More Stimulating Child Care

In a coincidence of timing, we published our roundup of various organizations' proposals for early childhood care and education in the stimulus package at about the same time as Pre-K Now released a letter to House Speaker Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid outlining their stimulus agenda for early education--so Pre-k Now's agenda didn't make it into our roundup.

Pre-k Now's first recommendation calls for state fiscal relief--an idea we've previously noted might be the best way to support early education in the stimulus, by staving of likely state cuts to early childhood and elementary school funding. Like some of the organizations we mentioned yesterday, they're also calling for $3 billion in increased funding for Head Start and Early Head Start, and another $3 billion increase for the Child Care and Development Block Grant.

As we've said previously, one thing for early education advocates to keep an eye on in the stimulus package is ensuring that community-based early education providers have access to any new school construction funding that the legislation provides: And Pre-k Now has kept their eye on that ball, encouraging Congress to allocate $1 billion of any school modernization package specifically for school facilities.

Arne Duncan Nominated as Secretary of Education: Good News for Early Education

This morning, President-elect Barack Obama will announce that he is nominating Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan to serve as U.S. Secretary of Education. Duncan is a great choice on several fronts. First, he's been a good superindendent in Chicago, where fourth grade student student achievement in reading and math has improved under his watch, and low-income students are narrowing the gap in fourth-grade reading. Second, Duncan has earned the respect of various, sometimes clashing constituencies within the Chicago and national education communities. As a result, he is viewed as someone who can potentially bridge the divide between civil rights groups and education reformers, on the one hand, and teachers unions and established education groups on the other--a necessity for any secretary who aspires to oversee the next reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or NCLB.

The Principal Should be your Pal

Ed Week looks at the CAYL Principals Fellowship in Early Care and Education, which provides elementary school principals with professional development to help them better understand early education and support quality early education programs in their schools and communities. There's a real need for programs such as this. While there are exceptions, most elementary school principals have little or no training in early education. Most started out their careers as grade school teachers, or, in some cases, even middle or high school teachers. As a result, their initial teacher training and experience did little to prepare them to manage early education programs. Nor are principals likely to learn much about early education in their principal training programs, which tend to focus heavily on legal issues and school management. As a result, many principals are uncomfortable with early education and do not understand what appropriate early education practice is or how pre-k fits into their larger educational goals for children.

KIPP Moving into Early Education

KIPP, a network of high-performing charter schools serving low-income, predominantly minority students, recently announced plans to dramatically expand the number of KIPP schools operating pre-k and elementary programs.

Founded in 1994 by Mike Feinberg and David Levin, KIPP has focused primarily on serving disadvantaged students in the middle school years--grades 5-8--where Feinberg and Levin saw kids slipping through the cracks in the public education system. But, like a growing number of high-performing charter networks, KIPP has realized that many of the youngsters it serves arrive at fifth grade already behind grade level, and has begun focusing increased attention on the early elementary school years. Currently, the KIPP network includes seven elementary schools in Houston, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Washington, D.C. Schools in Houston, New Orleans and Washington operate programs starting in pre-k. And that number's about to get a lot higher.

Vanishing Potential: How to Stop the Losses through Pre-k to 3rd Reform

This striking new report from the Foundation for Child Development documents how America’s public schools are coming up short in educating our youngest students--particularly those from racial and ethnic minority backgrounds.

Nationally, only one-third of American fourth-graders are proficient in reading, as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a federally administered test provides the best available information on how American students are performing and trends over time in their performance. The results are even more troubling for low-income and racial/ethnic minority students. Only 12 percent of black students, and 15 percent of Latinos, are reading proficiently in fourth grade.

These numbers would be striking in any circumstance, but are especially so because research shows that children who do not learn to read proficiently by the end of third grade are much less likely ever to do so. These children are more likely to require costly remediation services later in their education and are at greater risk for a host of negative life outcomes.

What's Missing From Our Early Education Classrooms? An Awful Lot of Disadvantaged Kids Who Should Be There


That's a reasonable response on reading the new National Center for Children in Poverty report on chronic school absenteeism in the early elementary grades, which finds that roughly 1 in 10 kindergarten and first graders miss at least 10 percent of school days each year (18 days for a typical 180-day school year), and in some urban districts the rate of chronically absent children in grades K-3 is as high as 1 in 4. We're used to hearing about high truancy rates for urban high school students, even middle schoolers. But the fact that way too many elementary school students are missing a lot more days of class than they should be is unexpected. It's also a serious obstacle to ensuring all children achieve proficiency in reading and math by third grade--a strong predictor of later academic success or failure.

No Excuses Charter Schools Looking Earlier?

Paul Tough, whose blog on education is rapidly becoming one of our favorites, writes about some of the challenges facing New Haven's Amistad High School. Amistad is part of the Achievement First network of high-performing charter schools and opened two years ago to serve students coming out of Amistad Academy middle school. Amistad Academy is one of the highest performing open admission public middle schools in New Haven, despite its predominantly low-income, minority student population. Yet even as the middle school's students demonstrate excellent academic achievement, many are still struggling to cope with the rigorous standards of Amistad's new high school program. One potential problem: Even though Amistad students learn a lot in middle school, academic deficits from the poor quality elementary schools they attended may hinder their progress in high school. Tough writes:

Restructuring Restructuring

A new report from the Center for Education Policy looks at how 5 states are dealing with NCLB's requirements to "restructure" chronically low-performing schools. Under NCLB, schools that fail to make adequate yearly progress for at least five consecutive years are subject to restructuring. School districts must implement at least one of a menu of restructuring interventions in these schools. But the results of these interventions have been decidedly mixed. This year a record number of 3,500 schools nationally--about 7 percent of all Title I schools--are identified for restructuring. Based on in-depth analysis of what districts and schools are doing in these 5 states, CEP concludes that restructuring itself needs to be restructured.

CEP offers five recommendations for how restructuring should be restructured in the law:

Don't Forget Children with Disabilities

Christine Gralow, a teacher who blogs on the New York Times website, writes about the difficulties parents face in finding appropriate kindergarten placements for their young children with disabilities--particularly autism. Although she's focused on New York, the problems she describes--complex bureacratic hoops, difficulties obtaining appropriate services for children, lack of space in appropriate programs, and inequities in the services offered to children whose parents are less affluent or savvy--are hardly unique to that city. The issues that Gralow describes can be particularly problematic for children in the early years, because young children with disabilities can't afford to waste learning time while their parents struggle with school districts to get them services. As states and school districts invest in early education reforms, they need to ensure that those reforms address the needs of children with disabilities and their families. Particular attention needs to be paid to alignment of services for children with disabilities, so that they continue receiving appropriate services when they transition from pre-k to kindergarten or from grade to grade.

Want Algebra by 8th? Start With Proficiency in Foundational Skills by 4th

A new report from the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution finds that 120,00 students nationally are enrolled in algebra as eighth graders even though they have math skills comparable to those of the average second grader. That may not sound like a lot of students, but it's nearly 8 percent of all American eighth graders enrolled in algebra courses, and to the extent that these underprepared students are spread across algebra courses with students who are better prepared, their presence may have a negative impact on the quality of algebra instruction offered to a much larger population of students.

Report author Tom Loveless suggests that this finding calls into question the recent policy push, particularly in some high-poverty urban school districts, to enroll increasing numbers of eighth graders (in some cases, all eighth graders) in algebra. But it also highlights the need to get much more serious about improving the quality of math instruction provided to students in the elementary grades. Students arrive in eighth grade doing math at a second grade level only when their elementary schools have seriously failed in teaching them basic math knowledge and skills.