Early Ed Watch

To De-Pressurize Kindergarten, Here Are Four Must-Do's

In an op-ed for USA Today that came out this morning, I wrote about kindergarten -- a topic of heightened interest over the past six months as news stories, magazine pieces and research reports have sounded alarms about  classrooms for 5-year-olds becoming pressure cookers

In the piece I outlined four imperatives for improving the experience for all children, not to mention teachers:

Can Payments to Parents Cut Down on Early Elementary Absenteeism?

A recent American Prospect article about the Opportunity NYC program caught our eye. Opportunity NYC, initiated by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, uses philanthropic dollars to reward poor and low-income families for engaging in behaviors that support their children's development, such as taking children to the doctor or dentist or attending parent-teacher conferences. Parents can also earn financial rewards if their children maintain a good school attendance record over a six month period. A recent evaluation suggests that the program has been successful in getting parents to make sure their young children are in school. 

Seeking Signs of Change Since Head Start's 2007 Reauthorization

This is the second post in our seven-part series, "What's Ahead for Head Start?"  Join us here for a web chat on this topic on Sept. 22, 2009 at 12:30 p.m. EDT.

More than 18 months have passed since the laws governing Head Start got their most recent make-over. The Improving Head Start for School Readiness Act, which President Bush signed into law in December 2007, includes several major reforms to the Head Start program, most of them designed to improve the program's quality and accountability.

What is the impact of these changes? Agencies are hiring more teachers with post-secondary degrees, as required by the law. But data does not yet exist to help us detect other signs of quality and accountability improvement. Some of the law's deadlines are still years away and some requirements went unfunded until this year. At least one initiative is already months behind schedule.

Head Start and State Pre-K: Competing, Collaborating and Evolving

Today we begin a multi-week blog series, reported by Lisa Guernsey and Christina Satkowski, on the future of Head Start. Join us here at Early Ed Watch for a Web chat about the series on September 22nd at 12:30 p.m., hosted in partnership with Politico.com.

Head Start, the largest federally funded program for children under 5, has been offering free preschool and health services to poor children and their families for nearly 45 years. It has seen growth and stagnation, controversy and quiet. Today, with the Obama Administration signaling its intent to increase federal funding to support young children, one might think that Head Start was poised to enter one of its most expansive periods ever.

But there are several huge unanswered questions about Head Start's future. In recent years, parents and politicians have found themselves drawn instead to state-funded pre-K programs. Indeed, by 2008, more children at ages 3 and 4 were enrolled in state-funded pre-K programs than in Head Start. State programs enroll about 1.1 million preschoolers, while Head Start serves about 920,000 in that age range.* As Georgetown University researcher William Gormley wrote last year, "A silent revolution in early childhood has occurred."

A Private Infusion of Cash for Two Early Learning Programs in Washington State

In August, the Gates Foundation and Thrive by Five announced grants totaling $8 million for two early learning programs in the state of Washington. The White Center Early Learning Initiative and East Yakima's Ready by Five program will each receive $4 million over the next year to continue supporting children and their families as they prepare for kindergarten.

This is a second round of funding for these initiatives; last year White Center received $11.7 million and Ready by Five received $5 million.

It's reassuring to see programs like these receiving funding, especially as the economic crisis forces some states to cut back investments in early childhood programs. It also shows that the state of Washington is establishing itself as a strong player in early education reform. Earlier this month, Washington's SeaTac area was the site of the national Starting Strong conference. And as we described in July, some promising outcomes related to the PreK-3rd approach are emerging from Bremerton, Wash.

A Mother's Myriad Questions Point to Need for Connected System of Early Education

On Friday, I answered five questions about children's early years on the Inside Pre-K blog.

In one of my answers, I summarized a recent conversation I'd had with the mother of a prospective Head Start student in Alexandria, Va. Her story reminds me of why our current non-system of early care and education has so many holes to fill -- and why it's so necessary to build policies and systems that integrate, link and expand the current hodgepodge of early childhood services out there today. Here's a recap:

Advice for Duncan: 'Race to the Top' Needs A Larger Dose of Early Ed

Tomorrow is the deadline to submit comments on the Department of Education's proposed guidelines for Race to the Top, the new grant program created under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.  Secretary Duncan released draft guidelines for RTT last month, and with more than 650 comments submitted so far, he is getting plenty of feedback on his vision.

Race to the Top gives the Secretary unprecedented discretion to dole out $4.3 billion in grants to states over the next year.  But the money doesn't come free. States have to be looking pretty good in Duncan's eyes even before they apply for the money. What's more, if they want their applications to have any shot of being competitive, they will have to show that they are already making progress on many fronts, including working toward common standards, allowing for the creation of more charter schools and using longitudinal data systems to track students' performance.

Senator Edward Kennedy 1932-2009

Readers most likely already know that Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) passed away last night after a 13-month struggle with brain cancer. Kennedy was a tireless advocate for education and for poor and minority children in particular, championing numerous pieces of legislation to improve health, education, and other services for young children during his nine terms in the Senate and long tenure as chairman or ranking member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, and its predecessor. Kennedy's death is a tremendous loss to the Senate, to advocates for young children, and to the nation. But his own words, in his 1980 address to the Democratic National Convention, tell us that, "For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die."

Popsicle Pushers and 21st Century Childrearing

It's August, which means that a perennial of the media landscape is in bloom: Eye-brow-raising stories about modern-day parenting that fill that slow summer news hole. Last week's piece in the New York Times about parents protesting the serenades of Mister Softee fit the bill perfectly.

But more on that in a second. Because first, it's worth pausing to digest a fascinating article just published in the journal Qualitative Sociology. It has arrived in time to give us some interesting context for what these parenting stories might be signaling at societal level, not to mention explain what educators are seeing play out in today's families.  The article -- "Children's Autonomy and Responsibility: An Analysis of Childrearing Advice" -- was written by Markella B. Rutherford, a sociologist at Wellesley College. A catchier title for it might be: Today's Kids: So Many Choices, So Little Freedom.

Illinois Gov. Protects Part of Early Childhood Budget, But Still, State Funding Drops

Early education advocates in Illinois are breathing a little easier this month after Gov. Patrick Quinn restored over $85 million in funds for early childhood programs that the Illinois State Board of Education had eliminated during deliberations on the 2010 budget a few weeks ago. The board's cuts represented more than 32 percent of the 2009 budget and would have had disastrous results for state-funded preschool programs. But even with the governor's reparation, the early childhood budget will lose 10 percent of its budget -- a loss which could affect thousands of children in the state.