Author Archives: Marnie Kaplan

One Area Where Parent Engagement Research is Clear: Early Childhood Education

This week, Bellwether staff share their perspectives on family and parent engagement. Follow Ahead of the Heard from now until Friday for a series of blog posts that tackle common misconceptions about engaged parents, working with multilingual families, and more. Click here to read other posts in the series thus far.

 

Let’s be honest: parent engagement is both an imprecise and confounding term. In theory it’s hard to argue against engaging parents in their child’s education. Yet, a couple of years ago, two sociology professors attempted to do so, claiming that parent involvement in education does not improve — and may actually hinder — student achievement. Their research methods were widely criticized and debunked, but the discussion that ensued raised questions about the underlying science regarding parent engagement. In general, few policymakers or practitioners can easily outline what effective parent engagement actually entails. Thankfully in recent years, a clearer answer has emerged in the field of early childhood education.

There is a long history of including parent engagement in early childhood education. In fact, parent engagement has been a fundamental aspect of Head Start — the only federal pre-k program — since the program’s inception in 1965. Head Start was founded on the principle that child development is the product of multiple levels of interaction, with both parents and teachers playing important roles. Based on this history, parent engagement has long been stressed as an important component of early childhood education.

On top of this foundational commitment to family engagement, the early childhood education space also benefits from an emerging body of research that shows that positively changing parents’ behaviors and expectations can directly improve children’s initial and long term academic performance, and that parent engagement is central to promoting children’s school readiness and social-emotional development. A 2017 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation brief outlined four types of parent engagement programs that have been tested using randomized-controlled trials and which were found to positively improve outcomes for low-income preschool aged children. Effective programs typically had at least one of these characteristics:

1.) Promote Positive Parenting Practices and Parent-Child Relationships

The first category of effective approaches to preschool parent engagement includes programs that target specific parenting skills. Examples of such programs include the Incredible Years Parent Training Program, Chicago Parent Program, Dare to by You, and ParentCorps. These programs include tailored lessons aimed at parents which emphasize parenting skills — such as routines, encouragement, and limit setting — known to promote children’s social and emotional development and reduce behavior problems. Each of these programs have been evaluated using rigorous methods and have been found to provide benefits for participating parents and their children.

2.) Promote Home Learning Activities

Programs in this category help parents learn how to engage in developmentally appropriate learning activities . These programs provide parents with home learning materials, coach parents how to use the materials effectively, and provide parents with opportunities to practice their new skills. These programs have been found to have positive effects on parent-child conversations and parent use of interactive reading strategies. In turn, these behaviors are associated with positive impacts on children’s literacy skills, academic performance, and self-directed learning. One notable program in this category is the Research-Based Developmentally Informed Parent (REDI-P) program. This program was designed as a complement to Head Start and was intended to promote sustained gains for children. The program includes home visits with parents before and after the kindergarten transition and provides parents with learning activities (e.g., guided books, evidence-based learning games, interactive stories, and guided pretend play) to use with their children in order to support school-readiness skills.

3.) Strengthen Parent Teacher Relationships

These programs provide teachers with training focused on building strong relationships with parents. Two successful programs focused on strengthening the teacher-parent partnership are the Getting Ready intervention and Companion Curriculum. The Getting Ready intervention supports teachers in making home visits and hosting collaborative planning conferences with parents with the goal of improving the parent-child and parent-teacher relationship. The program has been used as a supplement to Early Head Start settings across the country and has been found to produce gains in children’s language use, pre-reading skills, and positive learning behavior in the classroom. The Companion Curriculum is a professional development model for enhancing parent involvement in Head Start that also focuses on the parent-teacher relationship. One part of the model involves establishing family corners in children’s classrooms, where parents can informally engage their children in fun, stimulating activities.

4.) Emphasize the Child’s Health

These types of parent engagement programs are designed to increase parent knowledge about nutrition and healthy eating and facilitate healthier lifestyles. Many of these programs focus on reducing childhood obesity for children under five through home-based interventions. In the last five years, a number of studies of programs implemented in the home context have reported significant positive effects on BMI. These programs include Salud con la FamiliaPediatric Overweight Prevention through Parent Training Program; and Healthy Habits, Healthy Homes. Salud con la Familia is a community-based, culturally tailored childhood obesity intervention that engages Latino parents and their preschool-aged children in skills building to improve familial habits related to nutrition and physical activity. Healthy Habits, Health Homes is a home-based intervention aimed at low-income parents that focuses on improving household routines known to be associated with childhood obesity including frequency of family meals, time watching TV, and removing screen media from bedrooms of young children. This intervention was found to increase children’s sleep duration and reduce children’s TV viewing on weekends and BMI compared to controls.

