Early Childhood Education Update - March 2012

March 02, 2012 | Child Care and Early Education

In this Issue:

CLASP AND NWLC RELEASE NEW REPORT ON CHILD CARE CENTER DIRECTORS' PERSPECTIVES ON QRIS

CLASP and National Women's Law Center released a new report looking at Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS) as experienced by child care center directors. Interviews with 48 child care center directors across 9 states were conducted in 2010. In addition to these interviews, CLASP and NWLC convened a roundtable of 15 directors to further discuss the benefits and challenges of QRIS. The objective of the interviews was to get an "on the ground" look at QRIS in different states and communities. Child care center directors were interviewed across several components that were deemed essential for QRIS to achieve its goal of improving quality of child care and strengthening the overall early learning system. The essential components included: 1) Strong quality rating standards; 2) Effective quality measurement, monitoring, and assessment, 3) Incentives and support for improving quality ratings, 4) Efforts to make QRIS responsive to the needs of all children; 5) Parent education and involvement; and 6) Aligning standards across early care and education settings.

From these interviews a set of common themes emerged on what strategies make QRIS work most effectively. Directors saw good communication among all those involved in the QRIS as critical, as well as making sure there are sufficient resources to achieve and maintain quality improvements. Directors noted that QRIS should incorporate criteria that encourage positive child and caregiver interactions. Directors also discussed the need for review and reassessment of QRIS standards in order to determine whether the standards were working to improve quality of care and meet the needs of all children, including those with special needs and English Language Learners.

The report provides six recommendations for policymakers to consider as they work to establish new or strengthen existing QRIS.

  • Set quality rating standards that appropriately reflect elements essential to the quality of care. Standards should be clearly written and explained. They should address elements of health, safety, positive development, and learning in meaningful ways are. In addition, standards should ensure that highly qualified, well-compensated teachers work in child care settings and that there are opportunities for teachers to attain higher credentials necessary to meet the standards.
  • Establish a quality assessment process that is reliable and responsive. The assessment process must hold child care providers accountable for meeting standards. It must have well-trained assessors to ensure its validity and reliability, as well as have assessments that allow for multiple observations, and have an appeals process that allows providers to challenge their scores. Providing child care providers with feedback on their scores and how to improve are critical to an effective assessment process.
  • Provide sufficient, sustained incentives and support for improving quality. Financial supports like grants and bonuses that are ongoing are crucial for enabling child care providers to invest in what's needed to achieve higher levels of quality. Tiered reimbursement rates with substantial differences between tiers help families receiving child care assistance access high-quality care, and encourage providers to serve these families.
  • Design QRIS to meet the needs of all children. QRIS must have standards appropriate for each group of children that they apply to such as infant and toddler care, school-age care, care for children with special needs, and care for children from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Assessors must also be trained to appropriately assess the types of care they are responsible for evaluating.
  • Educate parents about QRIS and high-quality care. States and communities must reach out to help parents learn what QRIS are, how they work, and how parents can use QRIS to find high-quality care. Strategies include using online media and websites, mailings, pediatricians' offices, agencies responsible for child care assistance programs, and radio and television advertisements. Outreach should be conducted in non-English ways as well.
  • Align QRIS with other high-quality programs and components within the early childhood system. QRIS work best when they coordinate with other components of the early childhood system. QRIS standards can be matched with those for accreditation, state prekindergarten, Head Start, and Early Head Start so there is a common, consistent set of high-quality standards. Monitoring and professional development processes can be coordinated as well. Coordination helps minimize duplication and conflict between different programs and helps elevate the importance of QRIS throughout the early childhood system.

Read the full report on child care directors and their perspectives on QRIS >>

PROMOTING EARLY, REGULAR, AND COMPREHENSIVE SCREENINGS FOR INFANTS AND TODDLERS

For babies and toddlers, early learning experiences occur within the context of their physical and mental health, building brain architecture that lays the foundation for success later in life. Children develop along a continuum, with milestones reached at ages that vary within an accepted timeframe. Development that does not happen within the expected timeframe can raise concerns about developmental disorders, health conditions, or other factors contributing negatively to the child's development.  Early, regular, and reliable screening can help identify problems or potential problems that may threaten the child's developmental foundation and lead to additional delays and deficits later in childhood. The success and long-term cognitive benefits of early intervention appear to be related to the level of intervention, comprehensiveness, and duration of the services, so identifying problems and connecting babies to treatment during their earliest years is most effective.

