Tag Archives: early childhood education

#16for16: A Policy Agenda for the Next President (Whoever That Is)

WhitehouseThis election season has been long on drama and vitriol and woefully short on substantive policy ideas. And K-12 education might win the “Most Ignored Major Policy Issue” superlative in the yearbook of the 2016 campaign. Isolated references to charter schools and feel-good statements about teachers aside, neither Clinton nor Trump has proposed a comprehensive vision for our nation’s public schools. This lack of attention belies the importance and need for an education vision: Although the current administration presided over the passage of the Every Students Succeeds Act (ESSA), the devil is in the details, and the critical work of its implementation will be left to the next administration. But we’d be hard pressed to identify what policies might emerge come January.

We’re here to help.

Bellwether has compiled a collection called 16 for 2016: 16 Education Policy Ideas for the Next President. We solicited ideas from a range of authors across the ideological spectrum, both inside and outside the education sector. You are almost guaranteed to love some of these ideas, and probably hate some too, and that’s the point. No matter who prevails in November, the new presidential administration will need to set an ambitious education agenda. And with this collection, we are priming the pump for whichever candidate is sitting in the Oval Office in January.

In this volume, you’ll find: Continue reading

What is This HIPPY Business?

Many viewers of Bill Clinton’s DNC speech on Tuesday likely wondered: “What is this HIPPY business?” Politico claims the organization received its own version of a convention bounce from his prime-time mention. While many early childhood education advocates know the program by its acronym, it’s relatively small in the U.S. — only serving 15,000 participants in 22 states and D.C.

HIPPY, which stands for Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters, is a home-visiting model of early childhood education which helps low-income families and parents of English language learners prepare their children for school through a language-rich home environment. The program was created in 1969 by researchers at Hebrew University who developed the program for immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East with little formal education. Through this model, peer educators provide weekly home visits to parents and use role-playing to teach effective and developmentally appropriate ways to talk and read to young children. Parents then use HIPPY materials to develop their children’s literacy and problem solving skills.

So how does HIPPY fit into the U.S.’s fragmented early childhood education landscape? Since only about half of the roughly 8.1 million three- and four-year-olds in the U.S. are enrolled in pre-k, (and most programs are low quality), the education children receive from their parents has a major impact on how ready they are for kindergarten.

HIPPY has long-term positive impacts for children who participate in the program. Independent research, including randomized controlled trials, shows that children ages three, four, and five who participate in HIPPY are more prepared for school and have better school-related behaviors, including higher attendance rates, self-esteem, and love of reading. Moreover, studies in four states found that higher reading, math, and social studies scores persisted into third, fifth, and sixth grades.

HIPPY has been particularly important in Arkansas, where it was introduced by Hillary Clinton in 1986, and other states with very rural communities — including Colorado and Texas. These rural communities often have few nearby pre-k programs and parents are isolated from resources. HIPPY has proven crucial in communities where children otherwise would have little formal schooling before Kindergarten.

There has been a growing momentum for universal pre-k in the United States. In fact, universal pre-k is one of Hillary Clinton’s campaign promises. Even if the U.S. finally provided universal pre-k to all three- and four-year-olds, HIPPY could still play an important role in an evolving U.S. early childhood education landscape.

In recent years, HIPPY and Head Start have recognized their shared goals and local grantees of each program have started to collaborate. Researchers have only just begun to explore the impact of these collaborative efforts. For example, a research study in Texas found that children who participated in Head Start and HIPPY scored “developed” on all sections of the Texas Primary Reading Inventory, whereas 33% of children who participated in only Head Start scored “developed.”

For now, HIPPY remains like most high-quality early childhood programs: a program delivering a tremendous impact for a select few. As a result of Bill Clinton’s speech, many more eyes will be watching to see what happens to the program after its convention bounce.

Serving Children in Poverty While Living in Poverty

image via woodleywonderworks on flickr

Have you ever tried to guide half a dozen two-year-olds through discussion of a book? Or managed a classroom of four-year-olds each doing an independent activity? During law school, I worked at the Georgetown Law Early Care Center under the mistaken impression that working with small children would provide a nice break from long hours reading legal cases. I quickly learned that I misjudged the energy and effort required to care for young children. I can only imagine how much harder my job would have been if I was working full-time earning $10 an hour, unable to afford health insurance, and managing a second job in an effort to support a family.

But these conditions are, unfortunately, all too common for our country’s early childhood educators. Last week the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at the University of California, Berkeley released a groundbreaking report focused on the challenging conditions facing the U.S. early childhood workforce. The results show that even though generations of psychologists, neuroscientists, and economists have outlined the crucial role of early childhood education to child development, academic success, and the U.S. economy, the early childhood workforce continues to live in poverty and under extreme stress. Nearly half of early childhood education workers receive some type of government assistance and their median wage is $9.77, less than the hourly fee paid to a high school babysitter in many communities.

