phenomena in everyday and abstract context.
    • The remaining 43 states’ average score fell within in the Intermediate benchmark (475-549), indicating students have basic knowledge and understanding of practical situations in the sciences.  – Jim Hull

October 8, 2013

You don’t need to go to Harvard to benefit from college

Some parents and policymakers are uncomfortable with the recent emphasis in education policy on college readiness, which is typified by the adoption of the Common Core State Standards in 45 states. Reason likely being, the term college-ready is synonymous with preparing students for four-year postsecondary institutions like Harvard or their state’s flagship university. As the rhetoric behind the push to graduate all students college-ready typically revolves around graduating more students with a four-year degree, it is no wonder there is such apprehension.

It is absolutely true that not all students are meant or want to go to Harvard or any other four-year institution. Yet, it is clear most of today’s students will need education beyond high school to obtain a job to sustain a middle-class lifestyle. However, college-readiness goes beyond preparing all students to earn a four-year degree; it’s about preparing students to earn two-year degrees as well. A new report brings to light this fact by finding that community college graduates earn on-average $259,000 more over their working lifetime than those who only earn a high school degree. As a result, community college graduates pay $67,000 more in taxes. Moreover, community college graduates are less likely to need government assistance– such as unemployment benefits– as they are less likely to be unemployed as well.

Drawing attention to the success of community college graduates is critically important to promoting the fact that college-readiness is not just about preparing students for Harvard. The importance of the affordability and the technical training provided by our nation’s community colleges should not be overlooked. However, as my previous report on international college attainment rates showed, the U.S. does a decent job preparing students to earn a four-year degree but falls well short when it comes to the attainment of two-year degrees. If we as a nation focus on significantly improving the college attainment rates for our two-year colleges, the U.S. would not only once again be among the global leaders in college-attainment but it would also have a significant impact on the nation’s economy as well. – Jim Hull

September 20, 2013

High school graduation rates show public schools are improving

Good news about our public schools is hard to come by. Not because there isn’t any, but because there is so much focus on the areas our public schools need to improve, the areas where our schools are improving get overshadowed.

That is why it is so important to promote the success our public schools are having graduating more high school students. Back in June, I highlighted a report from Education Week that showed U.S. high school graduation rates were at the highest levels in 40 years. Recently, a new study published in the journal Education Next found similar results.

However, the study conducted by Harvard Graduate School of Education Professor Richard Murnane and doctoral student Stephen Hoffman dug deeper into the graduation rate data. In fact, they examined graduation rates dating back to 1900 and found graduation rates:

  • rose from 6 to 80 percent between 1900 and 1970.
  • remained stagnant between 1970 and 2000.
  • significantly improved between 2000 and 2010.

Graduation rates increased between 2000 and 2010 despite the fact that the proportion of black and Hispanic students increased substantially over the same time period. One would have predicted that an increase in the enrollment of such traditionally disadvantaged minority groups would have negatively impact graduation rates. Instead, the data shows how our public schools adapted to their changing student populations and graduated a greater number of black and Hispanic students. While black and Hispanic students are still less likely to graduate high school than their white peers, there is much less of a difference now than a decade ago.

Such success should be lauded but it shouldn’t hide the fact that there is still a lot of work to be done. No educator or policymaker should be satisfied until all students earn a high school diploma. Nearly two out of every 10 students still don’t graduate high school, with minority students remaining less likely to graduate than their white peers. Yet, our public schools are clearly on the right track and their recent efforts should be supported, so one day soon every student in America earns a high school diploma. – Jim Hull


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