Early Childhood Education Update - June 2011

June 06, 2011 | Child Care & Early Education

In this issue:

U.S. SECRETARIES OF EDUCATION AND HHS ANNOUNCE RACE TO THE TOP-EARLY LEARNING CHALLENGE

U.S. Secretaries of Education and Health and Human Services, Arne Duncan and Kathleen Sebelius, announced on May 25th the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge, a grant competition to support states' efforts to increase the quality of early childhood programs, and importantly increase the number of low-income and disadvantaged children, birth to five, in high-quality programs. Funding for the Early Learning Challenge was included in the final FY 2011 Continuing Resolution (CR) Congress passed last month. The Secretaries announced that $500 million of the $700 million earmarked for Race to the Top in 2011 will go to the Early Learning Challenge. The application will be released later this summer, and funds will be awarded to the winning states by December 31, 2011.

Details on the competition requirements and selection criteria have not yet been released. Guidance, eligibility, range of awards, and number of grants will be announced in the coming weeks. The CR describes the following requirements for states:

  • Increase the number and percentage of low-income and disadvantaged children in each age group of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers who are enrolled in high-quality early learning programs;
  • Design and implement an integrated system of high-quality early learning programs and services; and
  • Ensure that any use of assessments conforms with the recommendations of the National Research Council's reports on early childhood.

The Education and Health and Human Services Departments are soliciting feedback on the competition via their website. 

CLASP also has resources on its website to help states plan for the Early Learning Challenge competition.  

CLASP RELEASES NEW PAPER ON WHAT STATE LEADERS SHOULD KNOW ABOUT EARLY HEAD START

Early Head Start (EHS) is a federally-funded, community-based program that provides comprehensive child and family development services to low-income pregnant women and families with children under the age of 3. Although EHS is a federal-to-local program, there are opportunities for collaboration at the state level that have expanded in recent years. For example:

  • State leaders may consider how key program elements of EHS relate to state activities and initiatives, such as child care licensing regulations, quality rating and improvement systems (QRIS), and early learning standards.
  • States may wish to explore ways to better integrate EHS with other state early childhood programs, for example, through initiating joint professional development opportunities that meet the needs of EHS providers as well as child care providers.
  • State child care subsidy policies, if designed well, can promote partnerships between child care and EHS programs.
  • The State Early Childhood Advisory Councils offer an opportunity to bring EHS together with other state and federal services to build strong early childhood systems built around substantial supports for vulnerable young children.

State leaders can seize opportunities such as these to break down silos and create collaborative state systems and programs to better meet the needs of vulnerable young children in their states. CLASP has released a new paper, What State Leaders Should Know about Early Head Start, which reviews 11 key aspects of how the EHS program works. Each section includes considerations for state leaders, such as how other state systems relate to a particular aspect of EHS, or what types of policy changes and partnerships states could consider to coordinate and leverage EHS resources with other state programs. Each section concludes with links to related online resources. This paper is not designed to provide official guidance or interpretation of the laws and regulations governing EHS, but to serve as an introduction to the program for state policymakers.

PRINCIPLES AND RECOMMENDATIONS TO STRENGTHEN CHILD CARE LICENSING REQUIREMENTS AND ENFORCEMENT

The National Association for Regulatory Administration has released a new research-based paper, Strong Licensing: The Foundation for Quality Early Care and Education System - Preliminary Principles and Suggestions to Strengthen Requirements and Enforcement for Licensed Child Care. The paper highlights the critical role that child care licensing plays in protecting and promoting the healthy growth and development of children in out-of-home care. Currently, more than 11 million children, birth through age 11, are in out-of-home care arrangements. Many of these children are cared for in licensed facilities. In 2007, more than 9.5 million child care slots were available in over 325,000 licensed facilities. The paper provides an overview of child care licensing, including what child care licensing requirements and enforcement procedures are, who is in licensed care and who provides licensed care, and current issues  and challenges affecting child care licensing.

A licensing program consists of four key components: licensing statute, licensing requirements, licensing agency, and licensing enforcement. The paper discusses principles and characteristics within each component that help to build a strong, effective licensing program. For instance, within licensing enforcement, the paper highlights seven activities important to effectively enforcing licensing policies:

  • Staff education and training
  • Workload management
  • Enforcement management
  • Compliance monitoring inspections
  • Differential monitoring
  • Provider support and technical assistance
  • Sanctions

To illustrate ways that states can strengthen their child care licensing programs, the paper profiles several states that have made improvements to their licensing requirements and enforcement policies. 

