Early Childhood Education Update - April 2012

April 03, 2012 | Child Care and Early Education

In this issue:

CLASP'S EARLY HEAD START TREND ANALYSIS, 2002-2010

One in four young children under age 6 lives in a family earning just $60 a day - a statistic demonstrating the hardship families continue to face in the wake of the recession and persistent high unemployment. Enacted in 2009, The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provided help for the growing number of poor families by investing much needed funds into programs like Early Head Start, which in 2010 experienced the largest expansion in its history. Early Head Start provides poor children under age 3 and pregnant women with access to a range of services such as health screenings, parenting resources, and social services.  Yet, Early Head Start reaches less than 4 percent of eligible children.

Based on Head Start Program Information Reports (PIR), CLASP has developed an analysis of data describing the children and families served by Early Head Start (EHS) in 2010, as well as EHS programs and staff that year and trends from 2002 to 2010. Highlights from the 2010 PIR include:

  • Early Head Start had a funded enrollment of 104,533 children and pregnant women, which was an increase of 43,385 from the 2009 enrollment.
  • Most Early Head Start teachers had a degree and nearly half (49 percent) had a bachelor's or higher.
  • Early Head Start promotes better health for young children by connecting children to medical and dental homes and helping them obtain health insurance.
  • Early Head Start provides services through a variety of program options. In the 2010 program year, 49 percent of children were enrolled in center-based Early Head Start services and 45 percent were enrolled in home-based services.
  • Early Head Start continues to support families with working parents, many with limited formal education.

To learn more about Early Head Start in 2010 and how the data has changed over time, read Supporting Our Youngest Children, Early Head Start Programs in 2010 >>

REPORT LOOKS AT LOW-INCOME PARENTS' EMPLOYMENT CONSTRAINTS AND CHILD CARE DECISIONS

Low-income families often face employment situations consisting of irregular hours, inflexible schedules, few benefits such as paid time off, and low-wages. Urban Institute's new brief offers greater insight into how low-income parents' employment experiences shape their child care decisions. The brief analyzes qualitative data from a larger study on child care choices, which collected information from two low-income communities, one in Providence, Rhode Island and the other in Seattle-White Center, Washington. These two communities were intentionally chosen for their high-concentration of low-income families and immigrant populations. The study draws from two rounds of interviews with a total of 86 parents of young children.

The brief finds that parents face daily challenges in their employment situations that in turn affect their child care arrangements. Changing work schedules, nonstandard and shifting hours meant that some parents had to remove their children from center-based care to family care because centers weren't open beyond the standard working hours of 9-5. Transportation challenges between home, work, and child care also added constraints for some families, especially those that did not have personal vehicles and had to rely on public transportation. Job inflexibility and lack of benefits also made it hard for parents to address child care needs. Lack of paid sick leave or paid time off made it difficult for parents to address family emergencies or take care of a sick child. According to the brief, parents most often prioritized work requirements and had to fit their child care around job constraints.

In order to address the difficulties families face trying to align their jobs and child care options, Urban Institute offers a set of recommendations.

  • Expand the supply of publicly funded early childhood care and education programs, particularly in low-income communities. Make sure that these options address the varying contexts of parents' employment situations.
  • Give greater attention to the fit between work and child care for low-income families that have nonstandard and changing work schedules.
  • Provide families with a minimum number of paid sick days that employed parents can use to care for their family members.
  • Establish employee-financed paid family leave programs, so that parents have some financial and employment security to address the needs of their family.

Learn more about low-income families' child care decisions >>

EMOTIONAL SUPPORT FOR MOTHERS IMPACTS CHILD OUTCOMES

Child Trends' analysis of data from the 2007 National Survey of Children's Health reveals the importance of emotional support for mothers during childrearing. Previous research has shown that caregivers, and mothers in particular, benefit considerably from having personal support systems. Mothers experience less stress, are more likely to demonstrate confidence, and are more likely to employ effective discipline strategies.

An analysis of five child outcomes, three negative and two positive, and three types of family disadvantages-single-parent households, low parental educational attainment, and families in poverty-reveals that emotional support helped enhance the positive outcomes and diminish the negative outcomes for children. Child Trends looked specifically at how emotional support affected externalizing, depression symptoms, grade retention, child school engagement, and child social competence. The results overwhelmingly showed that when emotional support is present parents reported more favorable outcomes for the children (greater school engagement and social competence); conversely, when emotional support is absent, parents report less favorable outcomes for their children.

These findings indicate that emotional support for mothers can help lessen negative child outcomes while also promoting positive ones. However, these results do not indicate cause and effect. They were taken at a specific point of time and do not provide information on type or duration of support. A longitudinal study that looks at how the type of emotion and its duration affect child development outcomes would provide a fuller picture on how emotional support influences child outcomes.