Charting Progress for Babies in Child Care, a CLASP project that links research to policy ideas to help states make the best decisions for infants and toddlers in child care, released the research-based rationale behind its recommendation that states promote access to early, regular, and comprehensive screenings for infants and toddlers.  In this resource CLASP provides:

  • Research supporting the importance of accessing early, regular, and comprehensive screenings.
  • Recommendations on strategies to use state child care policies to promote developmental screenings.
  • Online tools and resources, including recommended schedules and types of screenings and best practices, for state policymakers' use.

Access resources and read the complete recommendation >>

NEW LOOK AT CHILDREN LIVING IN HIGH-POVERY COMMUNITIES

Close to 8 million children under 18 live in areas of concentrated poverty, a 25 percent increase since 2000. The Annie E. Casey Foundation's Kids Count initiative recently published a "Data Snapshot on High-Poverty Communities," defining these communities as those census tracts with poverty rates of 30 percent or more. Living in concentrated poverty areas can affect children's healthy growth and development, often because they do not have access to high-performing schools, quality medical care and safe outdoor spaces.

Kids Count data reveals that 29 percent of children in families with incomes below the poverty line live in concentrated poverty areas, however not all of the children living in these communities are poor. Seventy-four percent of children living in these communities have at least one parent in the workforce. African-American, American Indian, and Latino children are between six and nine times more likely to live in high poverty areas than white children. Certain cities also have a much larger percentage of children living in concentrated poverty than others, and most states have seen increases in rates of children living in high-poverty areas over the past decade. Detroit, Cleveland, Miami, and Milwaukee all have over 45 percent of children living in areas of concentrated poverty.

Increasing numbers of children are living in areas of high-poverty, but the report offers some promising practices that can help bring these areas out of poverty and offer better access and quality services to families and children. The report recommends:

  • Promoting community change efforts that bring together physical revitalization of areas with the development of human capital through public/private partnership and federal programs such as the Choice Neighborhood Initiative.
  • Leveraging "anchor institutions" like hospitals and universities to build strong, supportive communities for children and families through hiring practices and services provided.
  • Promoting successful practice relating to work supports, asset building and employment within communities.
  • Linking improvements within neighborhoods to efforts taking place citywide and across regions.
  • Increasing access to affordable housing in safe and developed communities that offer opportunities for low-income families, and particularly for families of color.

Find out more about children in high-poverty areas in the full report >>

TRAINING OPPORTUNITIES FOR WASHINGTON'S UNIONIZED FAMILY, FRIEND, AND NEIGHBOR CHILD CARE PROVIDERS

In 2004, licensed family child care providers and license-exempt family, friend and neighbor (FFN) providers organized and worked with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 925 successfully pushing legislation that allowed for collective bargaining in 2006. Since, SEIU 925 has supported FFN providers by offering them the opportunity to take up to 10 hours of training workshops each year supported through funds provided by the state during collective bargaining. For the past four years, FFN providers have attended these trainings with payment offered as an incentive. A new report from the Economic Opportunity Institute (EOI) looks at the impact and effectiveness of these classes and workshops.  

EOI conducted a survey of FFN providers to determine whether the trainings increased providers' knowledge and skill levels regarding early child education and caring for children. EOI also asked about broader outcomes, such as making professional connections with other providers and increased satisfaction in caregiving as a result of increased knowledge. The results of the survey indicate that training had a positive impact on providers' perceived knowledge and skills, reporting that both increased as a result of attending the training. Many also reported that the trainings were beneficial in expanding their own professional networks, with over 60 percent reporting they made connections through the trainings. Additionally, 85 percent reported that they agree or strongly agree that the training provided by SEIU 925 made their caregiving more satisfying.

Surveyed providers recommended that training opportunities could be improved by:

  • Incorporating additional training methods, like play and learn groups that would help providers apply what they learn
  • Continuing to refine the training curriculum
  • Adding workshops that are an intermediate or advanced levels for providers who have taken previous training sessions
  • Providing trainings based on providers' interests
  • Encouraging more interaction among providers both during and after sessions

Read EOI's full report: Training Makes a Difference >>

FREQUENT RESIDENTIAL MOBILITY AND ITS EFFECTS ON YOUNG CHIDREN'S WELL-BEING

Families around the U.S. change their residence for a variety of both positive and negative reasons. A recent Child Trends research brief delves into the question of whether frequent moves are associated with poor physical and or/mental health in young children due to the instability in relationships and settings they can sometimes bring. The brief uses the 2007 National Survey of Children's Health to examine the demographic composition and physical and mental health of children under six who experienced five or more moves compared to children who did not experience frequent moves.

