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Senator Stan Rosenberg. Photo source: Senator Rosenberg's Facebook page.

Senator Stan Rosenberg. Photo source: Senator Rosenberg’s Facebook page

Children will be getting new attention from the Massachusetts Senate. Last week, the Senate announced that it’s launching a new initiative called Kids First that will work to improve the lives of the commonwealth’s children.

Senate President Stan Rosenberg (D-Amherst) told Boston Herald Radio that Kids First will be an effort to boost children’s resiliency and help them “become productive adults.”

Rosenberg named a group of senators who will “look at everything from education and nutrition to public health, housing and workforce development for ways to help the state’s youngest residents,” according to an AP story that ran in the Washington Times. (more…)

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House Speaker Robert DeLeo. Photo: Alyssa Haywoode for Strategies for Children

House Speaker Robert DeLeo. Photo: Alyssa Haywoode for Strategies for Children

“From education to energy to transportation; from economic development bills that focus on diverse regions and industries to our nationally-heralded gun safety legislation; we are known in Massachusetts and this House for pairing bold ideas with commitment to collaboration. We also know that excellence — the historic excellence that makes Massachusetts a national model in areas like education — is achieved by laying groundwork for continuous improvement over time. Although we recognize that we’re facing some real financial constraints, the House will keep its focus on our most precious resource: our children. 

“We have one shot to get this right. And we will. That’s why more than a decade ago, members of this House had the insight to create the first-in-the-nation Department of Early Education and Care [EEC]. Access to high-quality early education provides short and long-term benefits that not only impact an individual, but impact our society as a whole: everything from kindergarten readiness, to financial independence, to widespread economic health, to incarceration rates. We will seek ways to improve and revitalize the Massachusetts EEC framework in a responsible, sustainable and forward-looking way. We will help build a system that early educators, parents, and, most of all, our children, deserve. To do so, we will enhance our three-tiered strategy which places a premium on building a strong workforce to ensure improved access to high-quality EEC programming.”

Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo (D-Winthrop) in a speech made to members of the Massachusetts House, January 27, 2016

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Governor Charlie Baker. Photo: State of Massachusetts website.

Governor Charlie Baker. Photo: State of Massachusetts website.

Yesterday, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker released a $39.6 billion state budget proposal for fiscal year 2017.

“This year’s budget sets the table for fiscal responsibility and a strong economic environment, without raising taxes or fees on our hardworking families,” Baker said in a press release. Baker is also trying to close a $635 million budget gap.

This proposal “continues the multi-year effort of bringing state spending in line with revenues, significantly reducing the state’s reliance on one-time solutions, and budgeting for a sizable deposit into the stabilization fund.” (more…)

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Election Day is fast approaching, and we want to make sure that candidates include young children and families in their education agendas. So, from now until the Friday before Election Day, I will run a question of the week to ask candidates running for state and federal office. The regular Friday “In Quotes” feature will return after Election Day.

Meanwhile, check out “Eight questions about young children to ask candidates” that I suggest in a post on MassMoms.com, on the (Worcester) Telegram & Gazette website. And see the Election 2012 page on our website. It provides tips for voters on how to focus attention on high-quality early education and reading proficiency this campaign season and information for candidates interested in becoming champions for young children.

Here is this week’s question:

The early education field suffers from low pay and high turnover. And as early educators, particularly those in community-based settings, increase their education and training, their pay is not keeping up. What will you do to link increased compensation for early educators with increased training?

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Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

The journal Future of Children, a collaboration of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University and the Brookings Institution,  has published an issue – Literacy Challenges for the Twenty-First Century – that’s chock full of thought-provoking articles.  An accompanying policy brief examines the relationship between standards and literacy development. (I’ll write later about some of the individual articles in the journal.)

Massachusetts is among the 45 states that have adopted the Common Core State Standards, which the authors of the policy brief strongly support. “Standards are an important part – but only one part – of solving the literacy problem,” they write. “Even the best possible standards cannot raise student literacy unless they are part of a larger strategy. Excellent standards are a first step.”

The policy brief is written by Ron Haskins, co-director of the Center on Children and Families at the Brookings Institution; Richard Murnane, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education; Isabel Sawhill, co-director of the Center on Children and Families; and Catherine Snow, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

The authors enumerate key elements of a successful strategy to boost children’s literacy. Improving the quality teaching, they write, is “the single most important element in any strategy aiming to boost student literacy and close the literacy gap.”  They suggest redirecting federal funds to create “a competitive grant program that encourages school systems to design and implement programs to improve teaching and learning in high-poverty schools.” They also call for:

  • Adoption by states of assessments now being designed to accompany the Common Core.
  • A common system for reporting results that will provide schools, parents and communities with detailed knowledge about how their students are performing relative to the Common Core and to other communities.
  • A better curriculum that is aligned with the Common Core.

“The more demanding Common Core standards in literacy, based on reading comprehension, conceptual knowledge, and vocabulary as well as accurate and fluent reading, combined with accurate assessments of these skills will reveal how far disadvantaged children lag behind on these more advanced literacy skills,” the authors write. “Rather than wait for the expanded literacy gap to be revealed, U.S. policymakers and educators should begin now to shrink the gap.”

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