Early Childhood Education Update - August 2009
Aug 05, 2009 | Teresa Lim
In this issue:
- Early Learning Challenge Fund Legislation Introduced in Congress
- Quality Benchmark Tools for Cultural Competence in Early Childhood Programs
- Roundup of State Budget Actions on Early Childhood Programs for FY 2009
- Child Trends Releases Report on Disparities in Early Learning and Development Among Infants and Toddlers
- The State of Children's Well-Being - 2009 Updates
- Impacts of the New Jersey Abbott Preschool Program Through the Second Grade
- Food Insecurity Among Low-Income Families with Children and Strategies for Eliminating Childhood Hunger
- Guidance on Using Research-Based Evidence in Programs and Policies
- Pre-K Now Releases Report on Community-Based Prekindergarten Partnerships
In the U.S. House of Representatives, Representative Miller (D-CA), Chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, introduced legislation that includes a proposal for an Early Learning Challenge Fund. The fund is intended to increase the number of low-income children in high-quality early education settings and is included in the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA), part of the congressional budget reconciliation process to reform the student loan program.
The legislation invests $1 billion a year, for 8 years, for competitive grants to challenge states to work towards comprehensive, high-quality early education systems for children from birth to age five. States can use these funds to improve quality across early childhood settings through various approaches. States will be challenged to create early education systems that include the following:
- Early learning standards reform
- Evidence-based program quality standards
- Enhanced program review and monitoring of program quality
- Comprehensive professional development
- Coordinated systems for facilitating screenings for disability, health, and mental health needs
- Improved support to parents
- Processes for assessing children's school readiness
- Data use to improve child outcomes
In addition, CLASP teamed up with a group of organizations (NWLC, CLASP, NAEYC, AFSCME, First Five Years Fund, Early Care and Education Consortium, Zero to Three, National Head Start Association, NACCRRA, and NAFCC) to cosponsor an audio conference on the Early Learning Challenge Fund. The conference call featured Dr. Ruth Friedman, Senior Education Policy Advisor, House Committee on Education and Labor, who provided information and answered questions about the proposed legislation.
The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) has created the Quality Benchmark for Cultural Competence tool for early childhood programs. The tool is the final product of NAEYC's Quality Benchmark for Cultural Competence Project (QBCCP), which was created to determine key elements of cultural competence for early childhood programs and ways to meaningfully integrate these concepts within quality rating and improvement systems (QRIS). CLASP was a collaborator on this project. The QBCCP identified seven concepts that define cultural competence for early childhood:
- Acknowledge that children are nested in families and communities with unique strengths. Recognize and mitigate the tension between the early childhood profession's perceptions of the child as the center of the work versus the family as the center of the work.
- Build on and identify the strengths and shared goals between the profession and families and recognize commonalities in order to meet these goals.
- Understand and authentically incorporate the traditions and history of the program participants and their impacts on childrearing practices.
- Actively support each child's development within the family as complex and culturally-driven ongoing experiences.
- Recognize and demonstrate awareness that individuals' and institutions' practices are embedded in culture.
- Ensure that decisions and policies regarding all aspects of a program embrace and respect participants' language, values, attitudes, beliefs and approaches to learning.
- Ensure that policies and practices build upon the home languages and dialects of the children, families and staff in programs and support the preservation of home languages.
The tool includes criteria related to the above concepts, ideas for implementing culturally competent approaches in early childhood programs, and ideas for evaluating or measuring levels of cultural competence.
The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) released a summary and analysis of state appropriations to early childhood programs in FY 2009. NCSL surveyed all 50 states and territories in four areas of early care and education funding: child care, prekindergarten, home visiting, and other early learning activities (parent education, infant and toddler services, scholarships for early childhood teachers, etc.). The survey results are compiled in the report, Early Care and Education: State Budget Actions FY 2009. Overall, the report finds that despite budget gaps in two-thirds of states, many legislators still made investments in child care and early education during the past fiscal year. Key findings highlighted in the report include:
- Total appropriations: Total appropriations for early childhood programs increased by $651 million from the previous fiscal year, FY 2008. Of this amount, $402 million came from state general funds.
- Child care: Twenty-three out of 37 states that reported on child care increased their total combined child care funding (state general fund, TANF, and other sources); four states maintained funding at FY 2008 levels; 10 states decreased funding.