The report finds that the children who experience frequent moves are associated with certain demographic characteristics. Children in poor families were more than four times as likely to have experienced five or more moves compared to children whose families had income twice or more than the federal poverty level (FPL). Young children who lived in households where no adult was employed for 50 of the past 52 weeks were twice as likely to be frequent movers. Children whose mothers had completed no more than high school education were twice as likely to be frequent movers compared to children whose mothers had college degrees. Looking at race and ethnicity, Hispanic children were more frequent movers than African-Americans and white, representing 22 percent of the total sample but accounted for 34 percent of the frequent movers. The report found no significant effects associated with ever moving five or more times for either physical or mental health.

This data, taken from 2007, does not reflect the effects of the recent recession. Further study is needed to determine what effects the widespread disruption in housing arrangements caused by the crisis might have had on young children's residential mobility and well-being.  

Read Child Trends' complete research brief on young children and residential mobility >>

NEW YORK STATE CUTS FUNDING FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION PROGRAMS

New York is one of many states facing potential budget cuts to their early childhood programs. In 2008-2009 funding for the state's Universal Prekindergarten (UPK) program was $451.20 million. By 2011-2012 funding for the program had decreased to $384.29 million, a 14.8 percent cut. Additionally, in 2009 the state capped the number of districts that could apply for the prekindergarten grant, disallowing any district that had not applied in previous years from applying in the future. The report, Early Child Education: Frozen Funding Leads to Cracks in the Foundation, looks at the issues of early childhood program funding and how communities across the state are continuing to face cuts in services to families and children. For example, communities such as Yonkers and Poughkeepsie are cutting prekindergarten from full to half-day; Rockland County has a waiting list for prekindergarten; and other communities are cutting prekindergarten programs entirely.

Child care subsidies in New York are also being affected by cuts. Counties are lowering their income eligibility for child care subsidies, making it harder for families to qualify for child care assistance. Many New York counties are also at risk of coming up short in funding for child care subsidies and risk having to drop children from the program. If additional funding is not found by the end of June, nearly 16,000 children in New York City risk losing child care assistance.

The report's authors, Alliance for Quality Education, Citizen Action of New York, and Winning Beginning New York, make the following recommendations to help stave off cuts and invest in early child programs. They include:

  • Adding $53 million to the pre-kindergarten program. This money would be reallocated from the proposed $250 million for competitive education grants. The funds would go towards covering more children, expanding the program, and better preparing teachers.
  • Adopting the $93 million in child care funding that is proposed in New York's Executive Budget for 2012-2013 and advance the proposed $215, also from the 2012-2013 Executive Budget, in child care preservation funds for FY 2013-2014.

Read more on New York's cuts to early childhood programs >>

CHILDREN'S DEFENSE FUND UPDATES FULL-DAY KINDERGARTEN RESOURCES

Full-day kindergarten is a critical component to young children's education. Participation in full-day kindergarten has been shown to boost children's cognitive learning, creative problem solving, and help them build social skills. Across the United States access to full-day kindergarten is uneven. Many children do not have access to publicly supported full-day and full-week kindergarten programs.

Children's Defense Fund's (CDF) annual report of current state policies towards full-day kindergarten programs finds:

  • Ten states and D.C. require through statutes that school districts provide publicly-funded full day kindergarten. Thirty-four states require districts provide half-day kindergarten and six states have no kindergarten requirements for their school districts.
  • Most states do not require that kindergarten be the same length of day as other grades in the system. Funding for full-day kindergarten often does not appear in state statutes along with funding provisions for grades 1-12.
  • Instructional time for kindergartens range from 2.5 hours for half-day and six hours for full-day.

CDF provides an interactive map that breaks down states' kindergarten requirements. Additionally, state-by-state information can be found in their collection of state kindergarten factsheets. These offer information on each state's full-day kindergarten policy, statutory provisions, funding, standards, and assessment.

