Early Ed Watch

The Benjamin Buttonization of Head Start

Sept. 8: Competing, Collaborating and Evolving
Sept. 9: Seeking Signs of Change Since 2007
Sept. 11: Checking Assumptions on School Readiness
Sept. 15: A Tilt Toward Literacy
Sept 17: The Case for 'Comprehensive Services'
Today: The Benjamin Buttonization of Head Start
Sept. 21: Future Tracks
Sept. 22: Web chat (email us your questions)

This is the sixth post in a seven-part series on the future of Head Start. Please join us for a web chat on this topic on Tuesday, Sept. 22 at 12:30 p.m. EDT here at EarlyEdWatch.org. We invite you to email us questions to get the chat rolling. 

Head Start may be about to turn 45. But you could argue that it's younger than ever.

Though many people think of Head Start as a program aimed at 4-year-olds, it actually enrolls children at 3 and 4 in the hopes of immersing them in two full years of early childhood services before their arrival in kindergarten. Lately, Head Start's enrollment has started to shift, serving an increasing proportion of 3-year-olds and a decreasing proportion of 4-year-olds. In 2008, 3-year-olds comprised 36 percent of Head Start's enrollment, up from 28 percent in 2006. At the same time, enrollment of 4-year-olds dropped to 50 percent from 56 percent over those two years.

In 1995, when Early Head Start was introduced, the program started to reach for even younger children -- targeting infants, toddlers and pregnant mothers. With the influx of stimulus money, the number of children and pregnant mothers served by Early Head Start programs is set to nearly double in size -- with money available to serve 117,000 babies and pregnant mothers instead of the 62,000 participating last year.

Could these new growth areas lead Head Start to become known as the program for pre-preschoolers? Are we witnessing the Benjamin Buttonization of Head Start, a program getting younger with each passing year?

House Clears the Way for Early Learning Challenge Fund

The Early Learning Challenge Fund is one step closer to becoming law.  The bill that contains the proposal was passed by the House of Representatives this afternoon. The vote was 253-171.

Now it's the Senate's turn. The Health, Labor, Education and Pensions Committee is expected to deliberate on the bill, which is largely designed to overhaul the student loan program, at the end of this month. 

Today's vote is welcome news to those involved in early education programs -- and the hope is that the fund will eventually make a real difference to families with young children. We've been following the prospects for this fund from its conception. In short, the federal government would distribute $1 billion each year over eight years in the form of grants to states. No state would get the money automatically. Instead, states would have to show that they are building high-quality systems for disadvantaged children, birth to 5. For example, states would be expected to build rating systems to help parents determine which child care centers and preschool programs meet high levels of quality. And they would need to align their early childhood standards with those of the K-12 public schools.

The bill spells out many details about these grants and how states would qualify for the money. We've written several posts that can help you learn more:

Home Visitation Program Appears in Latest Health Care Proposal

Deep within the health care bill is a provision that early childhood advocates have been eagerly awaiting  -- a proposal to create a home visitation program for mothers and their babies. The proposal exists within the health reform bill that has been passed by the relevant committees in House of Representatives. But until yesterday it was not known whether the Senate Finance Committee's version of health care reform would include home visitation. All eyes were on Senator Max Baucus.

By yesterday afternoon it was clear: Baucus came through. He released a health reform proposal that includes a home visitation program similar to what has been suggested by the House and the Obama Administration. On Tuesday, the Finance Committee will formally debate and suggest changes to Baucus's proposal. Stay tuned on whether home visitation clears that next hurdle.  

The Case for 'Comprehensive Services'

This is the fifth post in a seven-part series on the future of Head Start. Please join us for a web chat on this topic on Tuesday, Sept. 22 at 12:30 p.m. EDT here at EarlyEdWatch.org. We invite you to email us questions to get the chat rolling. 

Last year Rhode Island Governor Donald Carcieri stirred up a storm of criticism when he said that Head Start "has been the biggest waste of money" and needs to "get into the early education business" instead.

His comment said a lot -- not only about his own misunderstandings of the program, but about how Head Start is perceived in the outside world. Many mistakenly believe that Head Start isn't doing a good enough job of preparing children to succeed in school because it has devoted too much energy to providing health, nutrition and parent-involvement services. 

A Tilt Toward Literacy

This is the fourth in a seven-part series on the future of Head Start. Please join us for a web chat on this topic on Tuesday, Sept. 22 at 12:30 p.m. EDT here at EarlyEdWatch.org. We invite you to email us questions to get the chat rolling.

