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Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

Looking for insights on how to improve K-12 education? Consider the lessons offered by the early childhood education field, Joan Wasser Gish advises in a recently published Education Week commentary called “Four Lessons from Early Education.”

Wasser Gish is a member of the Board of the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care as well as the principal at Policy Progress, a public-policy consulting firm based in Newton, Mass. And from 2005 to 2006, she was Strategies for Children’s director of policy and research.

There are “four lessons that elementary and secondary education could draw from the early-childhood sector as leaders seek to build P-16 systems and re-imagine schools capable of helping all children attain the skills they need to succeed in the 21st-century economy and society,” Wasser Gish writes. These lessons are:

 1. Expand the mission by engaging families.

“In high-quality early-childhood-education settings, the mission is to serve children and their families. This mission takes different forms in each community, but the federal Head Start program, which serves low-income, at-risk children across the nation, is illustrative: Head Start emphasizes developing relationships with families to support parents as their child’s first teacher and promote positive parent-child interactions.” (more…)

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14359821987_be01fd4731_mYesterday, The Annie E. Casey Foundation released the 25th edition of its KIDS COUNT Data Book, a statistical look at children’s well-being.

The report shows that, “Children have a greater opportunity to thrive and succeed in Massachusetts than in any other state,” according to the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center (MassBudget), the home of KIDS COUNT here in the commonwealth.

This is exciting news for Massachusetts, but it comes with an important caveat: There is still much more work to do.

The Massachusetts KIDS COUNT data profile reports that 15 percent of the state’s children lived in poverty in 2012. And despite being first in the nation in education and fourth grade reading, 53 percent of this state’s fourth graders cannot read proficiently. Thirty percent of children have parents who don’t have secure jobs. And while an impressive 99 percent of Massachusetts’s children have health insurance, it’s also true that this state’s children are as likely to abuse drugs and alcohol as children across the country.

MassBudget released the new data yesterday at an event hosted by Nurtury (formerly Associated Early Care and Education) in its brand new Learning Lab in Jamaica Plain where Governor Deval Patrick spoke, along with state legislators, local leaders, and Chris Martes, Strategies for Children’s new president and CEO. (more…)

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Photo: Micaela Bedell For Strategies for Children

Photo: Micaela Bedell For Strategies for Children

Early childhood is getting new attention from the 4th Annual Healthy People/Healthy Economy Report Card.

“The annual report card examines progress in 12 issue areas that can be linked to improvements in public health,” according to a news release from the Boston Foundation, a member of the Healthy People/Healthy Economy Coalition, which released the report.

“Research continues to show that high quality early childhood care and education not only prepare children for success in school, they create a foundation for good health over the course of a lifetime,” the report says, adding, “Children who receive good care and education in their preschool years gain as much as a full year of development and educational growth compared to children entering school without the benefit of early services.”

“Expanding early childhood education has been a key piece of education discussions this year, but we know its impact isn’t limited to academics,” Paul Grogan, president and CEO of the Boston Foundation, said in the news release. Grogan is also co-chair of the Healthy People/Healthy Economy Coalition. (more…)

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“Reading with young children is a joyful way to build strong and healthy parent-child relationships and stimulate early language development… The benefits are so compelling that encouraging reading at check-ups has become an essential part of care.”

Dr. Pamela High, a pediatrician and professor at Brown University’s Alpert Medical School, “Pediatricians Call For Parents To Read Aloud To Their Children Every Day,” The Huffington Post, June 24, 2014

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Photo: Courtesy of the City of Boston

Photo: Courtesy of the City of Boston

Here’s an exciting birth announcement from The City of Boston, the Boston Housing Authority, and Nurtury (formerly known as Associated Early Care and Education):

It’s a brand new building!

The Nurtury Learning Lab at Bromley-Heath

Serving children ages 0 to 8

20,000 square feet of classroom space

14,000 square feet of outdoor learning and play areas

LEED Gold Certification

Click here for the Facebook Pictures!

