Early Ed Watch

We've Moved!

As of December 1st, Early Ed Watch has moved, along with the Early Education Initiative and the rest of New America's program pages and blogs. Please find us here at Earlyed.NewAmerica.net and update your bookmarks.

For those of you using RSS, click here for our new feed.

Our bi-weekly email newsletter should continue to arrive as scheduled, every other Tuesday. And if you have not yet subscribed to our newsletter, we'd love to have you. To subscribe, click here and select Early Ed Watch in the newsletter list.

Thanks for bearing with us as we work out some final kinks and try out some new graphics at the new site.

Some Reading for Thanksgiving Break...

Early Ed Watch is off this week in honor of Thanksgiving and the genius of pumpkin cheesecake.

If you've got an appetite for early ed news this week, check out these interesting posts from fellow bloggers.

Happy Turkey Day. We'll be back next week.

Photo courtesy of flickr user mtsofan under the Creative Commons license.

Duncan: Early Ed Can Get Schools Out of 'The Catch-Up Business'

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."

ECACs: The Next Step in Systems-Building

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.

Department of Education Releases Race to the Top Application

Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Education released the application and notice of final priorities for the Race to the Top competition, a $4.35 billion grant program that rewards states that have shown the most commitment to and progress on education reforms to improve student achievement. The final priorities and application reflect a number of changes from a draft the department released in July that drew more than 1,100 comments.

Questioning eyeQ

One of our favorite cognitive scientists, Daniel Willingham, is introducing a new recurring feature, "Hall of Shame,"  on the Washington Post's Answer Sheet blog. His point is to debunk the claims made by the marketers of "educational" products, curricula and technologies that are rooted in flawed "science" -- or none at all.

Willingham's first target is eyeQ, an admittedly odd-sounding software program that claims to double reading speed in two weeks of 7-minute daily sessions, by improving eye-brain connectivity. According to the company that produces eyeQ, more than 750 schools are using the program. Willingham makes short work of its claims. 

The coup de grace for me is the website’s claim that the left hemisphere is associated with scientific ability and logic, whereas the right brain is associated with intuition and artistic ability. This cartoon characterization of the brain was discredited 30 years ago.

Read the whole thing here.

Where's SAFRA?

It occurred to us recently that readers might be wondering about the status and outlook for the Student Financial Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA) legislation currently pending in Congress that would, among other things, establish a new Early Learning Challenge Grant program to support states in developing comprehensive, statewide birth-to-five early childhood systems. Fortunately, our colleagues at Higher Ed Watch have provided a useful update!

As readers may recall, SAFRA passed the House of Representatives in mid-September. Now the action moves to the Senate--except that there's not much SAFRA action to report there, because the bill, like a lot of other things in Washington these days, is on hold until the Senate comes to resolution on health care reform.

Comprehensive Literacy Legislation Introduced in Senate

Last week, Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) introduced the Literacy Education for All, Results for the Nation (LEARN) Act, a comprehensive literacy bill designed to overhaul the federal role in supporting literacy from preschool through high school. Companion legislation is being introduced in the House of Representatives by Representatives Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and John Yarmuth  (D-Ky.)

This bill addresses the important need to reestablish a federal role in supporting early literacy, following the elimination of funding for the Reading First program. It also takes important steps to support adolescent literacy. But we worry that it shifts the focus of federal literacy efforts too much towards the middle and high school years, at the expense of critical PreK-3rd years, which build a foundation for all of children’s later literacy learning.

House OK's Home Visitation as Part of Health Care Overhaul

The health care bill that the U.S. House of Representatives passed this Saturday includes a program that early childhood advocates should feel good about: It includes funding for voluntary home visitation programs. The bill authorizes a five-year, $750 million grant program to help states develop in-home services to help pregnant women and mothers of very young children. 

We provided details on this legislation when the health-care bill started to take shape in the House. To learn more, see our July 29th post, "Fate of Home Visitation Program is Tied to Health Reform Bill."

Early Ed for “The Safety of Our Country”

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.

The title is, "Ready, Willing, and Unable to Serve: 75 Percent of Young Adults Cannot Join the Military; Early Education Across America is Needed to Ensure National Security."

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: