Three Easy Pieces (of Research) for Budget Deciders

August 27, 2010

As the recession drags on, it becomes ever-more-obvious the ABC (across-the-board cuts) approach to controlling government expenditures is harming our chances for a robust economy in the future. That’s because ABC looks at everything as a cost, ignoring investments in areas like early childhood education that are critical to future economic growth. ABC has been in especially heavy use at the state level. Over the past two years, some states have spared pre-K from ABC while others have not.  Other early childhood programs have suffered from ABC, as well.  Next year could see more of the same.

These cuts come at a time when evidence continues to mount on the critical importance of investments in children before they reach school. For budget deciders who may be considering future cuts and may not be not up on the latest findings, I offer three important, easy-to-understand pieces of research that have turned up just this year. Each looks at different impacts of investments on young children and underscores the importance of prioritizing investments in early learning and development.

1.  Poverty’s Negative Effect on the Very Young. A University of California study tracking the lives of children born between 1968 and 1975 found that poverty during the period when children are infants to age 5 has a lasting detrimental impact on outcomes related to attainment such as earnings and hours worked. Negative impacts from poverty during this early period could be measured as late as age 37. Subsequent periods of poverty, when children were older, had fewer detrimental effects.

2.  Why Good Teachers for Young Children Pay Off. Harvard economist Raj Chetty and colleagues have made public findings from a yet-to-be-published study of the life paths of children who were part of Tennessee’s 1980s-era Project Star. Chetty says students who learned more in kindergarten were more likely to attend college than kids with similar backgrounds and more likely to save for retirement and earn more. Here is his Power Point presentation:

3.  Negative Early Experiences Last a Lifetime. A research paper just out from Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child presents evidence on how children’s early experiences become integrated into their response systems, leading to long-term effects in areas such as their overall physical health and ability to respond to stress and achieve. The authors call for, among other things, improving the quality of child care and preschool education.

Steve Barnett
Co-director, NIEER

Welcome to the Milk Party: The Children’s Movement of Florida

August 13, 2010

David Lawrence, Jr.In this era of Tea Party discontent, a group of Floridians who have had it up to their eyeballs with the way Florida treats its children is kicking off its own series of Milk Parties to register their determination to elevate children on the state’s list of investment priorities. Officially launched earlier this week, the new group is called The Children’s Movement of Florida. Its leaders are children’s advocate David Lawrence, Jr., and Roberto Martinez, Florida board of education member and former U.S. attorney for South Florida. For many in early education, Lawrence needs little introduction. He’s president of The Early Childhood Initiative Foundation, founding chair of The Children’s Trust, University Scholar for early childhood development and readiness at the University of Florida, and retired publisher of The Miami Herald. We decided to ask him some questions about the new group, its mission, and how they intend to accomplish it.

Q: Could you fill us in a little about the new organization?

A: We are a citizen-led, non-partisan movement to educate political, business and civic leaders — and all parents of the state — about the urgent need to significantly improve the way we care for our children. Our goal is to encourage the people and leaders of Florida to make the well-being and education of our children the state’s highest priority. Read the rest of this entry »

Is Preschool Too Early for Science? No!

August 6, 2010

For Curious Young Minds Eager to Understand Their World, This Age is Just Right

Related Reading

Preschool Pathways to Science (PrePS)Preschool Pathways to Science (PrePS)

Facilitating Scientific Ways of Thinking, Talking, Doing, and Understanding

Rochel Gelman
Kimberly Brenneman
Gay Macdonald
Moisés Román

Paul H. Brooks Publishing Co., Inc.
Baltimore, MD
144 pages, ISBN 978-1-59857-044-1

Until recently, science has been the ignored academic stepchild of language and math. Mandated state testing as part of No Child Left Behind initially focused on language, expanded to math, and now includes science.  Concern over U.S. students’ poor science scores has brought science teaching to the forefront and a 2007 National Research Council (NRC) report, Taking Science to School, calls for broad sweeping changes in how science should be taught and organized.  States are now revising science standards to be less fragmented, fewer in number, and organized around “big ideas.”

As was the case with its academic siblings, where the preschool years became a focus for providing critical foundations for language, emergent literacy and math, educators are now asking whether science should be introduced in preschool.  Science is not “new” to preschool since many states include science as part of their “cognition and general knowledge” school readiness domain and Head Start includes “nature and science” as one of eight designated readiness domains.  However, a recent analysis of Head Start school readiness data in one state (Greenfield et al., 2009) finds that on average, children leave the Head Start program for kindergarten with science readiness scores significantly lower than scores on the other seven school readiness domains.  Follow-up focus groups with Head Start teachers pinpoint lack of time and not feeling prepared or comfortable teaching science as two possible reasons why this mandated readiness domain receives short shrift.  Is preschool, however, too early for introducing science?  A “strict” interpretation of Piaget would suggest so.  More recent research on children’s thinking, however, clearly show that despite much of young children’s thinking being tied to the perceptual here and now, young children can think and talk about many science-related topics.  The 2007 NRC report reviews this research and argues for the importance and timeliness of introducing science to young children.  This urgency has important relevance beyond its direct impact on science readiness, since part of learning science involves important domain general skills that are relevant in other areas of learning.

Preschool Pathways to Science (PrePS) is a new publication that arrives on this scene, not as a rushed attempt to fill this gap, but rather as a mature program whose initial development began 20 years ago in preschool programs serving families at an Air Force base near Los Angeles.  The development of PrePS has also benefited from its use at UCLA and in New Jersey, including programs serving ethnically diverse and economically disadvantaged preschool populations.  A central premise of PrePS is that young children are “scientists-in-waiting … naturally curious and actively involved in exploring the world around them” (p.2).  A goal of PrePS is to foster these predispositions in the “privileged domain” of science where children have a natural proclivity to learn, experiment and explore.  Teachers also play a critical role in PrePS guiding children in organized investigations of their everyday world, building on existing knowledge, and connecting this knowledge into deeper levels of understanding.  As one PrePS teacher reflects, “It is not about what, as a teacher, do I want the children to be doing, but what I want the children to be thinking about … Then (I ask myself), what should they be doing to better understand the concept?” (p.18). Read the rest of this entry »

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