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U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan presented the fullest picture yet of his vision for a birth-to-8 education system in remarks yesterday at the opening of the annual meeting of the National Association for the Education of Young Children.
In a wide-ranging speech that emphasized the importance of "raising the bar" on the quality of early learning environments, Duncan said that early childhood advocates now face two challenges. One, he said, is the need for better transitions and "follow through" between pre-K and the K-12 years. The other is what he sees as a necessary shift in thinking about how to measure quality -- moving from "inputs" like teacher qualifications and child-to-staff ratios to "outcomes" that indicate whether children are developing and learning well.
Duncan praised the NAEYC, the nation's largest membership organization of preschools, child care centers, kindergartens and public elementary schools, for its insistence that to close the achievement gap, we must prevent the gap through high-quality early learning experiences.
"I want our schools to get out of the catch-up business," he said. "To prevent the gap," he continued, "we must be ready to dramatically improve outcomes for our children."
Over the past several months, I have spent a lot of time talking to early childhood stakeholders about collaboration, and today the Early Education Initiative is releasing a policy brief based on that reporting. "The Next Step in Systems-Building: Early Childhood Advisory Councils and Federal Efforts to Promote Policy Alignment in Early Childhood." It provides a status report on all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
You'd think that sharing information and working together nicely would be second nature to leaders in early childhood policy. After all, it is something they teach in kindergarten. But in practice, collaboration -- or more specifically, policy alignment -- is more than just a matter of making sure everyone knows what everyone is doing and playing nicely. It takes hard work.
What makes policy alignment so hard? Government programs serving young children and their families are spread across departments of education, health and welfare. Non-profit organizations and private childcare providers also play a significant role in caring for and improving the lives of young children. The result is a tangled web of avoidable dysfunction. Low-income parents may not know that their children are eligible for Medicaid or Head Start, kindergarten teachers are given no information on the background of their incoming students, providers file redundant paperwork for different agencies, and the list goes on.
A report last week from a new group called Mission: Readiness featured a very troubling statistic: 75 percent of young Americans cannot join the U.S. military because they are too poorly educated, have a criminal record or are overweight.
But here's a promising development to go along with that startling data: The report goes straight to the heart of the problem, explaining that the solution is to ensure that all children receive a high-quality early education. In fact, the report puts early education its sub-head.
Eighty-nine retired military leaders, including two former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, signed the report. They have come together to form Mission: Readiness, a non-profit, bi-partisan organization dedicated to supporting public investments in early childhood programs as a matter of national security.
In their words:
A symposium in Arlington on Tuesday brought together some of the most well-known researchers in the field of early childhood to dig into a tough and timely question: How do we help young children in the United States who know very little English?
The day-long symposium, "Investigating the Classroom Experiences of Young Dual Language Learners," was hosted by the National Center for Research on Early Childhood Education, based at the University of Virginia, in partnership with the National Center for Latino Child & Family Research. Designed to link together current research while also jumpstarting more probing studies, the symposium was peppered with lively discussions about how to gather and decipher evidence of what works in pre-K classrooms. The hosts intend to publish a collection of the day's papers.
The Washington Post's "Answer Sheet" just published a commentary I wrote about how to improve children's grasp of math in the early years. It's a call to parents to build math moments into the morning routine, just as book reading is part of the bedtime drill. To make something like this work, we'll need preschool teachers and elementary school teachers to help parents recognize their own capacity for helping their kids, providing them with creative ideas that make math accessible and easy. I've included some of those ideas in the post below, but I'd love to find more. Please don't hesitate to add your feedback and ideas to the comment section below or at the Answer Sheet site, where parents are chiming in.
Bedtime = book time. Parents know that equation by heart, or at least they're supposed to. The drill goes like this: Just before the goodnight kiss, we snuggle up with our young kids, open a book, and read with them. Okay, so maybe at first we have to beg them to just settle down. And maybe the baby is more prone to eat the pages than look at them. But still, we try. We're the ones responsible for these little human beings. It's part of our job.
Data from a survey of kindergarten teachers in California's Santa Clara County adds to the mounting evidence that kindergarten readiness is not as simple to define as you might think.
Contrary to popular conceptions of what it means for a 5-year-old to be ready for kindergarten, most kindergarten teachers are not wishing for rooms full of children who can already identify the letters of the alphabet. What they want instead are children who have learned how to regulate their impulses, follow through on a difficult task and have the self-control to listen to the teacher's directions for a few minutes.
This was one of several messages that emerged in Sacramento last Thursday during a presentation of recent data from the Santa Clara County Partnership for School Readiness, a collaborative of public, private and non-profit organizations in Silicon Valley. The presentation was part of the forum at which the New America Foundation released our report on early education in California. (For more about the report, see last week's post, the executive summary and the full report.)
As a recent TIME cover story notes, California is a state teeming with problems: Facing a 35 percent budget gap earlier this year, the state teetered on the verge of bankruptcy. It has a notoriously dysfunctional legislature and the nation's fourth-highest unemployment rate.
On top of that, California's schools, once among the nation's best, now rank among the bottom of all states-- 46th nationally in 4th grade math, and 47th in reading. Equally troubling large achievement gaps between white and black or Hispanic fourth-graders. These problems begin even before children enter kindergarten. Only 31 percent of the state's 4-year-olds are enrolled in state-funded preschool or Head Start-and many early care and education settings fall short of high quality standards. These figures are particularly troubling considering that the state is host to one in every eight children under the age of eight in the country.
This morning, Pre-K Now released its annual Votes Count report, which summarizes state legislative action on pre-k during the 2009 legislative session, including pre-k funding in states' fiscal year 2010 budgets. This year's report focuses on which states have maintained and even increased pre-k investments despite budget shortfalls caused by the past year's economic pinch, and which states are falling behind.
Overall, Pre-K Now says that "the news for young children is surprisingly good." 27 of the 38 states that had state-funded pre-k programs in fiscal year 2009 (as well as the District of Columbia) managed to either increase pre-k funding or maintain current funding levels. That adds up to $187 million dollars of new money for pre-k in fiscal year 2010. Further, of the 10 states with the biggest budget shortfalls this year, seven managed to either increase or maintain their pre-k spending for the 2010 year.
The report groups states into 5 main categories:
We're in the thick of pumpkin patch season. Children around the country have been heading out on field trips with their classes and families, bumping along on hay rides to find the plumpest pumpkins they can get their hands on.
Good teachers know how to turn these field trips into curiosity-driven moments of learning for themselves and their students, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds who finally have a chance to hear, see, use and interact with objects and concepts that they rarely come across in their everyday lives. As a New York Times story highlighted yesterday, for some children a trip to the pumpkin patch means being able to hold and touch what is essentially a foreign object. When a classroom of 25 children at Harlem Success Academy 3 were asked how many had ever held a pumpkin, only two raised their hand.