Read the full brief on emotional support and child outcomes >>

STUDY ANALYZES PRE-KINDERGARTEN AND KINDERGARTEN ATTENDANCE IN BALTIMORE SCHOOLS

Students' chronic absence from school can have a profound impact on their education as well as general school climate. Baltimore Education Research Consortium (BERC) recently published a study, Early Elementary Performance and Attendance in Baltimore City Schools' Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten, which looks at chronic absences among pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students and how this affects attendance in elementary school. Chronic absence is defined as missing more than one-ninth of days enrolled, or 20 days out of a 180 school days. An analysis of student attendance data in Baltimore revealed that of the students who were chronically absent in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten they continue to be chronically absent the following year. Students who missed more school had lower scores on standardized tests through third grade. Chronically absent students are also more likely to be retained, with more than a quarter retained by third grade.

Interestingly, the study's findings show that Head Start students began with and maintained higher rates of attendance through third grade compared with similar students. The authors hypothesize that higher attendance rates among Head Start participants could be a result of the increased parental engagement and family participation Head Start encourages. Additionally, the study found that the impact of being chronically absent can be reduced if students change their attendance patterns. In response to these findings, BERC recommends that:

  • Maryland's State Department of Education report the average daily attendance and chronic absent rates for pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students
  • Baltimore City agencies make a concerted effort to maximize enrollment in Head Start and city pre-kindergarten programs.
  • Schools work with Head Start to develop family education and outreach to try and reproduce the high rates of attendance seen among Head Start participants.
  • There be continued monitoring of student attendance and school-wide attendance, looking at both daily attendance and chronic absences.

Read more about early education attendance rates in Baltimore >>

GAO RELEASES REPORT ON EARLY CHILD CARE AND EDUCATION (ECCE) WORKFORCE

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report to capture information and data on the characteristics of the ECCE workforce and how these relate to quality ECCE programs. The report draws on surveys of state child care administrators, interviews with the Departments of Health and Human Services and Education and other federal and state officials, interviews with ECCE experts and researchers, analysis of the Census Bureau's American Community Survey (ACS) and Head Start data, and reviews of literature and relevant federal laws and regulations. The report, Early Child Care and Education: HHS and Education are Taking Steps to Improve Workforce Data and Enhance Worker Quality, seeks to answer two specific questions: 1) What is known about the composition, education, and income of the ECCE workforce and how these characteristics relate to quality, and 2) What activities are the Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Education and the state financing to improve worker quality?

GAO provides a review of the current ECCE workforce information out there while also finding that significant gaps in ECCE workforce data exist. They report that there are approximately 1.8 million ECCE workers in a range of positions, and most of them have relative low levels of education and income. Nearly half of all ECCE workers and 20 percent of preschool teachers had a high school degree or less. Their average yearly income ranged from $11,500 to $18,000 for preschool teachers. ECCE experts and government officials reported to the GAO that, generally, better educated and trained ECCE workers are more effective than those with less education or training, and that more comprehensive information on ECCE workers who receive specialized ECCE training is needed. Current workforce data omits key segments of workers, for example those who provide child care in their own homes, and the data does not separate preschool teachers who teach in elementary school settings. HHS and the Department of Education are working to improve ECCE workforce data by providing guidance and funding to states to encourage the collection of better data.

States work to improve ECCE worker quality by offering trainings and scholarships; however, information on program specifics as well as funding data is scarce. From the state surveys, 37 states responded that in-service training, coaching, and mentoring for current workers are the most common forms of ECCE workforce improvement. Thirty-four states reported that scholarships to workers enrolled in higher education programs were also common improvement mechanisms.

While there are no specific recommendations provided, GAO generally supports the conclusions that the Departments of Health and Human Services and Education provided. Both Departments agreed that gaps in ECCE workforce data exist and need to be addressed. Additionally, quality ECCE programs come from having better educated and trained workers.

Access GAO's full report on the ECCE Workforce >> 

CALIFORNIA REVIEWS ITS EARLY CARE AND EDUCATION (ECE) WORKFORCE PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT SYSTEM (PDS)

Building and offering effective ECE workforce professional development systems is critical to offering high-quality, developmentally appropriate ECE programs. RAND previously conducted a multiyear study of California's preschool education system. This study spawned a recommendation to conduct a more in-depth analysis of the effectiveness of the ECE workforce PDS in California. RAND focused on two key questions in response to this recommendation: 1) Does California's PDS prepare its ECE workforce well and  provide ongoing supports to ensure that children receive the developmental benefits associated with a high-quality ECE system? and 2) Are the public resources that support the ECE workforce PDS in California used to maximum benefit? The study addresses these questions primarily within the context of center-based and licensed family child care homes, which make up approximately 130,000 providers in the ECE workforce. However, some consideration is given to license-exempt providers as well as those who provide support services within ECE programs. The first section of the report provides a review of what is known from research and from other states concerning building effective ECE workforce PDSs as well as describes the main sources of ECE professional development in California. Next, RAND offers key findings as they relate to their two primary questions. Lastly, the report offers a set of recommendations to advance the effectiveness of the state's ECE workforce PDS.

