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Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

A new report, “Building a Foundation for Success,” looks at the unmet preschool needs of children in the commonwealth — and proposes three ways that Massachusetts might expand its preschool programs to create more access.

Released by the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center (MassBudget), a nonprofit research organization, the report examines the number of preschool-age children in Massachusetts and the public funding streams that support their enrollment. The report costs out “a range of options for expanding and improving early education and care for these 3- and 4-year-olds in Massachusetts.” The options proposed range in cost from $153 million to $606 million in increased annual state funding on top of what is currently being spent. This increased state funding would be bolstered by non-state sources such as sliding scale parent fees or local education funding, depending on the model used.

“Right now we have a very fragmented system and that leaves many kids without access to any early education at all,” Noah Berger, MassBudget’s president, told the Boston Globe. However, Berger added that there was a growing consensus that a wide expansion of early education options was good for children and for the economy.

Carolyn Lyons, Strategies for Children president and CEO, is encouraged by the report. “This new report by MassBudget builds upon ongoing state and local policy conversations across the commonwealth on how to pay for and structure high-quality universal pre-k. Research shows that high-quality early education has (more…)

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Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

What elements of high-quality pre-K programs help children achieve lasting academic success? The Robin Hood Foundation — along with two family foundations, the Heising-Simons Foundation and the Overdeck Family Foundation — has financed a study to find out. The effort is part of the Robin Hood Foundation’s “poverty-fighting mission.”

Robin Hood’s research should yield new insights about how specific aspects of program quality contribute most to children’s positive outcomes.

Michael Weinstein, the chief program officer at Robin Hood, and a former New York Times journalist, told the Times, “He was interested in the promise of early childhood education to fight poverty, but unsatisfied by the existing research, which did not provide clear guidance as to which programs were the most cost effective.”

“We pride ourselves, correctly or not, in having an evidentiary basis for making the grants we do,” Weinstein told the Times. He described Robin Hood’s approach as “one of ‘relentless benefit-cost calculations.’”

“The study involving the children in Brooklyn, who attend Public School 221 in Crown Heights, will gauge whether a certain math curriculum can create lasting improvement in students’ math and language skills, as well as their likelihood to (more…)

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Photo: Caroline Silber for Strategies for Children

Photo: Caroline Silber for Strategies for Children

“When Luke gets angry, he tries to remember to look at his bracelet. It reminds him of what he can do to calm himself: stop, take a deep breath, count to four, give yourself a hug and, if necessary, ask an adult for help,” David Bornstein wrote in the recent New York Times blog “Teaching Children to Calm Themselves.”

Only 5 years old, “Luke’s difficulties stem from his earliest experiences. Before and after his birth, his parents regularly used drugs. His mother was unable to attend to him and his father was sent to prison shortly after his first birthday.”

What has helped “Luke” (Bornstein agreed not to use his real name) is a program called Head Start-Trauma Smart “that currently serves some 3,300 children annually in 26 counties in Kansas and Missouri.” The program was developed by the Crittenton Children’s Center, in Kansas City, Mo., which provides psychiatric services to children, adolescents and their families.

(more…)

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Photo: Caroline Silber for Strategies for Children

Photo: Caroline Silber for Strategies for Children

“Young children are not ready for mathematic education.” That’s the first of nine misconceptions described in an article published in the Australian Journal of Early Childhood.

“In the turn of the 21st century, the early childhood education field in the United States has begun to take a big step forward in promoting early childhood mathematics education,” write authors Joon Sun Lee, a Hunter College education professor, and Herbert P. Ginsburg, a professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College.

They hope to add to this momentum by dismantling myths about young children and math.

The other eight misconceptions are:

• Mathematics is for some bright kids who have “mathematics genes.”

• Teaching simple numbers and shapes is enough.

• Language and literacy are more important than mathematics.

• Teachers should provide an enriched physical environment, then step back and let children play.

• Math should not be taught as a stand-alone subject.

• Math assessments are irrelevant when it comes to young children.

• Children learn mathematics only by interacting with concrete objects, and

• Computers are inappropriate tools for math instruction.

(more…)

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Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

Last week, in a bipartisan vote of 96-2, the United States Senate passed the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) Act of 2014. This vital bill calls for reauthorizing the block grant that provides child care subsidies for low-income parents so that they can work or participate in education or training programs.

According to the National Women’s Law Center, the newly reauthorized CCDBG would:

• Improve the health and safety of children in child care settings

• Make it easier for families to get and keep the child care assistance they need

• Enable children to have more stable care, and

• Strengthen the quality of child care

The block grant first become law in 1990, but hasn’t been reauthorized since 1996. Before this new version of CCDBG can become law, it must be passed by the House.

