Archive for the ‘Reading proficiency’ Category

Photo: Alyssa Haywoode for Strategies for Children

Photo: Alyssa Haywoode for Strategies for Children

Last week, more than 100 early educators, K-12 teachers and administrators, nonprofit community leaders, advocates and philanthropists gathered at the Boston Children’s Museum for Strategies for Children’s third Leading the Conversation event: a panel discussion titled “Designing and Implementing Effective Volunteer Efforts Focused on Literacy.”

Planned by Kelly Kulsrud, Strategies’ director of reading proficiency, the panel focused on shifting the paradigm and changing the conversation around creating high-quality volunteer programs that make a measurable difference for children’s literacy development.

Designing effective volunteer programs “is an issue that is gaining momentum here in Boston [and] across the states as well as nationally,” Carolyn Lyons, CEO and president of Strategies for Children (SFC), explained as she welcomed the event audience.

During her own welcoming remarks, Carole Charnow, CEO of the Boston Children’s Museum, said, “We know that it’s this high-quality bond between adults and children that really provides the best possible outcomes for kids.”

This event is part of SFC’s “Leading the Conversation” series, which delves into the recommendations made in “Turning the Page: Refocusing Massachusetts for Reading Success,” a 2010 report commissioned by SFC and written by Nonie Lesaux, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. (more…)

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Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children

Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children

March 3rd was the 17th annual “Read Across America Day,” a project sponsored by the National Education Association that promotes and celebrates reading in communities across the country.

Literacy-themed celebrations like “Read Across America Day” are crucial because they raise awareness, which is an essential aspect of comprehensive campaigns to support children’s language and literacy development in the early years.

As readers of this blog well know, early reading success matters. As Harvard Graduate School of Education professor Nonie Lesaux writes in the report “Turning the Page: Refocusing Massachusetts for Reading Success,” “Reading is the cornerstone of academic success and also central to a child’s overall health”.

President Obama acknowledged the importance of Reading Across America Day with a presidential proclamation that said in part, “Literacy is the foundation of every child’s education. It opens doorways to opportunity, transports us across time and space, and binds family and friends closer together.” (more…)

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Photo: Micaela Bedell for Strategies for Children

Photo: Micaela Bedell for Strategies for Children

On Thursday, 9:30 a.m., March 27, 2014, at the Boston Children’s Museum, Strategies for Children is hosting the third event in its “Leading the Conversation” series on improving children’s literacy skills. It’s a panel discussion on “Designing and Implementing Effective Volunteer Efforts Focused on Literacy.”

Although Massachusetts is a national leader in education, 43% of our third grade students score below proficient in reading. Even more alarming, the commonwealth has a wide achievement gap, and third grade scores have been stagnant for 13 years.

Communities are addressing this crisis in a variety of ways, including engaging volunteers to support children’s early literacy and language development. In fact, in the U.S., volunteers gave 7.9 billion hours of service in 2012, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service. Despite this significant effort, too many of our services are not substantial enough or coordinated enough to result in reading improvements. If recruited, utilized, and managed effectively, however, volunteers can have a real impact on children’s literacy outcomes.

About the Volunteer Event

In a moderated discussion, panelists will highlight and showcase the volunteer research and current best practices for maximizing volunteers’ impact on children’s (more…)

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Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children

Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children

Last month, President Obama launched “My Brother’s Keeper,” a promising, new initiative to help “every boy and young man of color who is willing to do the hard work to get ahead.”

As part of his announcement for the initiative, the president highlighted early learning, touching on research on the early vocabulary gap, kindergarten readiness, and third grade reading proficiency.

For Obama, the initiative is personal. At the event launching the initiative, the president talked about growing up without a father and about his own poor choices, including drug use and taking school less seriously than he could have.

“The only difference is that I grew up in an environment that was a little more forgiving,” the president said. He had the support of his mother and grandparents as well as encouragement from a community that gave him second and third chances. “They never gave up on me. And so I didn’t give up on myself.”

Joining the president is a group of foundations that have united to support the new initiative. The Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Atlantic Philanthropies, Bloomberg Philanthropies, The California Endowment, the Ford Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Kapor Center for Social Impact, the Open Society Foundations, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation — have made a $150 million commitment to “My Brother’s Keeper,” and they will be working over the next three months to design a strategy and infrastructure for these investments. (more…)

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Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

As Strategies for Children (SFC) has worked to promote reading proficiency by the third grade, we’ve developed and collected effective resources, recommendations and tools that educators across the birth-to-third-grade continuum can use to promote children’s reading success.

Although Massachusetts leads the nation on a number of educational indicators, we have much to do to improve outcomes in third grade reading, a key indicator of future success in school. Test results from the 2013 Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) reveal that 43 percent of this state’s third-graders read below grade level. Among children from low-income families, 65 percent lag in reading. Performance in reading has changed little since 2001, when 38 percent of third graders scored below the proficient standard.