HOW EARLY EXPERIENCES SHAPE THE EXECUTIVE FUNCTION OF THE BRAIN

A new working paper, Building the Brain's "Air Traffic Control System": How Early Experiences Shape the Development of Executive Function, by the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University discusses a critical group of skills that begin developing during early childhood. The paper is the eleventh in a series of working papers focused on the lasting impacts that early experiences have on children's well-being and development. In the brain, a crucial group of skills called executive functions are responsible for a person's ability to multi-task. Similar to an air traffic control system, these skills give a person the capacity to process multiple streams of information simultaneously, make decisions and solve problems, and adjust actions as needed given a situation. With executive functioning skills, a person can focus and manage information, filter distractions, and monitor one's errors/progress among other tasks. The paper finds that executive functioning skills are essential building blocks for the early development of a wide range of cognitive and social abilities. These skills begin to form in early childhood and continue developing into late adolescence.

The paper describes in detail how executive functioning skills develop, what may adversely affect their development, and what their long-term impacts are on school success and beyond. Three major executive functions are further explained: working memory, inhibitory control, and cognitive or mental flexibility. Additionally, the paper discusses the impacts that children's surrounding relationships have on the formation of executive functioning skills and identifies early adversities that may disrupt this formation. The paper concludes with implications for early intervention and the role that policies and programs can play. 

TENNESSEE VOLUNTARY PRE-KINDERGARTEN PROGRAM BOOSTS SCHOOL READINESS

In Tennessee, young children are getting a boost from the Tennessee Voluntary Pre-K program, as evidenced by two studies completed by the Peabody Research Institute at Vanderbilt University in partnership with the Division of School Readiness and Early Learning at the Tennessee State Department of Education. Preliminary findings from the two studies are available in a new report, Initial Results of the Evaluation of the Tennessee Voluntary Pre-K Program. The two studies were the result of a 2009 grant from the U.S. Department of Education Institute of Education Science to evaluate the effectiveness of the Pre-K program. They used randomized control trial (RCT) and regression discontinuity designs (RDD) to compare children who participated in Pre-K with their peers who did not, and to compare children at the end of pre-kindergarten with children just beginning the pre-kindergarten year.

The voluntary, statewide program serves more than 18,000 4-year-olds in 934 classrooms. While all 4-year-olds are eligible, current funding does not provide enough slots for all interested families to enroll in the program. Priority is given to children who are eligible for free or reduced price lunch, then to students with disabilities, English language learners (ELLs) and children who are otherwise at-risk. Tennessee Pre-K operates through competitive grants to local school systems. School districts may use a "mixed-delivery model" where they collaborate with community-based child care or Head Start programs. In FY 2010-2011, the state invested $85 million in the program, which is funded through general revenue and the state lottery.

Overall, the two studies found that children enrolled in the Pre-K program had 37 to 176 percent greater early literacy, language and math skills than children not enrolled in Pre-K. Ratings from kindergarten teachers, as part of the RCT, also found positive and significant effects on their assessment of the children's preparedness for kindergarten. The evaluation is in its beginning stages and further analysis will follow. 

QUALITY IN FAMILY, FRIEND, AND NEIGHBOR CARE SETTINGS

In the U.S., more than half of young children are cared for in a non-parental setting on a regular basis. Among these children, family, friend, and neighbor (FFN) care is the most common type of care arrangement, particularly for infants and toddlers. Twenty-two percent of all children who receive child care assistance are in FFN care. A new report, Quality in Family, Friend, and Neighbor Child Care Settings, by the National Center for Children in Poverty summarizes what is currently known about FFN care based on a review of 27 research studies. The studies range in scope from focus group interviews to national survey analysis. In the report, key findings on FFN caregiver characteristics, quality in FFN care, parental satisfaction, parent-provider relationships, and child developmental outcomes are presented. Among the key findings:

  • FFN caregiver characteristics: FFN caregivers generally have lower educational attainment but a wide range of experiences in caring for children. In addition, they generally cite similar reasons, such as wanting to help the child's parent, for providing care.
  • Quality ratings in FFN care: Quality ratings differ depending on the assessment tool used. For instance, the Family Day Care Rating Scale (FDCRS) rates FFN care quality as low, while the QUEST tool rates the quality as at least adequate.
  • Child-adult ratios: Child-adult ratios tend to be lower than in licensed child care settings.
  • Child-caregiver interactions: Most studies found child-caregiver interactions to be positive in terms of level of warmth and support for children.
  • Child outcomes: Findings are mixed on the social-emotional and cognitive development of children in FFN care.
  • Parent perspectives: Parent satisfaction with FFN care is mixed while parent-caregiver relationships are positive. Further research is needed to clarify parent perspectives on FFN care.
  • FFN caregiver resources and support: FFN caregivers are interested in learning more about how to support children's development, but most did not want to become licensed.