- Prekindergarten: Twenty-three out of 32 states that reported on prekindergarten programs increased funding; six maintained funding at FY 2008 levels; three states decreased funding.
- Home visiting: Fourteen out of thirty states that reported on home visiting efforts increased funding; nine states maintained funding at FY 2008 levels; seven states decreased funding.
- Other early learning activities: At least half of states reported that they appropriated funding for additional early learning activities. Nineteen out of 36 that reported on additional early learning activities increased funding for these activities; seven maintained funding at FY 2008 levels; nine states decreased funding; one state did not report both years.
The report also provides individual state profiles that compare appropriations for the past three fiscal years (FY 2007, FY 2008, FY 2009). Due to growing budget deficits and inadequate state revenues, it is not clear whether states will be able to increase or maintain child care and early education funding levels in FY 2010.
Child Trends released a new report, Disparities in Early Learning and Development: Lessons from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study - Birth Cohort (ECLS-B). The report, which was commissioned by the Council of Chief State School Officers, traces the cognitive, social-emotional, and health outcomes of a nationally representative sample of infants at nine months and twenty-four months of age. The report investigates whether the developmental outcomes of the infants are correlated with certain economic, social, and demographic factors. Four potential risk factors (family income, race/ethnicity, home language, mother's educational attainment) and three areas of development (cognitive, general health, and social-emotional) are analyzed. Overall, the report finds that developmental disparities arise as early as nine months of age and that these disparities widen by 24 months of age. Among the report's executive summary findings:
- Low family income and maternal education: The two factors most strongly correlated with poorer health and developmental outcomes were low family income and maternal education. At both nine and twenty-four months, children from low-income families scored lower on cognitive assessments than children from higher-income families. In addition, they were less likely to be in good or excellent health and receive positive behavior ratings.
- Racial/ethnic minority groups and home language: At both nine and twenty-four months, children from racial/ethnic minority groups or whose home language was not English generally scored lower on cognitive and behavior assessments and were less likely to be in good or excellent health compared to other children.
- Infants and toddlers in low-income families: About half of infants (51 percent) and toddlers (46 percent) live in low-income families with household incomes at or below 200 percent of the poverty line. Of these children, 89 percent of infants and 88 percent of toddlers have at least one additional risk factor. The report finds that the more risk factors a child possesses, the greater the disparity in developmental and health outcomes.
The report recommends that strategies for closing developmental gaps should begin as early as nine months and that these actions should focus on low-income children. In addition, the report calls for quality improvements in early care settings and better parent support and education.
Two new reports offer a current portrait of the state of children's well-being. Both reports are updated annually and present data in a wide range of areas, including health, education, and socio-economic status. The two reports are:
- America's Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2009: Compiled by the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, this report is a collaborative effort of the National Center for Education Statistics and 21 other federal agencies. The report provides national-level, demographic information on children, ages 0-17, as well as data on the following areas of well-being: family & social environment, economic circumstances, health care, physical environment & safety, behavior, education, health, and children with special health care needs (new feature).
- 2009 KIDS COUNT Data Book: Compiled by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, this report provides a national overview and state-by-state profiles of children's conditions using ten indicators of well-being. The report looks at national trends in children's conditions since 2000 and ranks the states according to their relative performance on the indicators. In addition, the report includes an essay on the need for higher quality data systems at the national level and better measurement tools and technology resources at the state/local level in order to accurately assess and improve the lives of vulnerable children and families.
The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) released the latest findings of its comprehensive study on the long-term effects of New Jersey's Abbott Preschool Program. NIEER began the study in 2005-2006 and released an initial report in 2007, which found that children who attended an Abbott Preschool Program for a year showed positive advancements in oral language, literacy, and mathematic abilities; children who attended for two years showed even greater improvements. In the study's latest findings, NIEER looks at whether these positive effects remained through the end of first and second grade. The findings are compiled in the report, The APPLES Blossom: Abbott Preschool Program Longitudinal Effects Study, Preliminary Results Through Second Grade. NIEER's analysis reveals that children who attended an Abbott Preschool Program still outperformed children who did not attend the program at the end of both first and second grade. The report's latest findings include:
- Oral language: The benefits of prekindergarten on oral language remained statistically significant for Abbott children through the end of both grades.
