Ready Thoughts: October 2010
In this issue, we focus on early childhood. We lead with an introduction from Nina Sazer O’Donnell, Vice President of Education for United Way Worldwide, the signature partner of Ready by 21. Then we review several recent publications on this topic. A few reports focus on bolder strategies to improve early childhood program quality and ensure development across multiple areas. Another set of publications encourages the use of better data by reviewing existing state level data on school readiness and building an integrated data system for early childhood. Finally, we highlight a publication that focuses on building broader partnerships and highlights a strategy for long term family involvement and improving academic success.
Recommended Reading for Leaders Committed to Changing the Way they Do Business
BROADER PARTNERSHIPS | BIGGER GOALS | BETTER DATA | BOLDER STRATEGIES
The Ready by 21 Partnership is committed to ensuring that all young people are ready for college, work and life. Attaining this goal requires coordinated supports from all sectors – education, business, government, nonprofits and the community – as well as from families. These supports not only improve students flow through the education pipeline from pre-K through post-secondary completion, they insulate the pipeline with basic services and broader opportunities for learning and development.
Each issue of READY PICKS focuses on one or more of “the 4 Bs” – the capacities leaders need to strengthen to do business differently and offers our best picks of research, tools and examples selected from the work of Ready by 21 Partners, Ready by 21 places and others committed to big picture change.
In this issue, we focus on early childhood. We lead with an introduction from Nina Sazer O’Donnell, Vice President of Education for United Way Worldwide, the signature partner of Ready by 21. Then we review several recent publications on this topic. A few reports focus on bolder strategies to improve early childhood program quality and ensure development across multiple areas. Another set of publications encourages the use of better data by reviewing existing state level data on school readiness and building an integrated data system for early childhood. Finally, we highlight a publication that focuses on building broader partnerships and highlights a strategy for long term family involvement and improve academic success.
THE FEATURED Bs
Introduction by Nina Sazer O’Donnell, Vice President of Education, United Way Worldwide
We now know more than ever before about the powerful positive lifelong effects of optimal early childhood development. Not only does this period of life set the stage for further physical, social-emotional and intellectual development, but longitudinal research clearly demonstrates the long term educational and economic benefits that result when young children are healthy, well-nourished, curious, and encouraged as learners. And new research summarized by the Harvard Center on the Developing Child demonstrates how lifelong health care costs are affected by both positive and poor early development.
United Way Worldwide has long addressed the need for systems of programs, services and formal and informal supports that promote early learning. It is well known for its national network of nearly 1,000 early childhood community mobilization coalitions, many operating as Success by 6. This work has given lift to child care center accreditation, quality rating and improvement systems, outreach to family, friend and neighbor caregivers, health care access, public awareness, advocacy and many other collective efforts that have advanced school readiness efforts throughout the country. From Born Learning – a partnership with the Ad Council and 700 communities that helps parents and caregivers use everyday moments to encourage early learning to piloting the Early Development Inventory – a system for mapping young children’s strengths and vulnerabilities at kindergarten entrance – the United Way system also understands that positive early development is one of the most important strategies needed to accomplish our headline goal of cutting the dropout rate in half by 2018. As a Ready by 21 partner, UWW brings its early childhood commitment, expertise, experience and passion to the party, along with a commitment to work across the entire age continuum with partners at the national, state and local levels, so that all children can succeed at all stages of their lives.
This month we highlight some recent early childhood resources intended to provide a quick briefing on research and promising systemic work. This information is intended to pique your interest and offers resources that will give you a quick “lay of the land” and point the direction to key organizations and publications that will help you learn more.
The “whole child” approach that is now making its way into elementary and secondary education reform efforts has its roots in early childhood. But how much has the goal of supporting children’s physical, intellectual, and social-emotional development been affirmed in policy? “A Review of School Readiness Practices in the States: Early Learning Guidelines and Assessments,” by Child Trends, reviews state practices that support children’s school readiness from birth to age five. The review highlights positive state policy trends and areas for improvement. All 50 states and the District of Columbia have adopted guidelines for preschool children and almost half have developed guidelines for toddlers. The majority of the states organize their guidelines by developmental areas, including math, literacy, physical, health, and social-emotional development, affirming the acceptance of a broader definition of readiness that cuts across multiple domains. However, only a handful of states provide detailed guidelines for areas other than math and literacy. Getting from goals to guidelines is clearly the next challenge for states. This is an area in which advocates could play a significant role.
The research consensus is that investment in high quality early care and education yields big payoffs, particularly for children from low-income families. In “Why America Needs High-Quality Early Care and Education,” Corporate Voices for Working Families and the Business Roundtable estimated that every $1 spent on quality early childhood programs yields a return on investment of $4 to $17. The key for such high return on investment was high quality early childhood programs, not simply an increase in participation.