California spent around $74 million in federal, state, and local funding in SFY 2009-2010 to support ECE professional development activities. These activities mainly consisted of: 1) Direct investments, such as providing education and training courses; 2) Financial incentives designed to support further professional development and retain qualified ECE workforce members; and 3) Indirect investments in the workforce, through efforts to raise the quality of the education and training programs through investment in educators, curricula, or materials. While California has taken steps to improve the effectiveness of their workforce PDS, there is still more that needs done. California must take its recent published Early Childhood Educator Competencies and compare them with the current makeup of the ECE workforce to determine if these requirements are being met. California has taken steps to offer a comprehensive PDS through implementation of components, such as competencies, career pathways, credentials, and curriculum, but it is still not clear that the training and education ECE workforce members receive is adequately preparing them. Additionally, there are still wide data gaps that inhibit researchers' knowledge about ECE workforce members and how their training and education impacts their caregiving and teaching, as well as impacts child development outcomes.

To address these concerns RAND offers a set of recommendations that focus on how California can make better use of its existing resources and how the state can go about improving its PDS to better prepare and support ECE workforce members. These recommendations include:

  • Implement an ECE workforce registry.
  • Continue aligning the ECE curriculum within California's community college and state university systems, and ensure that curriculum provides students with the competencies they need to successfully care for young children.
  • Provide a more rigorous evaluation of the ECE workforce investment activities to ensure that these PD programs are effective.
  • Develop a system that clearly defines an ECE career ladder.
  • Address financial incentives for ECE providers to pursue further educational opportunities as well as offer sufficient compensation to retain providers.
  • Address shortfalls in ECE program materials, curricular, preparation time, etc. through the implementation of a mechanism like a Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS).
  • Provide higher-quality teacher preparation programs and phase in special accreditation of associate and bachelor's degree ECE programs.
  • Find approaches to better address the diverse needs of the current and future ECE workforce
  • Develop competencies for teacher educators, trainers, mentors, coaches, and others who are involved with supporting ECE workers' professional development.

RAND emphasizes that many of these recommendations will only work effectively if implemented together. However, they also work to take into consideration the current constraints on resources and offer ways in which California's ECE workforce can be efficiently and effectively supported.  

Read RAND's full report on California's ECE workforce PDS >>

BROOKINGS RELEASES REPORT ON THE SCHOOL READINESS OF POOR CHILDREN

A new report from Brookings analyzes reasons why poor children are less ready for school. Forty-eight percent of poor children are identified as "ready" to enter school at age five based on a summary measure that looks at early math and reading skills, learning-related and problem behaviors, and overall physical health, while 75 percent of children from moderate and upper income families are school ready at five. The report looks at the impact of preschool attendance, parenting behaviors, parents' education, maternal depression, prenatal exposure to tobacco, and low birth weight on school readiness. Using data from the birth cohort of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, the report finds that after controlling for other family characteristics children who attended preschool were 9 percentage points more likely to be ready for school. Mothers who smoked correlated with their children being 10 percentage points less likely to be school ready, and the school readiness of children whose mothers scored lower in parent supportiveness during child interactions was also 10 percentage points lower.

The second part of the report evaluates the effectiveness of three different intervention methods-preschool programs, smoking cessation programs during pregnancy, and nurse home visiting, particularly the Nurse Family Partnership model-to predict which method provides the greatest increase in school readiness among poor children. Drawing from estimates on the impact each intervention would have on children's school readiness as well as how large of the population of poor children the method would reach, the study finds that the expansion of preschool attendance provides the greatest increase in school readiness. Preschool attendance was estimated to give children an 8.9 percent increase in being school ready whereas the home visiting program was estimated to give a 3.4 percent increase in school readiness and smoking cessation programs only had a 0.3-0.6 percent increase. The report acknowledges that these calculations are meant to give a rough sense of the different effects of these three intervention method but are still quite uncertain. The central findings of the report show that the 27 percentage point difference in school readiness between poor children and children who live in moderate to upper income families can be attributed to not just poverty but also to the lower levels of education among their parents, lower levels of parenting skills, higher rates of parental smoking, and higher rates of depression among their parents.

