Health Care Reform: Early Learning Challenge Fund Dropped but Home Visitation Survives

March 26, 2010

We were bitterly disappointed to learn that the Early Learning Challenge Fund didn’t survive the rough and tumble of the health care reform effort. It represented much that was good about the Obama approach to education. Using competitive grants to fund better quality, better-coordinated services for children from birth to age 5, as the program proposed, would go a long way toward addressing the many deficiencies in our early childhood system.

We hope the administration finds another way to meaningfully fund the challenge grant concept for the early childhood years but can’t help wondering if this will actually happen. Obviously, it didn’t help that Congress had to resort to the reconciliation process for passage and that the amount saved from reforming the student loan program was revised downward. One worry is that the costs of health care reform, war, and other big budget items will simply squeeze early childhood programs out of the budget. In any case, this session in Congress will be a test of the early childhood community’s clout on the Hill.

The news wasn’t all bad for the early childhood community, however. The health care reform legislation does contain a $1.5 billion federal grant program for evidence-based home visitation for new and expectant families. Engaging families at home to deliver parenting education and child development guidance is not new. Programs like Parents as Teachers (PAT), Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters (HIPPY) and Even Start have been around since the 1980s. They use home visits to deliver parent education intended to promote better cognitive and socio-emotional development of at-risk children. In the 1990s, programs like Healthy Families America and Healthy Start began using home visits in an effort to prevent child abuse.

For years, these programs have been plagued with questions about how well they work. The quality of research on them is mixed, as are the findings. For the most part, when positive effects have been found, they have tended to be modest. One exception is the Nurse Family Partnership. Begun in the 1970s, it targets low-income, first-time mothers with visits from trained nurses. Randomized trials have found the program produced positive outcomes that, among other things, included fewer childhood injuries, fewer subsequent pregnancies, and improved school readiness among the children of parents visited.

If a major expansion of home visitation is to be effective, policymakers need to realize that success with this service delivery model depends heavily on the quality of the intervention. As with high-quality preschool education, much depends on the quality of the professional doing the teaching and the pupil — in this case the home visitors and parents.

A good deal more high-quality research needs to be done on home visitation to identify what works for given sets of circumstances and to inform various aspects of the policy process. Among those calling for that is John Schlitt who directs the Pew Home Visiting Campaign at The Pew Center for the States. His initiative is looking at what each state is doing in this arena and will publish initial findings this year. It is working in partnership with states that take different home visitation approaches in order to better develop scenarios from which other states may benefit. Meanwhile, a number of states are funding programs that don’t have much in way of compelling evidence that they are working. That needs to change.

Calling All Doctoral Students: Dissertation Funding Available

March 24, 2010

Child Care Research Scholars grants are available to support graduate students as a way of encouraging child care policy research. Eligible applicants include doctoral level graduate students enrolled in accredited public, state-controlled, and private institutions of higher education, including Hispanic-Serving Institutions, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribally Controlled Colleges and Universities (TCCUs), and faith-based institutions of higher education. Applications are due May 3, 2010.

Applicants may apply for project periods up to two years and will be awarded up to $30,000 for the first year and up to $20,000 for the second year of the project. Five individual grants are expected to be awarded. For information about previous Child Care Research Scholars, see . Those with questions can email the Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation child care research grant review team at or call 1-877-301-6977. Visit the HHS Grants Forecast site at to learn about upcoming funding opportunities from the OPRE.

Why School Reform Should Begin With Pre-K

March 12, 2010

In the past, too many school reform conversations have begun at the kindergarten door, but that is changing. We think it particularly noteworthy that the latest issue of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) quarterly journal American Educator features two articles devoted preschool education. In their article “The Promise of Preschool,” NIEER Co-Directors Ellen Frede and Steve Barnett make the case that preschool programs have important academic and social benefits for middle-income children as well as more disadvantaged kids and that if high-quality preschool were offered to all children, the benefits would far outweigh the costs.

American Educator assistant editor Jennifer Dubin follows up with an excellent companion piece that hones in on the ingredients that spell success at the Ignacio Cruz Early Childhood Center in Perth Amboy, New Jersey.

Preschool’s Role in Fighting Childhood Obesity

March 9, 2010

While new data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) suggests that the childhood obesity epidemic may have hit a plateau, the fact remains that in 2008, 14.6 percent of low-income children from ages 2 to 4 were obese. Obesity at such young ages has been linked to less physical activity, thus perpetuating unhealthy weight and inactivity status into adulthood. While obesity levels have been rising, the number of children enrolled in preschool programs has also been steadily increasing. Researchers and advocates have proposed that preschools might be an appropriate place for preventive health measures, particularly activities that increase young children’s physical activity. Enter the Children’s Activity and Movement in Preschools Study (CHAMPS).

CHAMPS studied preschool children enrolled in 24 preschools in an urban area of South Carolina, with the aim of learning how much and in what context preschoolers were engaging in physical activity. Preschools in the study were child care centers, faith-based preschools, and Head Start programs, and children were all between 3 and 5 years old. Of the more than 450 children participating in the study, roughly half were males and half were African Americans.

Children were observed during the preschool hours, both indoor and outdoors, and their levels of physical activity were recorded by trained observers. Physical activity levels were: motionless, stationary with limb or trunk movement, light activity, moderate activity, and vigorous activity.

The researchers found that children engaged in moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) during only 3.4 percent of the preschool day. They also found that 4- and 5-year-olds were less physically active than 3-year-olds, and males were more active than females. In addition, the study found that children in higher quality preschools were more likely to engage in physical activity than children in programs of lower quality.

While spending more time indoors, children were more likely to engage in physical activity when outdoors. The five most common outdoor activities involved open space, fixed equipment, ball and object use, socio-dramatic props, and wheel toys. The first three conditions are associated with high levels of moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA). The other two are also associated with MVPA at lower levels. Read the rest of this entry »

Bredekamp Book Illuminates Effective Practices

March 1, 2010

Sue Bredekamp, one of the foremost authors on early childhood teaching practice, is out with a timely new book. Few are as qualified to write a primer on effective practice as she. Many may recall Sue is the primary author of NAEYC’s Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs (1987 and 1997 editions) and co-author of last year’s revision of that well-regarded volume. Her new effort, Effective Practices in Early Childhood Education, just arrived at NIEER and first impressions suggest it builds on that foundation. Research-based practices are demonstrated by example, there’s a “What Works” section in each chapter, and she integrates play as a means to promote learning throughout.

The book is comprehensive, weighing in at 576 pages. Integrated into the package are classroom demonstration videos and an online lab component where early childhood professionals can participate in exercises. We will be conducting a full review of Effective Practices in Early Childhood Education for an upcoming issue of Preschool Matters. In the meantime, Bredekamp, always an engaging speaker, will be appearing at select venues this spring as part of the launch. Below are places, dates and contact information.

Ellen Frede
Co-Director, NIEER

Location/Event Date Coordinator/Contact Info
NC / State-wide 2-year curriculum committee (virtual meeting) March 19 Caroline Hardy –
Santa Monica ECE symposium April 7
San Diego EE symposium April 8
NYC Launch event / Madison Avenue April 15
Washington D.C. Launch event April 16

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