The good news is that schools, towns and cities are working hard to support children’s literacy and language development, beginning at birth. Here is a summary of some of the tools that SFC offers to help ensure that children across the commonwealth become proficient and engaged readers.

Leading the Conversation

Start here, at our webpage “Leading the Conversation: Turning the Page for Reading Success,” to find all the links to our reports, recommendations and resources.

This is where you’ll find a link to the SFC-commissioned report “Turning the Page: Refocusing Massachusetts for Reading Success,” by Harvard Graduate School of Education professor Nonie Lesaux. It’s a comprehensive look at literacy challenges in the commonwealth. (more…)

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Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children

Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children

“Awareness of early education issues is as high as it’s ever been,” Laura Bornfreund and Conor Williams write in a recent article in The Atlantic. Everyone is talking about preschool programs, from President Obama and Hillary Clinton to retired military leaders and republican governors.

So, is something amazing about to happen, a sweeping national revolution in early education that ushers in a new era of childhood success?

The article sounds a note of caution, asking,“But have we actually expanded preschool to more kids? Not really. Have we made progress at closing achievement gaps between young students from different socioeconomic backgrounds? No. Have we sustained funding commitments after the one-time stimulus boost in 2009? Far from it.”

In addition to being clear-eyed pragmatists, Bornfreund is the deputy director of New America’s Early Education Initiative, and Williams is a senior researcher at the Early Education Initiative. The two co-authored a report called “Subprime Learning: Early Education in America Since the Great Recession.

“Our analysis finds that in the wake of a financial crash triggered by subprime lending, too many children in America have been experiencing subprime learning,” the report says.

A key culprit is poverty.

“It’s nearly impossible to evaluate early education programs without taking into account the demographics of the students they serve,” Bornfreund and Williams (more…)

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Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

National Public Radio reported on the “word gap” last month. The story is a potent reminder of how research on young children’s development can be used to shape public discourse and inform policy solutions. Click here to listen.

In its report, NPR retold the research story that started in the early 1990s when Betty Hart and Todd Risley found that by age 3, lower income children hear 30 million fewer words than their higher-income peers. “Today, despite years of focus and effort, the word gap is just as wide,” NPR’s Jennifer Ludden said in the broadcast story.

How does the word gap play out in everyday settings? At the Apple Tree Early Learning Public Charter School in Washington, DC, NPR interviewed principal Ryan Tauriainen who explained that some children use the word “dog” to refer to all animals because they don’t know the words for other animals. Tauriainen added that some children only speak in one-word answers, while others speak in paragraphs. Jack McCarthy, Apple Tree’s president, echoes the Hart and Risley research, telling NPR that children with smaller vocabularies invariably come from lower income homes.

“I recognized that we need to really start in the cradle,” Angel Taveras, the mayor of Providence, R.I. told NPR. As we’ve written, Taveras is about to launch Providence Talks, a program funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies that builds off of the seminal Hart Risley research to impact the early language development of young children throughout the community.

The word gap has been getting lots of attention in recent months, from the New York Times, Atlantic Cities, Stanford University, and Hillary Clinton to name a few.

The recent increase in high-profile conversation about early language development is a welcome one. In an upcoming blog post, we will further explore the research behind the word gap and take a look at various policy and programmatic strategies that are emerging to address it.

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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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Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children

Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children

“The time is now to redesign this country’s approach to language and literacy instruction, and governors who choose to can lead the charge,” according to the National Governors Association (NGA) report, “A Governor’s Guide to Early Literacy: Getting all Students Reading by Third Grade.

Acknowledging the fact that only one-third of America’s fourth graders are reading proficiently, the report points out that America’s governors can help address this challenge. They can build a bridge between knowledge and action, connecting what researchers know to what policymakers do.

What the Research Says

To provide the research background on the literacy issue, the report points to three widely accepted research findings:

1.  “Starting at kindergarten is too late.” Because literacy skills start developing at birth and because achievement gaps show up early, infants, toddlers and preschoolers need effective, high-quality early education and care programs that introduce early literacy concepts.

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Marty Walsh  Photo: Strategies for Children

Marty Walsh
Photo: Strategies for Children

Now that Marty Walsh is the mayor-elect, he’s eager to get democratic conversations started, so he’s launched boston14.org, a transition website where people can share their ideas about the future of Boston.

“The exciting but hard work to continue to move Boston forward begins now. I ask for your help, your ideas and your energy to help me, as we make Boston the best she can be,” Walsh says in a quote on the website. “Ours is not an easy task, but by working together, as One Boston, our great city can prosper like never before.

Together, we will make Boston the hub of opportunity for all.”

As he explained in last month’s mayor’s forum on early education at the Children’s Museum, Walsh understands that early education and care programs can educate parents and help children.

Now advocates can use the “Share Your Ideas” section of Walsh’s website to make comments or even upload PDFs. This is a great opportunity to let Walsh know that high-quality early education care and third grade reading proficiency should be among his highest priorities.

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