Category Archives: Early Childhood Education

Best of Bellwether 2019: Our Most-Read Publications and Posts

2019 was a busy year at Bellwether and across education in general, and we’re excited to round up our most-read blog posts and publications from the past 12 months. They cover a number of topics, including how school leaders can improve school culture (and reclaim their own time), how to improve the quality of early childhood education, and how to better bridge research and practice. This list also reflects your wide-ranging interests in the myriad issues that Bellwether experts work on across policy and practice. 

For the top posts on our sister site TeacherPensions.org, click here.

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Top Ten Blog Posts from Ahead of the Heard in 2019

1.) 3 Things Head Start Programs Can Do Right Now to Improve Their Practice

by Ashley LiBetti Continue reading

On National Special Education Day, Don’t Forget Special Education Pre-K

Today, December 2, is National Special Education Day, marking the anniversary of President Gerald Ford’s signing of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). As we reflect on the important ways in which IDEA has changed our public education system, I want to call attention to an important and often overlooked component of the early childhood landscape: special education preschools.

Heather Snyder, 31st Medical Operation Squadron educational and developmental intervention services speech and language pathologist, hands a plastic coin to Nathan Gribble, a patient at the Educational and Developmental Intervention Services clinic. The EDIS clinic also has multiple health care providers that offer the following services: child psychology, occupational therapy, speech pathology, and physical therapy. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Staff Sgt. Taylor L. Marr)

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force, Staff Sgt. Taylor L. Marr

Under Section 619 of IDEA Part B, children ages 3-5 identified with disabilities have a right to a free, appropriate, public education. This means that school districts have an obligation to provide preschool services to children diagnosed with disabilities. Currently, approximately 462,383 children with disabilities are served in special education preschool nationally, meaning that special education serves more children than any single state preschool program, roughly half as many preschoolers as Head Start, and nearly 1/3 as many children as all state-funded pre-K programs combined.

Beyond the number of children directly served, special education preschool influences our national early childhood care and education system in a variety of ways. Preschool special education pre-dates the growth of state-funded pre-K, and until relatively recently, most licensed early childhood teachers working in public schools were special education preschool teachers.

As a result, licensing and preparation programs for birth-5 or early childhood teachers in many states are designed primarily to prepare special educators. At the state level, early childhood specialists in state departments of education have played important roles in state pre-K and early learning systems coordination over the past 25 years, but many of these roles were originally created to support and oversee preschool special education — which remains a major part of these system leaders’ portfolios.

And at the federal level, the Office of Special Education Programs funds training and technical assistance for special education preschool and has developed or supported the dissemination of resources, models, and approaches — such as the Pyramid Model — that support quality teaching and child development across a variety of early childhood settings.

In other words, special education preschool is a pretty big deal. Yet it’s largely overlooked in national conversations about early childhood care and education. Continue reading

Why Is the Number of Family Child Care Providers Declining — And Why Should You Care?

Of the 11 million young children with working mothers, more than half spend more time in family child care than any other setting. Family child care providers are individuals who care for other people’s children for pay in their own homes, and who are state licensed or regulated.

Family child care providers plays a crucial role in supporting young children’s development and enabling parents to work. Yet their numbers are shrinking rapidly, falling 18% from 2011-2014 and another 21% from 2014-2017. And this decline in turn reduces access and affordability for families who rely on family childcare.

Why is the number of family child care providers declining? In addition to demographic and economic trends, public early childhood policies and funding streams aren’t designed with family child care providers in mind. Family child care providers are often left out of policy and media conversations about education or early childhood, which tend to focus on state-funded pre-K and center-based child care, ignoring the settings where many children — particularly infants and toddlers — spend much of their time. As a result, these policies may create unintended barriers for or fail to support family child care.

That’s why “Creating the Conditions for Family Child Care to Thrive,” a new report from All Our Kin, a national organization that builds and supports high-quality, sustainable family child care programs and the conditions that enable them, is so important. The report outlines a set of principles for policies and early learning systems that create conditions for family child care to thrive, and provides a menu of strategies for how policymakers, advocates, and others can help put those conditions in place.

Why should education leaders care about family child care? Given that many readers of this blog focus primarily on K-12 school reform, it’s a question you might be asking. Continue reading

Seriously, Stop Asking If Head Start “Works”

Last month, yet another study came out examining the effects of Head Start on children’s long-term outcomes. The findings were lackluster: Depending on the cohort of children and outcomes you’re looking at, the effect of Head Start was either negative or non-existent. 

This study is noteworthy for a few reasons. It uses the same analytical approach as a high-profile 2009 study on Head Start, conducted by Harvard economist David Deming, which found Head Start had unquestionably positive results. And in a twist I’m definitely reading too much into, a former Deming student is one of the lead co-authors on this new study. People are also paying attention to this study because the findings go against a truly massive body of evidence on Head Start, which largely shows that Head Start has positive effects on children and families. 

But what snagged my attention is the fact that the research question at the heart of this study is irritatingly useless. It asks, essentially, “Does Head Start work?” That’s a question we answered a long time ago. And the answer is: It depends.

Again, the existing research on Head Start overall is positive. But we also know that there is wide variation in quality between individual Head Start providers. It’s a valuable federal program that can get better.  Continue reading

Media: “Washington, DC, showed how to do universal pre-K right” in Vox

For a Vox series looking at the “nation’s most intriguing experiments in local policy,” Conor Williams of The Century Foundation takes a deeper look at Washington, DC’s program of universal public prekindergarten for 3- and 4-year-olds. He argues that the investments are already paying off in terms of benefits for children and families,  and quotes me:

Nationally, private pre-K education tends to be either fancier, smaller early education programs or larger ones with shorter schedules, lower-quality instruction, and less material support. Access usually comes down to income level. This disparity has led some cities and states such as Boston and Oklahoma to extend public school offerings to pre-K kids starting at age 4 (or even 3). But DC’s program is the nation’s most comprehensive. For instance, Washington state, which began its public pre-K program in 1985, enrolls fewer 3- and 4-year-olds combined than DC, even though the state’s public school system is 12 times the size of DC’s.

DC is “the only place in the country where every family can be reasonably sure there’s a place for their 3-year-old,” says Sara Mead, an early education policy expert at Bellwether Education Partners.

Read Conor’s full piece here, and see Bellwether’s work on early childhood education here.