What a difference a decade makes. Ask experienced Head Start teachers and administrators about how things have changed over the past 10 to 15 years, and many of them will talk about differences in how, or whether, they taught the A, B, Cs or even posted the letters on their classroom walls.  "I was forbidden to teach letters," wrote teacher J.M. Holland just this week in an Early Ed Watch post reflecting on his experience in 1995.

Leery of putting undue attention on literacy instruction, Head Start's proponents have always argued that a comprehensive approach to supporting young children's development is the strategy most likely to yield long-term learning gains for the impoverished youngsters Head Start serves. Head Start was designed at the outset to promote the development of the whole child, mentally, socially, cognitively and physically. It is a program that offers health services -- including dental screening, nutrition, and other services that alleviate the effects of poverty -- as well as education.

Early Childhood's Slice of the SAFRA Pie

Congress is getting ready to vote on the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act, and our fellow bloggers here in New America's Education Policy program have been preparing for a wild ride. The bill would eliminate the guaranteed lending program, resulting in savings that would be redirected toward other education programs and Pell grants.

Happily for early education advocates, a small slice of the savings would be spent on improving state's systems of childcare and education for children birth to age 5. 

At Ed Money Watch, our colleagues have analyzed the budget data in the bill, creating a helpful table that shows exactly how many billions will be saved and how many will be spent over the next five years. Using that data, we've created this chart to show you early childhood's piece of the pie.

A Look at Senator Harkin's Education Record

Last week, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) became the new chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP Committee), filling a vacancy created by the death of the previous chairman, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.).

Many observers had expected Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), the second-ranking Democrat on the committee and Chairman of the Subcommittee on Children and Families, to assume the role, but Dodd elected to retain his chairmanship of the Banking Committee, clearing the way for Harkin to chair HELP. Dodd will continue to chair the Subcommittee on Children and Families, which plays an important role on early childhood education issues.

Sen. Harkin, who was re-elected to his fifth Senate term last November, is no stranger to health, education and labor issues. He's served on the HELP Committee for many years and also chairs the Appropriations Subcommittee that sets spending levels for education, health, social service and labor programs. As chairman of both the HELP Committee and the Subcommittee on Labor-HHS-Education, Harkin will be a particularly powerful force on education and health issues -- more so than any other senator since the late 1960s, according to Politico.

5 Q's for J.M. Holland

J.M. Holland is a National Board Certified pre-K teacher in a Head Start center in Richmond, Va., who will be supervising teachers in18 classrooms this year. He is a member of  the Center for Teacher Leadership and is pursuing his doctorate at Virginia Commonwealth University. He blogs for Inside Pre-K and for his personal blog Lead from the Start, where he weaves ideas about teaching and schooling in and out of thoughts about painting. John is a professional artist. His writings can feel like artwork too.

A few weeks ago, John asked me to answer five questions about media and early education as part of a series of interviews on the Inside Pre-K blog. I asked if I could turn the tables. Here are five questions he's answered for Early Ed Watch.

It's unusual to find men teaching preschool. What should we do to change that?

Checking Assumptions About School Readiness

This is the third in a seven-part series on the future of Head Start. Please join us for a web chat on this topic on Tuesday, Sept. 22 at 12:30 p.m. EDT here at EarlyEdWatch.org. We invite you to email us questions to get the chat rolling.

Head Start children have been the subject of hundreds of studies over the program's 44 years in existence. So you might expect policymakers to have a solid understanding of whether the program is good at preparing kids for school. Not so.

Lately, when one asks about school readiness, the answer depends on who is doing the answering. In general, most people assume that Head Start helps poor kids get ready for school. After all, the program has survived for decades, so they figure it must be doing something right. But conventional wisdom among conservatives and school reformers is altogether different. They question the program's effectiveness and wonder if money is being well spent.

Mario Small's Compelling Case for Child Care Centers as Networking Hubs

See the words "the network effect" and you might assume that the topic is Facebook or your cellular company's family plan. But take a moment to watch this video of Mario Luis Small talk about child care centers and you realize, ah yes, this is what networking is all about. 

Small, a social scientist at the University of Chicago, has conducted research on child care centers in New York and has written about them in his new book Unanticipated Gains: Origins of Network Inequality in Everyday Life.  We learned about this on Birth to Thrive, and we're hungry to read more. Here's blogger Paul Nhyan's take:

More importantly, parents build social capital at these centers, connecting with other moms and dads. This isn’t a big surprise to me, since I found everything from job leads and story ideas to nanny referrals and parenting advice at our child care center.