The fact that young children are under the care of adults subject to chronic stress is a critical problem that has tremendous consequences for young children and U.S. society at-large. The foundation for lifelong literacy, attention, and self-regulation is built during the years from birth to age five. Young children’s brains are influenced dramatically by the quality of their relationships with those caring for them. In fact, research has determined that early educators’ skills are the most important factor determining the quality of children’s early learning experiences.

Many believe that the best way to set students up for life long success is to ensure all children have access to two years of high-quality preschool. While this change would dramatically increase long-term outcomes for American children, it is impossible to achieve this without transforming the early childcare workforce and the conditions under which they toil. States must increase workplace supports and compensation. The Center for the Study of Child Care Employment report aims to be a yearly report, so here’s hoping the next index will show dramatic improvements in the right direction.

39 Magical Years of Exploration: Wisdom from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Kindergarten Teacher

When I think about kindergarten, a number of images instantly come to mind: wooden blocks, the house corner, easels, smocks, water tables, the alphabet, and paper bag frog puppets. But, what I remember the most vividly is my teacher, Miss Spendly, and her wide, affirming smile and warm eyes. She made me fall in love with school.

Lin-Manuel Miranda remembers his kindergarten teacher fondly too. He tweeted a picture of the two of them in December. When Mrs. Liebov first came to see his Broadway show In the Heights, he proclaimed: “Mrs. Liebov, look what I made!”

Lin-Manuel Miranda hugging his kindergarten teach Amy Liebov

photo via @Lin_Manuel

Mrs. Liebov is an expert on kindergarten. She spent thirty-nine years guiding five-year-old students through a magical year of exploration, first at Hunter College Elementary School, a school for gifted children, and then as a founding faculty member at The School at Columbia University. I visited her classroom at Columbia before she retired and was amazed by her joyous, beautiful, and functional classroom. Mrs. Liebov easily guided students through lessons on symmetry and art projects modeled on Eric Carle’s books. Her young students made videos declaring their favorite parts of kindergarten, including memorable comments like: “I liked learning about Picasso’s blue period.” I recently interviewed Mrs. Liebov to capture her deep wisdom about the magical time of kindergarten and how it has changed in recent years.

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The Child Development Argument for a U.S. Paid Parental Leave Policy

pg-toddler-bedtime-routines-toddler-reading-fullIn April, San Francisco became the first city in the U.S. to provide six weeks fully-paid leave for new parents. While this is ground-breaking for an American city, it doesn’t rate well against international norms. In Japan, new mothers receive 58 weeks parental leave, and new fathers receive 52 weeks parental leave. In Korea, new parents of either gender receive 52 weeks parental leave.

Japan and Korea’s parental leave policies signal that both countries understand the critical importance of parent-child interaction and their role in cognitive development. Our country’s lack of a national parental leave policy illustrates that we have not internalized this lesson. The U.S. should embrace parental leave policies as a mechanism for improving cognitive development and academic achievement.

In the United States, we take a fairly narrow approach to improving our education system. We view education as the formal progression from kindergarten to twelfth grade — and ideally beyond to higher education. But brain development begins long before a child sits down on a reading rug and learns to grasp a pencil. While the U.S. has begun to embrace the importance of early childhood education in the form of public pre-k, our lack of uniform parental leave policy impedes early cognitive development for many children and increases the likelihood they will struggle during K-12 education.

Years of neuroscience research provide many clues on how to improve early childhood development, which in turn will influence a child’s academic trajectory. Child development specialists have proven that the environment of a child’s earliest years can have effects that last a lifetime. By the time a child turns two, the structures of his brain that will influence long-term learning are mostly formed. In the first months and years of life, babies learn the contours of the world through their experiences with the adults surrounding them. A baby’s early relationships, especially with his parents, shape the architecture of his developing brain and his cognitive development. As a result, parenting explains 40 percent of the income-related cognitive differences between children at age four.

Emerging research reveals that stronger parental leave policies have positive, long-term effects on a child’s success in school. In fact, an American student’s academic success is deeply tied to his socioeconomic status, far more than a student in Australia, Britain and Canada — all of which offer up to a year parental leave. A uniform U.S. approach to parental leave could help narrow the achievement gap in the US.

While major U.S. corporations have begun to offer more generous leave programs, and cities and states have begun to consider parental leave policies, too few new parents in the U.S. have access to paid leave. In fact, only 13% of new mothers have access.

The U.S. should be embarrassed by our global rankings. Our country is the only advanced economy that doesn’t mandate maternity leave for its workers, and one of nine OECD countries that have no leave policies in place for fathers. Additionally, the U.S. is one of two counties out of 185 listed by the International Labor Organization that do not have a national law providing paid parental leave (the other is Papua New Guinea). 

It’s time for the U.S. to rethink the way we approach parental leave and develop a uniform policy, instead of depending on businesses and individual cities to make small changes in the right direction.