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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: 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: 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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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: Alyssa Haywoode for Strategies for Children

Photo: Alyssa Haywoode for Strategies for Children

“I’d like to welcome our commissioner who has come… We are thrilled to see so many of our Wheelock alums… Mayor Clare Higgins is back by popular demand!” said Wheelock College President Jackie Jenkins-Scott as she welcomed all the participants who came to her school for the “Ninth Annual Community Dialogue on Early Education and Care: Our Children’s Future — Time for a New Plan.”

Higgins, the former mayor of Northampton, attended last year’s dialogue; and this year she was joined by advocates, educators, and policy analysts who spoke to an audience of 200 about how best to bring high-quality early education and care to more of Massachusetts’ children.

The goal for the day was reinforced throughout the three-hour event: Unite; develop an agenda; and tell a compelling story that will inspire policymakers — especially the next governor of Massachusetts — to commit to a grand plan for improving the commonwealth’s early education and care system. (more…)

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Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

NIEER (the National Institute for Early Education Research) has just released its 2013 State of Preschool Yearbook. The news is mixed for state-funded preschool programs in the 2012-13 school year.

The yearbook points to the many challenges the country faces in expanding access to high-quality early education; but there are also promising glimmers of hope that the nation could build upon.

“Our nation has emerged from the recession, but preschool-age children are being left to suffer its effects,” Steve Barnett, NIEER’s director, said in a press release. “A year ago, our data showed a half-billion-dollar cut in funding for state pre-K and stalled enrollment. For 2012-2013, we find that enrollment is down and funding per child, while up slightly, remains stalled at near-historic lows.”

“The loss of 9,160 children from enrollment at age 4 and 42 children at age 3 are modest changes, but this is the first decrease we have observed,” the yearbook says. “At the same time, this represents a reversal—or at least a pause—of the trend toward spreading too little funding over ever more children, which led to expanded access while jeopardizing program quality.”

Twitter users can join the conversation @PreschoolToday #YB2013 (more…)

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Photo: Micaela Bedell for Strategies for Children

Photo: Micaela Bedell for Strategies for Children

Last month, Boston EQUIP — the Early Education Quality Improvement Project— released two reports on the quality of early childhood programs in Boston:

- Community Profiles 2013, a comprehensive online survey of early education providers in Boston, and

- the Boston Quality Inventory (BQI) 2013, an in-depth study of program quality conducted at a sample of home-based and center-based early education and care programs

 These reports present crucial data that help inform and advance the policy conversation about how to improve program quality. Research shows that early education programs must be high-quality in order to see lasting positive impacts on children’s development.

Launched in 1994, Boston EQUIP is “a project of Associated Early Care and Education with a broad goal and mission – to collaborate with members of the Boston early education community to systematically evaluate, set goals for, and improve upon the quality of early childhood programs,” according to a press release. The project is aligned with Boston’s Thrive in 5 School Readiness Roadmap, which “sets goals and strategies for strengthening, coordinating and improving the quality of child and family-serving systems in the city, in order to prepare children to succeed in school.” (more…)

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