Thanks to decades of high-quality research, we now know how to improve early childhood programs through targeted and effective parent engagement. This body of research also provides clues for strengthening parental engagement efforts during the early elementary grades and beyond. For example, the research on early childhood parent engagement interventions reveals the importance of developing culturally-tailored and culturally-appropriate interventions and the importance of utilizing interventions that help parents develop their child’s social emotional and physical development as well as their academic performance. 

Four Things You Should Know About the ADA on its 27th Anniversary

Twenty seven years ago today, the first comprehensive civil rights act for individuals with disabilities was signed into law. The vote yesterday to move forward on debate for the “Obamacare” repeal has created a strange anniversary for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Now with the possible repeal of Obamacare and massive cuts to Medicaid looming, the legacy of progress for individuals with disabilities is threatened. On the anniversary of this groundbreaking bill, here are four things you should know about the ADA:

President Bush signs the Americans with Disabilities Act into law. Wikimedia.

1. Like other civil rights bills, the ADA didn’t work as intended right away and was only the first step in a long process to advance civil rights for individuals with disabilities. 

Twenty seven years ago, former Senator Tom Harkin, the chief sponsor of the Americans with Disabilities Act, proclaimed: “The ADA is indeed the 20th century emancipation proclamation for all Americans with disabilities.” He likely wasn’t aware of how unfortunately prophetic those words would become.

Harkin intended to celebrate the major breakthrough of passing comprehensive civil rights for individuals with disabilities. The ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, public services, public accommodations, and telecommunications. The law ultimately requires that buildings and transportation be wheelchair accessible, television programming have closed captioning, and that individuals with disabilities be provided with appropriate workplace accommodations.

Yet similar to the emancipation proclamation which did not end slavery, the ADA did not immediately grant full civil rights for individuals with disabilities. The path from ADA passage to ensuring individuals with disabilities received the access Congress intended included a series of setbacks. In 1999 the Supreme Court restricted the reach of the ADA’s protections by narrowly construing the definition of disability. As a result, individuals with a wide range of impairments — including cancer, epilepsy, diabetes, hearing loss, multiple sclerosis, HIV, intellectual disabilities, and post-traumatic stress disorder — were routinely found not to be disabled and therefore not covered by the ADA. This lead to the eventual passage of the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA), which reversed those decisions by broadening the definition of disability under the law. These Amendments also extended protections to individuals using a variety of supports including cochlear implants, hearing aids, and prosthetics.

2. Before passage of the ADA, many students with disabilities were not being educated at all.

Prior to the ADA, large numbers of children with disabilities were systematically excluded from American public schools. Many have estimated that in the early 1970s, approximately one million school-aged children with disabilities were excluded from public educational programs. Moreover, an additional three million children with disabilities attended public schools but were not provided services to meet their educational needs.

3. The ADA applies to non-religious private schools and private universities even if they do not receive federal funding.

Unless subject to the exemption for religious organizations, private schools must comply with the public accommodations portion of the ADA and ADAAA. This means private schools must ensure students with disabilities are not excluded, denied services, segregated, or treated differently than other students. These schools must also make reasonable modifications in policies, practices, and procedures that deny access unless this would result in a fundamental change in the nature of their program or result in undue administrative costs.

4. While accessibility extends to websites, the standard for web accessibility is an unsettled area of the law.

When originally enacted, the ADA did not include websites as places of “public accommodation” because the internet was still in its infancy. As internet usage has become ubiquitous and an unlimited number of goods and services have been made available online, courts have interpreted places of public accommodation to include websites.

During the Obama administration, the Office of Civil Rights required schools to make their websites accessible to the disabled. Yet, currently there is no clear legal standard that has been adopted for schools to follow. While the Department of Justice has asked for public input on website accessibility issues, their proposed rules have been delayed several times and are expected to be released in 2018.

School Voucher Programs for Students with Disabilities Are Deeply Misguided

The Trump administration’s newly proposed education budget directs $400 million dollars to expanding school choice, including vouchers for private schools. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has repeatedly touted state voucher policies, including Florida’s McKay Scholarship program for students with disabilities, as a way to increase parental choice and improve the U.S. education system. DeVos cited high parent satisfaction with the McKay program during her Senate confirmation hearing, leading to national press coverage of parents who were in fact unsatisfied with the program.