Access CDF's interactive map and 50 state full-day kindergarten factsheets >>

NEW REPORT RELEASED IN FIVE-YEAR LONGITUDINAL STUDY OF SIX B.A. COMPLETION COHORT PROGRAMS IN EARLY CARE AND EDUCATION

The Center for the Study of Child Care Employment conducted a five-year longitudinal study of four counties' efforts-Alameda, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, and San Francisco Counties in California-to expand bachelor's degree opportunities in early care and education (ECE) for adults who already worked in the ECE field. The Learning Together study began in 2007, following six different student cohorts, each of which was composed of groups of students with similar interests in ECE and all pursuing their bachelor's degree together. The goals of this project centered on increasing and retaining a pool of ECE professionals with B.A. degrees, investing in institutional change at colleges to expand their capacity to provide appropriate and accessible B.A. programs for ECE practitioners, and make sure that those who receive degrees are able to demonstrate and articulate professional competencies that appropriately reflect the degree obtained.

The most recent report from the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment looks at year four of the program, which reflects the fourth round of interviews with participants. The study team asked the graduates from each cohort to assess how the structural features of their B.A. cohort programs impacted their educational success, the value of their general education courses, and the extent to which their programs had addressed leadership development and working alongside adults. The graduates were asked about the impact their B.A. degree had on their professional and personal lives, and how their teaching practices with children had been affected. Additionally, three vignettes were presented to the graduates, which detailed a typical occurrence in a preschool classroom. Graduates were asked to describe what they would do in each situation to promote the children's learning. Findings from the fourth round of interviews include:

  • Graduates believed the structural support components of financial aid and flexible class schedules were important to their educational success within the programs.
  • Post-graduation the participants in the cohorts continue to serve as professional, personal, and education resources for one another.
  • Over two-thirds of participants reported that they took general education courses along with their ECE cohort courses. Two-thirds of these graduates reported that these general courses had enhanced their own educational experience and/or had a positive impact on their work.
  • Graduates reported that further knowledge of ECE public policy and working with other adults would be helpful in their current jobs and with their future careers.
  • Close to one-quarter of graduates, approximately one to two years after graduation, told the study team that their job positions had changed. Three-fourths of these graduates contributed change to completing the B.A. degree program. Three-fifths of students reported pay increases, and 80 percent of these graduates attributed this, at least in part, to their B.A. degree.
  • Almost all graduates believed that their B.A. degree would have a positive impact in their future, both professionally and personally.
  • A majority of graduates, 87 percent, reported that their responses to the vignettes were influenced by their education, saying that their B.A. degree programs had provided them with a better understanding of child development and appropriate teaching methods for different stages. Additionally, many graduates believed that the B.A. programs helped them be more aware of how important it is for English language learners to keep their home language.

Findings from the cumulative Learning Together study thus far reveal the professional and personal benefits that ECE practitioners can obtain from participating in B.A. programs that are financially and academically supportive, however these self-reports can only account for so much. More research is needed into how variations among B.A. programs for ECE practitioners have influenced their competence as professionals and how to account for substantial differences among programs.

Read the full report detailing Year Four of the Learning Together study >>

CHILDREN AND FAMILIES EXPERIENCE SIGNIFICANT HEALTH BENEFITS FROM SNAP

An estimated 50 percent of children in the U.S. are expected to live in households that receive assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, at some point in their childhood. Children's HealthWatch's new report, The Snap Vaccine: Boosting Children's Health, makes the case that just like immunizations protect children from getting diseases that can make them sick and even threaten their lives, SNAP also helps protect children's bodies and brains from the damaging health impacts of hunger and food insecurity. For young children, food insecurity can lead to poor health, the need to be hospitalized, and put children at risk for developmental delays and iron-deficiency anemia.

Children's HealthWatch conducted an analysis of more than 17,000 young children whose parents sought care for them in a hospital emergency room or primary care clinic between 2004 and 2010, comparing families who received SNAP benefits with families who were likely eligible but not receiving SNAP assistance. The study found that:

  • Young children who received SNAP were less likely to be underweight, at risk of developmental delays, and were more likely to live in food secure families compared to children whose families were eligible but did not receive SNAP. These results were determined after taking into account other possible factors, such as parental employment.
  • Children of immigrant mothers who were receiving SNAP were more likely to be in good or excellent health, living in a food secure household, and food secure themselves compared to children of immigrant mothers who were likely eligible for SNAP but not receiving the benefits.
  • Families receiving SNAP benefits were also less likely to have to make trade-offs between paying for healthcare costs and paying for other basic needs, such as food, housing, heating and electricity.

Read Children's HealthWatch's full report on SNAP and children's health >>

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