- Literacy: Although not statistically significant, Abbott children tended to score higher in literacy skills, particularly in reading comprehension, compared to other children through the end of both grades.
- Mathematics: Abbott children continued to show strong mathematics skills, particularly in applied problems, through the end of both grades. This was especially the case for children who attended the Abbott program for two years.
- Grade retention: Abbott children were less likely to repeat first or second grade compared to their peers.
The report notes that the latest findings may actually underestimate the positive, long-term benefits of the Abbott preschool program given an underestimation of the initial effects of the program, particularly in early literacy. Even with this underestimation, the report finds that the benefits are still similar in magnitude to the benefits of the Chicago Child Parent Centers.
Two new reports focus on food insecurity among families with children. In particular, one report examines the current state of food insecurity among families with infants and toddlers while the other identifies actions key to eliminating childhood hunger. The two reports are:
- Food Insecurity Rises Deeply with Recession: Released by Children's HealthWatch, this brief looks into the impacts of the recession on food insecurity among low-income families in a five-city sample from 2007-2008. Among a set of over 15,000 low-income families with children, birth to age three, food insecurity increased from 18.5 percent to 22.6 percent. This is the largest year-to-year increase since 2001. The brief highlights the harmful effects that food insecurity has on children's growth and development, such as increased probability of poor health and risk of developmental delays.
- Ending Childhood Hunger by 2015: The Essential Strategies for Achieving the President's Goal: Released by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), this report outlines seven critical strategies for ensuring that all children have access to adequate, healthy foods by 2015. Under each strategy, the report provides specific steps for supporting low-income, working families, such as expanding the Child and Adult Care Food Program and meeting the Institute of Medicine's complete recommendations on providing nutritional foods in the WIC Program. The seven overarching strategies in the report are:
- Restore economic growth, and create jobs with better wages for lower-income workers.
- Raise the incomes of the lowest-income families.
- Strengthen the SNAP/Food Stamp Program.
- Strengthen the Child Nutrition Programs.
- Engage the entire federal government in ending childhood hunger.
- Work with states, localities and nonprofits to expand and improve participation in federal nutrition programs.
- Make sure all families have convenient access to reasonably priced, healthy food.
A new paper, Evidence-Based Programming in the Context of Practice and Policy, by the Society for Research in Child Development offers guidance on using research evidence to inform program and policy decision-making. The paper explores the roles and limitations of research evidence and the ability to duplicate successful programs and policies. In addition, the paper looks at the research process itself and examines various ways that the process and tools used can be improved to better serve the needs of communities, practitioners, and policymakers. The paper addresses the following topics:
- Conditions for replicating successful programs
- Criteria for deciding a program is "evidence-based"
- Alternative approaches to identifying effective program features and sharing information and evidence with others
- Improving community capacity to establish evidence-based practices
- Improving the capacities of the research process to better serve communities
The paper presents a set of implications for researchers as well as practitioners and policymakers on creating and implementing evidence-based programs and policies. For researchers, the paper identifies various critical issues, such as studying the procedural processes that lead to outcomes instead of only the outcomes; assessing the feasibility of program replication and bringing programs to scale; and collaborating with policymakers and practitioners to put evidence into practice. For policymakers and practitioners, the paper emphasizes the importance of forming multidisciplinary groups that can conduct needs assessments; examine evidence of promising practices; and develop funding guidelines that set common principles for programs and policies while accommodating local differences.
Pre-K Now released a new report, Beyond the School Yard: Pre-K Collaborations with Community-Based Partners, which looks at ways to expand access to prekindergarten programs through community-based partnerships. The report highlights the benefits and challenges of establishing prekindergarten partnerships with community-based providers, such as Head Start, child care centers, and faith-based organizations. Community-based collaborations create an opportunity for states to reach and support the early learning needs of families with children not served in school-based settings. The report outlines the basic components of community-based, prekindergarten partnerships and profiles six states (Maine, New Jersey, Tennessee, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Oklahoma) that have such arrangements. From the six states' experiences, some of the benefits of community-based partnerships include the ability to share resources and expertise, extend half-day services to full-day programs, and provide linkages to comprehensive services. Some of the observed challenges include establishing consistency between community-based and school-based programs and navigating the rules and regulations of varying funding streams. The report offers five recommendations for addressing these challenges as well as policy recommendations for states and the federal government to support community-based prekindergarten collaborations.