More and more business leaders and elected officials are talking about the value of high quality early childhood education. And they are so right. The research is indisputable. (Well, there’s always dispute even in the face of overwhelming evidence). Study after study shows that if the right elements are present, top quality early education reaps great benefits for society.
But the fact of the matter is that having a child in a rich environment with dynamic teachers for a few hours a day is not a silver bullet if children return home where there is no conversation and no reinforcement of what is learned. There has been research around for quite a while showing dramatic differences in school performance based on the number of words spoken to the children before they get to school – the more, the better. And the number of words heard is correlated directly to the education and income of the parents. In fact, by age 3, a poor child will have heard 30 million fewer words in his home than a child from a more well-educated family.
A recent article in The New York Times, “The Power of Talking to Your Baby.” by Tina Rosenberg, talks about some new approaches to engage parents to increase talking to babies. And I love this video about the importance of talking to your baby.
Whether this renewed interest in “baby talk” is just the new new thing is yet to be seen. But I am certain of one thing –supporting parents as well as children is essential. Two-generation strategies should get more of our attention. Such approaches should be tested and then widely supported when they are effective. The Aspen Institute’s publication, Two Generations, One Future; Moving Parents and Children Beyond Poverty Together is a great resource to get us started.
Today’s post is a guest blog from 4C’s Director of Professional Development, Aaron Haneline.
Last week I attended Child Care Aware of America’s 2013 Policy Symposium. As a seasoned educational professional, I have attended many conferences over the years, but this was my first policy symposium. I was looking forward to this new experience for months.
The symposium was everything I had hoped for I attended sessions on:
- how a bill moves through the legislative process,
- the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBC),
- parent-led reform,
- accountability for federally funded quality initiatives,
- effectively advocating for quality child care outside the early care and education community and
- the President’s early learning agenda.
I spent a thrilling day at the Capitol. Child care resource and referral representatives from across Ohio executed a coordinated effort to meet with 16 Ohio House Representatives and two Senators. My morning started with coffee and an opportunity to meet with Senator Sherrod Brown, who invited us to share the challenges and opportunities our communities are currently facing in regards to early childhood education. I then walked under the Capitol in a labyrinth of hallways that connect to the Senate Office Building to my next appointment with Representative Steve Chabot. Then another walk back through the Capitol labyrinth to meet with Representative Brad Wenstrup.
We shared this message: there are great things happening for children and families in Ohio, but there are challenges to address. The great things include the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge Grant, which is driving an increase in the quality of early care and education. Ohio’s greatest challenge: too many children are being left behind – in either poor quality environments or without access to any early learning and care. Another challenge: too many parents lose out on employment opportunities due to lack of access to child care.
We also reminded our officials that children who participate in quality learning and care are ready for kindergarten have increased third-grade reading proficiency, increased high school graduation rates, less involvement with the juvenile justice system and are ready to participate in our workforce.
We requested their support to;
- Maintain and increase Child Care Development Block Grant funding
- Maintain and increase the 21st Century Community Learning Centers funding
- Maintain Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge Grant funding
Upon reflection, I accomplished all I had hoped to with my trip to Washington D.C. I had an opportunity to see many of the monuments and the White House. The weather was perfect and the cherry blossoms were in full bloom. I was energized by the opportunity to participate in our democratic process at the federal level. Most importantly, I was an advocate for increasing quality in early child care education.
If you would like to learn more about early child care issues and challenges facing children and families in our community or how you can participate in the process to increase quality in early child care, please visit 4C for Children’s Web site at and click on the Take Action for Children button.
As soon as Ohio Governor Kasich’s proposed biennial budget “leaked” last week, I started hearing excited reports that early childhood education was slated to receive an increase of $180 million. This sounds like excellent news, doesn’t it?
But as the actual details have begun to emerge, let’s just say, I am not getting my hopes up. For one thing (a rather large one thing), school districts can use the entire amount of that early education funding in their kindergartens to third grades to boost the reading levels of students. While I am sure schools could use additional help in supporting children who are not reading at expected levels, why wait until students start school behind so we then have to put all those extra resources into remediation? The Governor said all the right things about the proven value of Pre-K, but gave local schools a loophole big enough to drive a truck through.
And there is another “but.” While 5,700 children are in Ohio’s public school early education classes, far more (86,000) children are in Ohio’s quality-rated community-based child care programs and Head Start centers. Ohio has done terrific work over the last two years aligning quality standards and curriculum between the schools where the 5,700 children attend and the community programs where 15 times that number of children receive their early learning experiences.
This potential new investment in “early childhood education” should be focused on the critical years before a child enters school. These new dollars could provide school districts with significant leverage to work with community-based child care programs that are preparing children to succeed in school.
We’ve come a long way with the work underway in Ohio stemming from the Early Learning Challenge Grant (part of Race to the Top). This budget proposal feels like a step backward to when folks incorrectly thought
- that learning begins only when children enter school and
- that only schools are capable of providing quality early childhood education.
It seems like an advocacy opportunity awaits us.
I came upon this video about Head Start that shows the wonderful advantages of this nearly 50-year-old program that gives children from low-income families the best possible early start. The point of the video is to describe the impact that “sequestration” would have on Head Start.
Wikipedia defines sequestration as: In U.S. law, a procedure by which an automatic spending cut is triggered, introduced to the federal budget in 1985 by the Gramm–Rudman–Hollings Balanced Budget Act. It was most recently implemented in the Budget Control Act of 2011. This has led to worry over the “United States fiscal cliff.”
Essentially, if Congress cannot reach a deal to reduce the deficit by the end of 2012, automatic spending cuts of $1.2 trillion, evenly split between defense and non-defense spending, will go into effect. The intent is to pressure Congress into making decisions – not permitting continuation budgets.