The new building had its ribbon cutting ceremony on Monday. And Boston Mayor Marty Walsh helped out with the ceremonial scissors.

“The Nurtury Learning Lab, located at the Boston Housing Authority’s (BHA) Bromley-Heath public housing development in Jamaica Plain, will anchor a campus of services for children and families,” according to a press release. The building “integrates early education, family and community learning opportunities and support, and professional development activities for early educators throughout Boston and eastern Massachusetts.” (more…)

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GOV Forum logoIn a forum at UMass Boston on Saturday, eight of the candidates in the Massachusetts race for governor made news by agreeing that the commonwealth should improve the quality of preschool programs and expand access to them.

This consensus adds to the growing political support for early education and care both here in Massachusetts and nationally. Ten years ago, research on the benefits of high-quality pre-k were not widely understood, nor part of the public discourse. Today, policymakers and candidates understand that these programs are essential first steps in educating children and preparing them to succeed in the state’s high-tech economy.

Sponsored by Strategies for Children and more than two dozen other organizations (see program agenda for full sponsor list), the “Early Childhood and Education: Closing the Achievement and Opportunity Gaps – 2014 Gubernatorial Candidates Forum” gave candidates the opportunity to share their vision for educating the state’s youngest children. It was a chance to hear how the next governor of Massachusetts might reshape the landscape of early education and care. (more…)

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Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

We’ve recently updated our Strategies for Children research and policy briefs, adding new content and updating existing briefs. This “Briefs and Resources” webpage is a one-stop-shopping site for much of the existing research on high-quality early education, culled from decades of published studies by experts in child development, economics, language development, and more. Here’s a sample of the information you can find on pre-K, full-day kindergarten, early educators, and reading proficiency.

 *   *   *   *   *

“Evaluations of State-Funded Pre-K Programs:” is a new brief that looks at the impact of several currently operating, state-funded pre-K programs.

“As the number of children served through state-based pre-K programming has increased, so has the evidence base of program effectiveness,” this brief explains. A growing collection of studies support “the overall conclusion that effective pre-K programming can improve academic and social-emotional outcomes for students in both the short and long term.”

*   *   *   *   *

(more…)

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Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children

Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children

Can high-quality preschool programs make children healthier when they grow up? A new study suggests that they can.

“A new analysis of the Abecedarian preschool program, one of the oldest and most cited U.S. early childhood intervention programs, shows positive effects on adult health. Using recently collected data in a biomedical sweep, this research finds that children who were in the treatment group have significantly better health in their mid-30s,” according to a research summary on the Heckman Equation website.

The research was a joint project of Nobel Prize-winning, Economics Professor James J. Heckman and his colleagues at the University of Chicago along with researchers at the University College London and at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina (FPG). Their findings were published last month in Science.

The new study looked at children who attended North Carolina’s Abecedarian preschool program in the 1970s, and found lower rates of pre-hypertension for adults in their mid-30s, as well as lower risk of total coronary heart disease. In men, there were lower combinations of obesity and hypertension.

As the New York Times explains, researchers had already looked at cognitive and academic outcomes such as “whether the treated children would, for example, be less likely to fail in school. The answer was yes. Over all, the participants’ abilities as infants were about the same, but by age 3 they had diverged. By age 30, those in the group given special care were four times as likely to have graduated from college.” (more…)

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Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children

Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children

Data can help policymakers make better decisions. And while state governments do collect some early care and education data, a recent report — the “2013 State of States’ Early Childhood Data Systems” — calls on them to do a better job of gathering more comprehensive data and using these findings to make better-informed policy decisions.

According to the Early Childhood Data Collaborative, which released the report, states’ efforts to collect early childhood data are “uncoordinated, often incomplete,” and therefore unable to “effectively support continuous improvement efforts.” This finding is based on a survey of 50 states and the District of Columbia. The survey was completed by “state education, health and social services program staff,” according to a press release.

“Are young children (birth to age five) on track to succeed when they enter school?” the report asks. “How many children have access to high-quality early care and education (ECE) programs? Is the early childhood workforce adequately trained to meet the needs of young children? Most states cannot answer these basic questions because data on young children are housed in multiple, uncoordinated systems, managed by different state and federal agencies.”