But the reality is parent satisfaction is an inappropriate metric for examining the effectiveness of programs like the McKay Scholarship. A voucher program for students with disabilities presumes that providing choice will ultimately result in helping students with disabilities receive an education that will best meet their needs. But this is unlikely because private schools do not have to abide by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the federal special education law, and few private schools are well equipped to meet the needs of students with disabilities.

In a recent op-ed, Former Governor Jeb Bush writes: “Too many parents hit frustrating dead ends in trying to get the right services for their children in their assigned public schools.” While it is certainly true that parents struggle to make changes when they are unhappy with their child’s placement or his/her individualized education plan (IEP), there is little reason to believe school choice is the answer. Currently, many parents do not understand their rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Parents also may feel uncomfortable bringing due process claims and/or lack access to legal assistance. Moreover, even for those with legal assistance, due process claims can be time consuming and costly. As a result, researchers have found that IDEA’s reliance on private enforcement leads to disparities in enforcement which ultimately favor the affluent.

Voucher programs do little to change this reality.

Currently, under the Florida program, parents receive an average of $8,000 for their child with a disability. This is not enough funding for students to attend private schools specifically designed to serve special needs students without extra outlays from parents. Instead, many students enroll in parochial schools, which make up the majority of private schools in Florida. There is little reason to believe these schools are a better placement for students with disabilities. Most do not employ school psychologists, related service providers, or teachers experienced with meeting the needs of students with disabilities. Since these schools are not required to comply with IDEA, they do not provide occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy, behavioral therapy, or counseling. Moreover, these schools are not required to use any specialized curriculum to meet the unique needs of students with disabilities. So using a voucher means a student with a disability will still not receive the services they need to be successful in school. Continue reading

3 Big Myths About Child Care on Equal Pay Day

Last week, the internet Greek chorus turned its attention to a previously wonky topic: DC’s educational requirements for child care workers. A Washington Post article highlighted that DC is first in the nation to require higher education for child care workers, and a plethora of commenters took to Twitter to criticize the policy. Various individuals commented on the “stupidness” of this new policy. For example, Senator Ben Sasse tweeted: “This is insanely stupid.” Economist Alan Cole tweeted: “What’s the endgame for someone who can’t make it through college? Are they going to be allowed to do things anymore?” The article transformed into a Rorschach test revealing Americans’ antiquated view of child care.

Baby Bottle Robot 

The reality is that many Americans still view child care through a prism of babysitting. They desire the cheapest option: a safe baby with a caregiver of minimum capability, like someone who can easily read aloud to their child. As a result, many parents overrate the quality of their child’s day care. But the reality is child care is complex and skilled work that remains deeply undervalued. And today as throughout history, it’s work mostly performed by women.

Today, on Equal Pay Day, let’s pause and consider three persistent myths about child care, which ultimately hold women back from achieving equal pay with men:

MYTH #1: Child care is menial work which can be done by anyone.

Many critics of the new credential requirements in Washington, DC implied that child care is necessarily low-wage work because it requires minimal skill. Commenters were unified in asserting that high-quality care-taking did not require specific competencies and in undervaluing the actual work of nurturing and addressing the demanding needs of small children. These viewpoints belie the reality that adults who educate young children require knowledge and competencies as specialized as those of an elementary, middle school, or high school teacher. A successful early childhood teacher needs to understand child development; language development; and how to foster early literacy, early numeracy, and positive socio-emotional development, among other skills. Continue reading

Three Lessons for Reforming State Early Childhood Systems “In Crisis”

preschool teacherLast week, Massachusetts’ House Speaker Robert DeLeo declared his state’s early childhood workforce “in crisis.” How did he come to this conclusion? A year ago, DeLeo asked local business leaders to examine the state’s early childhood education system, and last week they released a report showing unacceptably low salaries and high turnover among early childhood educators in the state.

But Massachusetts is no anomaly. If we applied the criteria used by the Massachusetts Advisory Group to any state in the country, that state’s early childhood workforce would also be deemed “in crisis.”

So what can state legislators serious about reforming their early childhood workforce do? Past efforts to improve public pre-k programs and federal efforts to professionalize the Head Start workforce offer several lessons. Continue reading