United Way Worldwide in its forthcoming brief, “Supporting Success in the Early Years,” lays out four key challenges facing early care and provides evidence-based strategies to address them. [United Way Worldwide has graciously allowed us to circulate the draft and welcomes comments.] The brief opens with the challenge of substantial socioeconomic disparities in school readiness and cognitive skills in children as young as three years old. Participating in high quality early care and education programs reduces these disparities. Children in high quality programs tend to be better prepared for school, while children in poor quality programs may have delayed language and reading skills and display aggressive behaviors. But high quality programs are in short supply.
Even if high quality programs are available, the cost is too prohibitive for low and moderate income families. According to the brief, only 1 in 7 children are eligible for federal child care assistance. Head Start programs only serve half of all eligible children, while state funded prekindergarten programs only serve 24 percent of four year olds. This problem is compounded by the fact that many low and moderate income families use informal care options and are not connected to traditional early care and education services. More than half of infants and toddlers from low-income families are cared for by families or friends. This family, friend, neighbor network of caregivers is isolated in their communities and is not subject to external quality standards nor do these caregivers see themselves as professionals or seek out training for their work. Emerging research is starting to identify strategies to reach and help family, friend and neighbor caregivers.
The strategies recommended in the brief include connecting families and caregivers with key resources, such as the Born Learning Toolbox and reaching out to providers outside of traditional structures and giving them access to resources and training to increase quality standards. The brief also recommends developing Quality Rating Systems (QRS) as a means to improving and assuring quality by assessing, improving and sharing information, and functioning as a report card on the quality of programs. Finally, the brief lays out strategies to develop and strengthen early literacy programs and engage and educate the public and policymakers on ways to support young children.
Children that enter school ready to meet the academic, social, and emotional demands are more likely to have long term success. Children that lag behind in early years are at risk to remain behind academically and engage in risky behaviors as adults. Strategies to increase school readiness, therefore, have to be paired with strategies to measure it. The National Conference of State Legislatures, in its publication “State Approaches to School Readiness” examines how states currently assess school readiness and how state leaders use and report this data.
The findings show that 25 states currently require universal assessment of kindergarten students. An additional four states have universal assessments under development. Of these states, only 13 evaluate readiness in multiple domains. The remaining states only evaluate early literacy and/or math skills. This report only examined universal assessments that measured statewide school readiness. These findings are similar to those reported in “A Review of School Readiness Practices in the States: Early Learning Guidelines and Assessments,” the Child Trendsbrief discussed earlier in this newsletter. Child Trends examined a broader group of assessments, ones that assessed statewide school readiness and assessments that screened or informed instruction for individual children. The analysis identified 27 states that assess pre-kindergarten progress against learning standards, with 15 using a multi-domain assessment. Both reports conclude that very few states, only 7, use readiness assessment data to inform and drive policymaking. Both reports highlight the work of Maryland, which collects statewide data across six developmental areas and publicly reports the data by demographic groups. In fact, the state also prepares a report card for state legislators, which allows it to measure progress against statewide readiness goals.
While it is important to measure progress across multiple domains, it is also important to measure progress across developmental stages. A recent publication by the Data Quality Campaign concludes that an effective early child care and education data system should collect data that are improvement focused and answer critical policy questions. Data systems should also be coordinated so that data are aligned and policymakers have a unified picture. Finally, data should be tracked longitudinally so that a child’s progress can be monitored across programs and over time. This not only benefits children but also policymakers as they identify and act on trends.
Families are an important but often forgotten stakeholder in all community and state level partnerships. When families are involved in learning, both at home and in a pre-k setting, children do better. Research indicates active family engagement increases academic preparedness, achievement, and social and emotional skills. “Engaged Families, Effective Pre-K: State Policies that Bolster Student Success,” by The Pew Center on the States, concludes that early family engagement encourages families to act as advocates for their children and foster a home environment that enhances learning, and creates an ongoing comprehensive pathway for promoting long term family engagement.
The report identifies seven successful family engagement strategies. While some of the strategies were at the policy level, others were strategies that programs can implement. One of the policy level strategies was the appointment of a specialist in the state prekindergarten agency that is responsible for overseeing, supporting and expanding family engagement opportunities. States that have implemented this strategy have found that this type of leadership ensures that family engagement is comprehensive, coordinated and integrated across early childhood agencies and programs. Another strategy is to engage families in Early Childhood Advisory Councils, which ensures that parents have a voice in broader policy discussions. In Minnesota, the state statute requires that the governor appoint at least two parents to the State Advisory Council.
The program level strategies include a requirement for state-funded programs to develop, implement and monitor family engagement plans. For example, Wisconsin offered programs financial incentives in the form of higher reimbursements for programs that met a set amount of parent outreach hours. Kentucky mandated programs to develop opportunities for parents to volunteer in the classroom and receive parent training and education. Other strategies include developing a minimum number of home visits and in-person conferences as well as creating elementary school transition plans, which can support children’s transition while maintaining family engagement.
For other key and recent resources on early childhood, please visit the following organizations: .
- Birth to Five Policy Alliance
- Center for Law and Social Policy
- Families and Work Institute
- Harvard Center for the Developing Child
- National Center for Children in Poverty
- United States Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children & Families
- Zero to Three
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