Read the full study on poor children's school readiness >>

HEAD START FAMILY AND CHILD EXPERIENCES SURVEY (FACES) FINDINGS FROM 2009

FACES, which was first completed in 1997, looks at Head Start from a variety of angles, drawing on information from child assessments across developmental domains; interviews with children's parents, teachers, and program managers; and observations in the classroom. The 2009 FACES is the fifth cohort in a series of national studies. Other cohorts were initiated in 1997, 2000, 2003, and 2006; the most recent report looks at the characteristics of those children entering Head Start in 2009 as well as across years. FACES 2009 children were selected to represent children ages 3 and 4 as they entered the first year of Head Start, looking at participants from 60 programs across the country.

The 2009 FACES report shows that Head Start continues to serve a diverse group of low-income children and families, with 36 percent identifying as Hispanic/Latino and 33 percent as African American.  Between 2000 and 2009 the percentage of minorities in the FACES cohorts increased from 66 percent to 77 percent. Sixty-one percent of children entering Head Start in 2009 were age 3, and the entering Head Start population is evenly divided between boys and girls. FACES looks at findings and changes across family environment, child cognitive, social-emotional, and physical development, and Head Start teachers and classrooms.

  • Family Environment The percentage of children living with both of their biological or adoptive parents decreased from 48 percent in 2000 to 42 percent in 2009. Just over a quarter of children entering Head Start in 2009 live in a household where a language other than English is primarily spoken to them-Spanish by far being the most prevalent in non-English households. The percentage of children entering Head Start who are read to by a family member at least three times a week has increased steadily over the years from 66 percent in 2000 to 76 percent in 2009. Thirty-seven percent of children are cared for by someone other than a parent either before or after Head Start, spending an average of an additional 15 hours away from a parent.
  • Child Cognitive, Social-Emotional, and Physical Development Parents and teachers report few behavioral problems, but newly-entering Head Start children score below norms across developmental areas, which include language, literacy, and mathematics development. Eleven percent of the children have an identified disability and 34 percent are overweight or obese, the same percentage as the 2006 cohort.
  • Head Start Teachers and Classrooms Most Head Start teachers have had multiple years in the classroom and have earned a either an associate or bachelor's degree. Most teachers also have had specific training in early childhood. A majority of Head Start classrooms include DLL children. Over the cohorts, the percentage of classrooms that engage in daily or almost daily work on letter names, phonics, and writing letters or names has increased.

Read the full FACES 2009 report >>

TECHINCAL ASSISTANCE (TA) AND COACHING IN QUALITY RATING AND IMPROVEMENT SYSTEMS (QRIS)

The National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP) recently released a report looking at the approaches QRIS TA providers use. The study surveyed and interviewed two TA providers in each of 17 states for a total of 34 interviewees. Each state had a statewide Quality Rating System. The two central aims of the study were to: 1) learn about features of on-site quality assistance in order to better understand QRISs key strategy of improving quality, and 2) examine approaches used by TA providers in light of current research on early learning and quality improvement, and to consider the potential of on-site assistance and its current use to improve quality.

From the interviews, NCCP found that TA providers worked mostly in regulated center-based and home-based child care sites, and that most TA providers reported five or fewer visits to centers and 10 or fewer visits to home based settings before these settings received a QRIS rating. Just over half of TA providers reported targeting their on-site assistance, which was mostly targeted to give priority to lower-rated center-based and home-based sites. Over half of providers reported making 10 or fewer visits and another 20 percent said that the number and frequency of visits widely varies. The largest number of TA providers cited "helping teachers improve their classroom or home-based environment" and "specific features of the classroom or home-based setting needed to earn a higher QRIS rating" as the most frequent focus of their assistance. Lack of funding and insufficient time were cited as factors that limited the TA providers' ability to focus on aspects of quality that they deemed needing improvement. Staff resistance to change and the lack of a QRIS standard related to the TA provider's area of concern were cited less frequently. Forty-four percent of the TA providers held a master's and 41 percent held a bachelor's degree, and they reported varied amounts of training and supervision.

The final report provides a set of recommendations that include collecting and reviewing data on the types of programs that participate in QRIS and on-site assistance in order to target assistance to those that might need it and use it less frequently. They also recommend providing more on-site assistance prior to a site's application for a QRIS assessment so that the state can avoid entering the QRIS with a very low rating. The report also provides recommendations on how to design and strengthen QRIS quality assistance, such as using strategies to ensure that coaching and TA are focused on early learning and are consistent with quality improvement goals. They also provide recommendations for developing training and supports for TA providers, such as providing more opportunities for TA providers to practice and receive feedback on promising coaching strategies, and determine whether training and supervision for providers is sufficiently focused on helping them improve classroom supports for children's early learning and development. The small sample size provides only a preliminary look at quality assistance, and further study on promising practices and providers' methods is highly encouraged.

Read the entire report on TA in QRIS >>

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