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President Obama raising the profile of a young learner. Photo: The White House

President Obama raising the profile of a young learner. Photo: The White House

Last month, President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) into law, ushering in a new legislative era that includes a focus on early education.

As the Los Angeles Times explains:

“With the stroke of a pen, the No Child Left Behind Act became history on Thursday.

President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act, a bipartisan replacement to the universally unpopular, nearly 15-year-old education law.”

According to the New York Times, ESSA is a bipartisan approach that “preserves federally mandated standardized testing but eliminates the punitive consequences for states and districts that perform poorly.”

The Times adds a quote from the president:

“‘This bill makes long-overdue fixes to the last education law, replacing the one-size-fits-all approach to reform with a commitment to provide every student with a well-rounded education,’ Mr. Obama said at a White House signing ceremony for the law. ‘With this bill, we reaffirm that fundamental American ideal that every child — regardless of race, income, background, the ZIP code where they live — deserves the chance to make out of their lives what they will.’”

(more…)

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Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

A recent blog post from NIEER (the National Institute for Early Education Research) takes an inspiring and wide reaching look at the past year.

“Looking back over 2015, it’s been a year packed with action around early childhood education at NIEER, in the states, and across the country,” NIEER’s Preschool Matters blog says.

The blog points first to a U.S. News and World Report opinion piece that provides a summary of the year, noting:

“The needs of our nation’s littlest learners have garnered increasing attention in 2015. Although early learning still takes a back seat to K-12 education and higher education in national policy debates, state and national politicians are incorporating calls for early childhood investments into their stump speeches, philanthropic funders are targeting resources to early learning and, according to a new First Five Years Fund poll, average Americans increasingly recognize the importance of early learning for children’s long-term success.”

(more…)

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Last week at the State House, proposed legislation that would expand and improve early education and care received ringing endorsements from a diverse chorus of supporters during a hearing held by the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Education.

A standing-room-only audience filled Hearing Room B-1 for more than four hours to support a range of early education bills. Parents and early educators as well as policymakers and advocates explained how high-quality programs taught by well compensated teachers would benefit both children and the state at large.

Secretary of Education Jim Peyser testified first, setting the political scene.

“The overarching education objectives of the Baker-Polito administration are to close the achievement gap and strengthen the global competitiveness of Massachusetts’ workforce and economy,” Peyser said.

“In the context of a single gubernatorial term of office, or even two, there is a temptation to focus narrowly on those parts of the public education system where the weaknesses are most pronounced and the ‘return on investment’ is easiest to measure. This short-term bias often inclines policymakers towards a disproportionate interest in reform and improvement within the K-12 system and higher education. (more…)

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Photo: Alyssa Haywoode for Strategies for Children

Photo: Alyssa Haywoode for Strategies for Children

Fall is coming and it’s going to be a busy season for early education and care advocates. There’ll be hearings on important legislation and the crucial work of drafting the budget for fiscal year 2017.

To make the advocacy case, try this useful tool: the 2013 policy brief “Investing in Our Future: The Evidence Base on Preschool Education.”

As we blogged earlier this week, the brief is a “review of the current science and evidence base on early childhood education.” Yesterday, we looked at the impact on children’s academic skills and on their socio-emotional development.

In today’s blog, we’ll look at what the brief says about early education’s quality, its long-term outcomes, and its effect on diverse subgroups.

 

Quality Matters

“Children show larger gains in higher-quality preschool programs,” the brief says, summing up the research. “Higher-quality preschool programs have larger impacts on children’s development while children are enrolled in the program and are more likely to create gains that are sustained after the child leaves preschool.”

“The most important aspects of quality in preschool education are stimulating and supportive interactions between teachers and children and effective use of curricula.” (more…)

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Photo: Alyssa Haywoode for Strategies for Children

Photo: Alyssa Haywoode for Strategies for Children

Get ready for the fall. It’s going to be a busy public policy season for early education and care. It’s also going to be a great time for advocates to remind policymakers that the evidence for high-quality early education is strong and growing.

Among the highlights of the coming months, five Massachusetts communities will be expanding pre-K enrollment with the help of a federal Preschool Expansion Grant.

In addition, the Massachusetts Legislature’s Joint Committee on Education will hold a hearing for all bills related to early education and care on Wednesday, September 16, 2015.

Several Pre-K bills will be presented, including one filed by Representative Alice Peisch (D-Wellesley) and Senator Sal DiDomenico (D-Everett) called “An Act Ensuring High Quality Pre-Kindergarten Education.”

As we’ve blogged, “The bill calls on Massachusetts to follow New Jersey by providing ‘access to high-quality pre-kindergarten programs for 3-and 4-year-olds living in underperforming school districts.’”

To help make the case for increased investments in early learning, it’s always helpful to draw on existing research. A terrific summary of recent research can be found in the 2013 policy brief, “Investing in Our Future: The Evidence Base on Preschool Education.” The brief was published by the Society for Research in Child Development and the Foundation for Child Development. (more…)

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Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

Federal officials have come up with promising, new plans for improving Head Start — including longer program days and years — but this growth can only happen if Congress provides the necessary funding.

Back in 2007, Congress asked the Office of Head Start to update its performance standards.

The result is a newly released proposal, the “Head Start Performance Standards,” from the Administration for Children and Families, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

“This is the first comprehensive overhaul of the standards since they were first published in 1975,” according to EdCentral, a New America Foundation blog. “Both the early education landscape and our knowledge of the science of early learning have changed dramatically in the last 40 years, and understandably, many of the performance standards were in need of an update.”

EdCentral adds: “These new standards give Head Start a much-needed makeover without changing the core purpose and function of the program. The proposed standards are up for public comment until August 18, 2015.” (more…)

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Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

Understanding the importance of the birth-to-third-grade continuum, school districts are leading efforts to strengthen programming and create better alignment between preschool and grade school programs.

One example is California where some school districts are reaching beyond their K-12 responsibilities to “to meet the needs of the youngest low-income children who live within their district boundaries – infants and toddlers,” according to an Edsource article.

These efforts are happening against a backdrop of state support. Last month, Governor Jerry Brown signed a fiscal year 2016 budget that “includes over $300 million in increased investments and important policy developments for early care and education,” according to the nonprofit advocacy organization Early Edge California.

But there’s still a lot of work for to be done, and not enough funding to do it.  (more…)

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