The report also discusses the limitations of the methodologies used to evaluate the quality of FFN care and issues that require further examination in future research studies. 

NATIONAL CENTER FOR EDUCATION STATISTICS RELEASES 2011 UPDATE ON THE CONDITION OF EDUCATION

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) has released its annual report on the status of education in the U.S. The report summarizes major developments and trends in education ranging from early childhood education through graduate-level attainment. This year's report, The Condition of Education 2011, contains 50 indicators of children's educational status, which are organized into five sections: participation in education, learner outcomes, student effort and educational progress, contexts of elementary and secondary education, and contexts of postsecondary education. Among the indicators, the report presents data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Birth Cohort of 2001 (ECLS-B) on the early care and education arrangements of children at about four years old. ECLS-B data is also presented on the cognitive and motor abilities of children at about nine months (infants), two years old (toddlers), and four years old (preschool-age). Using the ECLS and other data sources, the report proceeds a step further and examines children's outcomes in reading and mathematics from kindergarten through third grade. Overall, a variety of findings are highlighted, such as:

  • Child care and early education arrangements: The most common type of setting (57 percent) in which four year olds are cared for is center-based care, including Head Start, followed by home-based relative care (13 percent). Parents with higher educational attainment are more likely to use a center-based setting compared to parents with lower educational attainment.
  • Cognitive and motor abilities of young children: Overall, children living in poverty show lower levels of proficiency in cognitive skills compared to children at or above poverty. While the gap is small at nine months, the differences become significant at two and four years old. No measurable differences are found in motor skills.
  • Children's proficiency and skills in math and reading through 3rd grade: The more family risk factors (e.g., poverty, non-English primary home language) children have in kindergarten, the less likely that they demonstrate proficiency and skills in math and reading by the spring of third grade.

WORKFORCE INFORMATION IN ECE DATA SYSTEMS

One of the responsibilities of state early childhood advisory councils (ECACs) is to provide recommendations on statewide professional development and career advancement plans. In order to accomplish this, ECACs need current information about the early care and education (ECE) workforce. Information, such as provider characteristics, program settings, and turnover rates, are important to gaining an accurate picture of the ECE workforce and identifying areas for improvement. In a new report, Workforce Information: A Critical Component of Coordinated State ECE Data Systems, the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment provides an overview of three data systems currently used by most states to collect information on the ECE workforce and discusses the issue of alignment across the systems. The three profiled systems are: ECE workforce registries, T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood, and NACCRRAWare/T-TAM.

According to the report, 32 states have an ECE workforce registry, and NACCRRAWare is used by resource and referral agencies in 36 states. About half (23 states) of states use the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood data system. Overall, more than half of states (30 states) use two of the three data systems; 6 states use all three systems. Although the three data systems collect similar types of information, each was developed independently of each other and is used for different purposes. As a result, there is a lack of alignment across the systems at the state level. The report identifies various alignment challenges, such as lack of standard data definitions and sharing protocols, and examines efforts to address these issues. In addition, the report identifies sectors of the ECE workforce in which data is not collected by the systems and that are important to developing recommendations on statewide professional development. 

BUILDING LINKAGES BETWEEN QRIS AND P-3 SYSTEMS

The BUILD initiative has a released a new policy brief, QRIS and P-3: Creating Synergy Across Systems to Close Achievement Gaps and Improve Opportunities for Young Children, which examines two growing movements within the early care and education field. The two reform efforts, which are quality rating and improvement systems (QRIS) and "pre"-school through 3rd grade (P-3) initiatives, aim to improve the quality of early childhood programs and ensure that the benefits that children gain from quality early care and education are sustained and built on through the early school years. "Pre"-school includes all early childhood programs prior to school entry. The brief describes the two reform efforts and discusses how the two movements can be bridged together to maximize the positive impacts on children's growth and development. Six overarching strategies on how to invest in the two movements and create linkages between the two are elaborated upon:

  • Expand and strengthen comprehensive models that engage the full ECE system,
  • Ensure that the design of standards for children's learning and development have an eye toward alignment across birth through 3rd grade,
  • Ensure that the design of standards for teacher qualifications and credentials have an eye toward alignment across birth through 3rd grade and reflect how best to support the learning and development of all young children,
  • Support increased attention to measures of program quality that have been shown to matter most for positively impacting children's learning and development outcomes,
  • Invest in strategies that focus on people and the relationships that support them, and
  • Invest in efforts to establish universal access to high quality programs across the P-3 continuum.

The brief illustrates how foundations and other funders can move forward on each strategy and offers examples of actions states and school districts have taken to promote and implement QRIS and P-3 initiatives.

 

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