“I introduced this legislation to ensure that child care across America is available, affordable, reliable, safe, and exceptional,” Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) said in a press release. “Child care is something all families worry about regardless of their zip code or the size of their wallet. We all say that children are one of our most important resources — which means that child care is one of our most important decisions.” (more…)

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hubKara Miller, host of the WGBH radio’s Innovation Hub, recently did two interviews that show how science, public policy, and personal history can intersect.

In one segment called “The New Science Behind Early Education.” Miller interviewed Dr. Jack Shonkoff who discussed the impact of “toxic stress” on children’s brain development.

In another segment called “Governor Deval Patrick: When Science Inspires Policy,” Miller talks to Massachusetts’s governor about his legislative approach to early childhood – and about his own childhood experiences.

“Dr. Shonkoff’s research is just my life experience,” Patrick told Miller.

The Science

“What’s really amazing about this biological revolution that we’re living through right now is it’s giving us much greater insight into what’s happening inside the body when we’re severely stressed,” according to Shonkoff, the director of Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child.

While the purpose of stress is to help people deal with threats, Shonkoff said, “it wasn’t meant to be activated all the time.”

High levels of chronic stress are particularly harmful to children. It can disrupt the development of their brain architecture and trigger diabetes and heart disease in later life. (more…)

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Photo: Micaela Bedell for Strategies for Children

Photo: Micaela Bedell for Strategies for Children

Last month, six states heard great news from the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Vermont learned that they would receive a combined $281 million in grant awards from the 2013 Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC) fund “to improve access to high-quality early learning and development programs throughout their states,” according to a press release.

“By investing in high-quality early learning through programs like Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge, we are able to close achievement gaps, provide life-transforming opportunities for children, and strengthen and build a thriving middle class,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in the press release.

Duncan thanked “governors, state officials, and education advocates” for their leadership, adding, “This investment is a down payment to support and implement high-quality early learning programs across the country. There is still a lot more work for us to do.”

“This administration is committed to ensuring all children have a chance to succeed,” Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, said in the press release. “An investment in our children is an investment in our nation’s future.” (more…)

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Photo: Micaela Bedell for Strategies for Children

Photo: Micaela Bedell for Strategies for Children

Babies need love, diapers, caring adults, and sound public policies that carry them from their first day of life to age eight.

So it’s welcome news that the Institute of Medicine (IOM)– the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences — is conducting a study called “The Science of Children Birth to Age 8: Deepening and Broadening the Foundation for Success.”

The research will look at how the science of children’s development, health and learning can be used to better train child care providers and educators, so that they can create a seamless birth-to-eight pipeline.

This will be a “consensus study,” which is the “result of an IOM consensus committee’s deliberations in regard to a specific request from the study’s sponsor. After discussing the issue of concern, the committee addresses those issues in a consensus report.”

The researchers will consider “instructional practices, preparation and professional development, and family engagement across diverse contexts (e.g., rural/urban) and populations (e.g., special education, immigrant, dual language learners, sub-threshold children),” according to the study’s website. (more…)

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Photo: Michele McDonald for Strategies for Children

Photo: Michele McDonald for Strategies for Children

The new budget season will begin in January when Governor Patrick presents his state budget recommendations for fiscal year 2015.

So this month, the Board of the Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) met to approve its FY15 aspirational budget. FY15 starts on July 1, 2014.

Last Year’s EEC Budget

Last year’s FY14 EEC budget was $509 million. It included:

- $15 million to reduce the wait list for early education and care for children from income-eligible families. The FY 14 budget also had

- $11.5 million for a rate reserve to support early educators’ salaries and benefits

- level funding for universal pre-K, full-day kindergarten and the early childhood educator scholarships

- funding for a special commission to study the cost of administering early education and care services

- funding for a two-year independent study of the state’s provision of child care supports

FY15 Budget Proposal

This year the EEC Board is asking for an increase of $93.7 million. This increased investment is a wise step that would expand children’s access to early education (more…)

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tom

Commissioner Tom Weber
Photo: Strategies for Children

In 2011, Massachusetts was awarded a four-year $50 million federal Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge grant. On October 23, the early education and care community gathered at the Federal Reserve Bank in Boston to reflect on the state’s progress and on its goals for the future.

According to EEC Commissioner Tom Weber, the Early Learning Challenge grant sped up the momentum in Massachusetts for enhancing and building early education and care programs. Now, Weber says, the state has to prepare for the future, ensuring that current efforts are sustainable and that best practices are institutionalized.

“Typically I have a very hard time describing what I do to my three-year-old and five-year-old,” Weber told the audience at the Race to the Top — Early Learning Challenge Leadership Summit held at the Federal Reserve Bank in Boston. But on that morning, he was able to tell his children, “I’m going to go to work with Peep and Curious George.” (more…)

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