April 28, 2016
Can we find a way to "stop fighting about whether preschool works?"

Recent studies have come to seemingly contradictory conclusions about the effectiveness of public investment in preschool as a tool for closing the achievement gap.

A new report from the Center for American Progress makes the case for further investment in high-quality preschool for all young children: "A universal program that increased enrollment of children from low-income and ethnic/racial minority families could have powerful effects in reducing the kindergarten entry achievement gaps," say the researchers. And a recent paper from the Economic Policy Institute finds that "a major investment in America's children [through support for early education and care] is a promising economic strategy that can provide substantial social benefits."

Yet a report from the conservative think thank American Enterprise Institute, which looked at studies of 10 well-known preschool programs, argues that, "our current knowledge base does not justify a large expansion of pre-K as the best path forward" and instead recommends focusing on very young children (babies and toddlers) and "supporting parents in better fulĀ­filling their role as their children's first teachers."

Sara Mead of Bellweather Education Partners offers her take on the conflicting messages in an April 13 post for U.S. News and World Report. She argues that, given the huge range of resources and expectations for quality in preschool settings, "asking whether 'pre-K works' is as pointless a question as asking whether fourth grade works." But, she writes, no one would suggest that "our inability to guarantee quality fourth-grade teaching for all students means we should abolish fourth grade altogether."

Mead suggests that a better approach would be to "stop fighting about whether pre-K works and instead work to understand the policies and provider practice that support quality at scale." Without sufficient funding to address issues such as poverty-level teacher wages and resulting high rates of turnover, she writes, it is and will remain "impossible to sustain real quality" in most early childhood programs. 

No matt er where you stand on universal pre-K, one aspect of the early childhood years isn't up for debate: the crucial importance of parents in establishing a strong foundation for learning. Vroom, a website and app designed to help parents engage more purposefully with children from 0-5, wants to "turn everyday moments into brain building moments."

Educators and program providers can download research-based, printable tips to share with parents, organized by child's age, through Vroom's Dropbox, at this link. Parents can download a free app, "Daily Vroom" through the iTunes app store.  

I test-drove some of the tips with my own preschooler. At laundry time, prompted by Daily Vroom, my son and I counted how many socks were coming out of the drier, then turned that into a lesson in simple division when we put them into pairs and counted those. After that, I let him pelt me with the sock pairs and tossed a few back at him (OK, that part wasn't in the Vroom app), which he found hilarious. It was a quick and easy activity that brought a bit of number learning and fun to an everyday chore. Another Vroom activity was creating our own "Super Secret Handshake" when waiting in line at the grocery store, then changing the sequence of hand motions and having to remember it. This activity was also a hit and provided a subtle lesson in memory and self-control.

The Daily Vroom "brain builders" work because they don't feel like lessons. Instead, they flow naturally from activities you may already be doing with your child or student, and prompt you into elevating a routine chore into an opportunity for learning new skills and having fun together.

And over time, those little moments can really add up.

EdSource Today reports

Commission calls for major investments in early ed

California should fundamentally refashion the way it serves its youngest residents by offering access to high-quality childcare and education for all children aged 5 and younge r, and by working to increase understanding of the importance of brain development in the early years, a commission of business and policy leaders, academics and former elected officials said in a new report.  
"This is a clarion call to action," Right Start Commission member and former state Senate leader Darrell Steinberg said about the report, called Rebuilding the California Dream. The report recommended that the state consolidate its 18 early childcare and education programs, which it said are governed by 11 separate agencies that form "a labyrinth of disjointed boards, commissions, agencies and departments."

In addition, the report recommended the creation of a "one-stop shop" online portal to help parents and caregivers more easily identify and access early childhood services, and urged business leaders to implement policies that support a more family-friendly workplace, such as "child care assistance, reliable schedules and paid family leave." After all, the report points out, in California "87 percent of all families with a child under the age of 6 have an employed parent or parents."

State's largest districts moving to stand-alone classes for transitional kindergarten

Two years after three-quarters of the state's largest school districts combined classes for transitional kindergarten and kindergarten, most districts are now creating separate classes for the younger children, according to a new survey from EdSource.

"We try to avoid combination classes," said Craig Wells, assistant superintendent of human resources at Stockton Unified, which had only one mixed class this school year. "That's not the intent of transitional kindergarten."


Homeless preschoolers will soon be able to remain enrolled at their schools even if their families move under the   Every Student Succeeds Act, the new federal education law.

In order to provide stability for homeless youth, current law requires that schools allow K-12 students to stay enrolled in their home school if they move outside of that school's attendance boundary during the school year. They can remain at those schools in subsequent years until they have permanent housing. Districts are also responsible for providing transportation to and from school, assuming the student has not moved so far away that it wouldn't be feasible.

Beginning Oct. 1, the same requirement will apply to children attending federal Head Start programs and state-funded preschools.

Funding for nearly 11,000 preschool seats is going to run out in June when Los Angeles Universal Preschool (LAUP) loses its backing from the public early years agency First 5 LA. A new report estimates that the economic toll on Los Angeles County from the loss of funding for thousands of preschool seats later this year will be almost $600 million annually. Read or listen to the article by Deepa Fernandes on KPCC here.

In 2009, more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat milk were included in the food package provided by USDA's Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). As a result, the quality of diets improved for the roughly 4 million preschool-aged children who are served by WIC, according to a study by a team of researchers. Read more here.

Erin Brownfield, editor