(more…)

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Photo: Caroline Silber for Strategies for Children

Photo: Caroline Silber for Strategies for Children

The drumbeat is getting louder: public investments should focus on birth to eight – those crucial years when children undergo emotional, social, academic and neurological development that can prepare them for lifelong success.

Last month, the Annie E. Casey Foundation weighed in on the birth to eight landscape in a KIDS COUNT policy paper, “The First Eight Years: Giving Kids a Foundation for Lifetime Success.”

“Behind a toddler’s soft features and halting first steps, an unseen, but extremely high-stakes, activity is taking place – the building of a brain,” the policy paper says. “What happens to children during those crucial first years will determine whether their maturing brain has a sturdy foundation or a fragile one.”

Ideally, these early years of brain development should be promoted through public policies and investments. But as Casey’s policy paper says, in these early years when children’s brains race ahead, federal funding lags behind. Federal spending is at its lowest when children are young; and since 2010, this spending has dropped and could fall to Depression-era levels.

The sad result is that too many young children don’t get the support they need. According to Casey’s paper, “by age 8, most children in the United States are not on track in cognitive knowledge and skills, and many lag in the areas of social and emotional growth, physical well-being and engagement in school.”

Only 36 percent of the nation’s third graders’ score are at or above average on math, reading and science assessments, according to a newly released analysis of the Early Childhood Longitudinal study. And only 56 percent maintain a healthy weight and are in excellent or very good health.

High quality early education and care programs can “contribute to the healthy development of young children, especially those who are in low-income families,” the policy paper says. “However, 63 percent of low-income 3- and 4-year-olds were not attending a preschool program, compared with 45 percent of their more affluent counterparts.” Rates vary “from a high of 78 percent of low-income children not attending preschool in Nevada, to a low of 45 percent in New Jersey,” where a court order has created more access.

Assessment scores, health status and preschool attendance tend to be worse for children from low-income families – and some 48 percent of the nation’s 17 million children are considered low income. The chances of living in poverty are highest in Mississippi and lowest in Massachusetts.

The Early Childhood Longitudinal analysis shows that “just 19 percent of third-graders in families with income below 200 percent of the poverty level and 50 percent of those in families with incomes above that level had developed age-appropriate cognitive skills,” according to a Casey Foundation press release, which adds, “This picture is particularly troubling for children of color, with 14 percent of black children and 19 percent of Hispanic children on track in cognitive development. Children who don’t meet these key developmental milestones often struggle to catch up in school and graduate on time and are less likely to achieve the kind of economic success and stability necessary to support a family themselves.”

“Fortunately, children who do not receive the stimulation and care they need for healthy growth and development can catch up if they receive appropriate interventions,” the policy paper explains.

What can be done? Casey makes three recommendations:

1. “Support parents as they care for their children.” Good examples of supportive efforts include home visiting programs and screenings for maternal depression as well as improved access to food stamps and employment programs.

2. “Improve access to quality early care and education, health care and other services.” States that haven’t already done so should adopt early learning standards, use Quality Rating and Improvement systems, and help parents make informed choices about early education and care programs. States should also provide voluntary, full-day pre-K.

3. “Develop comprehensive, integrated programs and data systems to address all aspects of children’s development and support their transition to elementary school and related programs for school-age children.” Children and families need “better integration and transitions among early education, K–12, health care and family support systems.”

Inspired by the Casey report, MassBudget (the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, home to the Massachusetts KIDS COUNT project) released a brief on the importance of mental health screenings for mothers and children that praises Massachusetts for its leadership in this area.

As local, state and federal policy makers press forward, Casey’s policy paper advises them to “look to the decades of evidence on best practices in early childhood fields as they advance their legislative efforts.”

It is evidence that can be used to “make the case for a comprehensive and integrated birth through age 8 system that ensures all children have a real chance to succeed and contribute to a stronger nation.”

The time to act is now.

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