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U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Photo: Courtesy of the U.S. Department of Education

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Photo: Courtesy of the U.S. Department of Education

Last week, federal officials announced that applications are available for a new $250 million Preschool Development Grants competition, funding that will help states start new high-quality preschool programs or expand existing ones.

Jointly administered by the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services, the program is meant to help close the opportunity gap for the nation’s youngest children.

“Preschool Development Grants are not intended to simply add more seats to just any existing state-level program; there is a strong focus on program quality,” Ed Central, a New America Foundation blog, explains.

And as U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a Department of Education press release, “This new grant competition will prepare states to participate in President Obama’s proposed Preschool for All program — a federal-state partnership that would promote access to full-day kindergarten and encourage the expansion of high-quality preschool programs for 4-year-olds from low- and middle-income families.” (more…)

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Photo: Alyssa Haywoode for Strategies for Children

Photo: Alyssa Haywoode for Strategies for Children

Last week, NPR Ed — which explores how learning happens — ran a series called Playing to Learn, a multimedia look at “why people play and how play relates to learning.” It’s a delightful summertime look at how play engages and educates children — and adults.

Here’s a sample of the Playing to Learn reports.

Where the Wild Things Play

“Free and unstructured play: It’s vital for children,” NPR host Melissa Block says in the introduction to this report. “Research shows a connection between play and kids’ social, emotional, and cognitive development. But playtime in America’s cities is in decline.”

Fortunately, NPR reporter Eric Westervelt finds a stronghold of play at an adventure playground in Berkeley. It’s a “free-range, public playground” where “kids have to talk to each other, problem solve — and they get messy together.”

But as this report explains, “play is in trouble.” Recess has been trimmed. And play is increasingly more structured and controlled. (more…)

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Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children

Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children

Michigan and New York City have recently undertaken the exciting but daunting work of expanding their pre-K programs. These two early education expansion efforts are among the largest and most ambitious in the country.

How are they doing? To find out, the National Women’s Law Center hosted a conference call to discuss what’s underway in both places. The call covered a wide range of topics that provide important insight for other cities and states seeking to expand high-quality early education and care.

Moderated by Helen Blank, NWLC’s director of child care and early learning, the discussion featured the following speakers:

- Susan Broman, Deputy Superintendent for the Office of Great Start, Michigan Department of Education

- Betty Holcomb, Director of Public Policy, Center for Children’s Initiatives, New York City

- Nancy Kolben, Executive Director, Center for Children’s Initiatives, New York City, and

- Richard Lower, Supervisor for Preschool and Early Elementary Programs, Michigan Department of Education

A transcript of the call and a recording are available online. (more…)

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Photo: Courtesy of the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences, University of Washington

Photo: Courtesy of the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences, University of Washington

Babies who babble are actually rehearsing, according to a new study. As early as seven months, those vocalizing babies are practicing the movements they will need to start forming words, Patricia Kuhl explained recently in an interview on NPR.

Kuhl is the co-direcor of the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences.

To do this research, Kuhl and her research team used a magnetoencephalography, a brain scanner also called MEG. Babies sat in the brain scanner, which “resembles an egg-shaped vintage hair dryer and is completely safe for infants,” according to a University of Washington news release, which adds, “The Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences was the first in the world to use such a tool to study babies while they engaged in a task.” (more…)

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Photo: Alyssa Haywoode for Strategies for Children

Photo: Alyssa Haywoode for Strategies for Children

A recent article in the Washington Post calls for strengthening the economy by investing in workforce development — starting with high-quality early childhood education programs. Written by Jeffrey Lacker, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, the piece builds on the Fed’s history of support for early childhood programs.

In the article — “Investing in people as an economic growth strategy”— Lacker focuses in part on the current and historically high long-term unemployment rate.

“Given the limitations of monetary policy, what can be done to improve labor market outcomes in the long run?” He asks.

“At the Richmond Fed, our research suggests that much of what we’re currently seeing in the labor market reflects structural trends rather than a primarily cyclical change in labor market behavior. That has prompted us to think about long-term strategies to prepare workers for the labor market.” (more…)

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“We can now make the audacious claim that Detroit is poised to become a city regarded as home to a model of early childhood education excellence.

“We can’t blame anyone for being skeptical. Headlines claim early intervention programs don’t produce lasting effects, and that nothing has changed in Detroit.

“But a new spirit of cooperation is emerging. People working together across sectors, organizations and neighborhoods is becoming the new business as usual. Replacing what was unsustainable and ineffective are new collaborative models that are breaking the cycle of poverty and ensuring children receive necessary support to achieve success. A pooling of resources from federal, state and local initiatives will help establish Detroit as a model of early intervention success.”

“Detroit Can Model Early Childhood Success,” a guest column in the Detroit Free Press about the Birth-to-Five pilot for Head Start and Early Head Start services, written by Robert Shaw, CEO of Development Centers; William Jones, CEO of Focus: HOPE; John Van Camp, CEO of Southwest Solutions; and Ann Kalass, CEO of Starfish Family Services, July 29, 2014

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Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

Parents know that early education and child care are expensive. But for a refresher on just how expensive, the Boston Globe recently featured a 50-state map of child care costs across the nation. As the Globe explains, Massachusetts is among the least affordable states with an annual cost of $12,176 for 4-year-olds and $16,430 for infants. Compared to “the state median income for married couples, Massachusetts is the fourth least-affordable state for center-based infant care in the country.”

A recent report from Child Care Aware of America, the data source for the Globe’s map, explains just how high these costs are across the country.

“The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services considers 10 percent of family income for child care as a benchmark for affordable care,” according to Child Care Aware’s “Parents and the High Cost of Child Care 2013 Report.” (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 education is in the spotlight like never before… yet real progress is elusive,” according to a report being released today by the New America Foundation called: “Beyond Subprime Learning: Accelerating Progress in Early Education.”

“President Barack Obama has repeatedly called for increased investments in child care, pre-K, home visiting, and other programs,” the report says. “Thirty-five states entered the federal Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge grants competition, which has so far invested about $1 billion in 20 states’ infrastructure. A long-overdue reauthorization bill for the Child Care and Development Block Grant overwhelmingly passed the Senate this year, with potential in the House.”

In addition, the report notes that philanthropies, governors, and state legislatures increasingly recognize the importance of investing in children.

Nonetheless, the report says, achievement gaps have widened. There aren’t enough seamless transitions from pre-K to grade school. Too many low income children aren’t getting the support they need. And Congress isn’t providing stable funding. (more…)

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“By giving more of our kids access to high-quality preschool and other early learning programs — and by helping parents get the tools they need to help their kids succeed — we can give those kids a better shot at the career they are capable of and the life that will make us all better off.

“This is one of my top priorities and I want to thank the growing coalition of researchers, nonprofits, and foundations who have made it one of theirs.”

President Barack Obama in a Too Small to Fail video posted on June 25, 2014

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