Head Start provides comprehensive education, health, nutrition and parent involvement services to low-income children and their families. With sequestration pending, funding for Head Start and many other early childhood education programs is in serious jeopardy.
This video highlights one important tool in our country’s efforts to end the cycle of poverty through early education. To quote the source of the video, “as many as 80,000 children could lose access to Head Start’s comprehensive services and more than 30,000 teachers, administrators and support staff could lose their jobs. At a time when one in four children under age 5 is living in poverty, we need a strong Head Start program now more than ever.”
The Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) is the main source of government funding for child care in America. The main source of overall funding is, of course, tuition paid by parents. But CCDBG is critical to the success of childcare because it:
- Helps low-income working families pay a portion of the cost of child care, allowing them to work to support their children, and
- Helps drive up the quality of child care so that it supports the dual goals of work support and school readiness.
The original legislation passed in 1990 and was reauthorized along with Welfare Reform in 1996 – and has not changed one bit since then. Fortunately, funding has continued to flow as both Republicans and Democrats understand the value of sustaining a child care infrastructure. However, the law desperately needs to be updated. A lot has changed in 16 years.
So it is great news that the U.S. Senate HELP Committee (Health, Education, Labor and Pensions) has begun hearings to consider making important changes.
I listened in on the first hearing this week and heard some interesting testimony and great questions by the members of the Senate. Here were some points that got the Senators’ attention:
- Our tax dollars are being used to pay for child care provided by people who may have records of child abuse and neglect.
- Many states do not do background checks on individuals who are paid to provide child care. (Fortunately that is not the case in Ohio and Kentucky.)
- While CCDBG was intended to help families stay off of public assistance, the funding level is such that most states can only afford to support working families whose income is so low that they are also receiving public assistance.
- The 1996 law required that states use a minimum of four percent of the funds to improve quality. Most states use more than four percent because quality has been unacceptably low, putting children at risk. But this takes away from serving more children.
- The pull between quantity and quality is greater than ever, leaving states to choose between serving more people in low-quality settings or fewer children in environments that are likely to lead to school readiness.
Among the speakers were Linda Smith, currently with the Department of Health and Human Services and former Director of Child Care Aware of America, and my dear friend Janet Singerman, President of Child Care Resources Inc. of Charlotte, NC.
Stay tuned. Even though there is passion and momentum to reauthorize this bill from both sides of the aisle, gridlock seems to be ruling the day. I’ll keep my fingers crossed – which may be the best I can do – given that our Senators from Ohio and Kentucky are not on this committee. If it gets past the HELP Committee, 4C will be calling on you to get involved.
Teacher Tom is a prolific blogger in the field of early childhood education, writing about art, dramatic play, fine motor skills and circle time. His recent blog, a passionate piece entitled, “It’s the Poverty, Stupid,” made this accurate point:
“The evidence is crystal clear. Poverty is really the only national education reform issue that matters. Poverty is by far the number one reason children ‘fail’ in school. Poverty, poverty, poverty. To phrase it as Bill Clinton might: It’s the poverty, stupid. It’s not a lack of a progressive play-based curriculum, it’s not a lack of accountability, it’s not about lazy teachers . . . Say it with me: it’s the poverty.”
My first reaction after, “Well, yes,” was to think what the elected officials, business leaders, parents, clergy and his readers like me could do about eradicating poverty since that was where he laid the responsibility – especially on Wall Street. I agree with Tom that there is no magic bullet in a particular curriculum or standardized test, and that until communities are economically stable, the achievement gap between rich and poor will persist. The cure will not come from a new gimmick.
But there is no doubt that in the United States, as well as every other country in the world, education is the game changer. And that early learning – and school readiness – is the most effective way to get education on the right track. I don’t plan to give up our work to ensure that all children get the best possible early learning experiences. 4C works to make sure that teachers know how to guide children in their social/emotional, physical and cognitive development and to support families as they raise their children in this complicated world. There surely are additional strategies to level the playing field for children living in poverty but none more important than helping children get the best educational start. Giving poor kids the knowledge and tools they need to succeed is the ticket.
Teacher Tom paraphrased Bill Clinton. I will paraphrase Tammany Hall circa 1860 – start early, start often.
Ohio has a major new education law, Senate Bill 316, signed by Governor Kasich on June 25 in Cincinnati. Included in the bill is a “third grade reading guarantee,” which mandates that third-graders must pass a proficiency test in order to be promoted to the fourth grade.
But the two “big deals” in the bill as far as I am concerned impact younger children and their families. First is licensing of family child care providers. Finally, after nearly two decades of effort, home-based child care businesses, known as “family child care providers,” will be licensed in Ohio. Ohio has been only one of five states in the nation that does not license this form of child care. Until now!
Effective January 1, 2014, every provider who has a contract to serve children from low-income families will automatically become licensed. This will be mandatory for everyone who provides subsidized child care in their homes, and optional for those who do not accept the subsidy. This is less than the ideal, as all children in child care deserve protection, but it is a very important start. For one thing, it makes all licensed child care providers eligible for Step Up to Quality (SUTQ), Ohio’s quality rating and improvement system. SUTQ provides an excellent tool for parents so that they can distinguish among the levels of quality care.
The other big “win” in Senate Bill 316 is the requirement that child care and early childhood education programs achieve a quality rating by 2020 in order to receive any state funding. Thus, programs in schools, programs serving children with disabilities and those centers or family child care homes accessing the child care subsidy system must achieve a level of quality if our tax dollars are to help cover the costs. We expect that many more programs will “reach for the stars,” and while some may go out of business if they cannot reach the required quality rating, it is important that all programs for young children contribute to their well-being and school readiness. Currently around 1100 Ohio programs are rated, only 25 percent of those eligible! Look forward to that number doubling over the next few years. I know we are.