What Can Colombia Teach Us About Early Education?

October 28, 2010

So much of what we know about the effects of early childhood education is based on research conducted in North America where we have been fortunate enough to have studies like those conducted on the Perry Preschool Program. Of course, repeating the Perry study 40 years later would be difficult if not impossible here in the U.S. That’s because over the decades out-of-home child care and preschool have become so prevalent that any large sample of children against which researchers compare the early education treatment is far less likely to have attended no type of early childhood program. This complicates matters when measuring the true effects of access to quality preschool since it is difficult to gauge to what extent the “impure” control group affects the outcome.

That isn’t the case in Colombia where I grew up. There, preschool education as we in the U.S. have come to know it is far less prevalent. Colombia has about 4.9 million children under age 5 and sadly only 30 percent of these receive early childhood services. Currently, Colombia is experiencing a large, smooth expansion of its early childhood provision, increasing access and/or quality through public provision and through public-private partnerships. This makes Colombia a good place for conducting high-quality randomized studies, working with larger samples of children than the Perry researchers had at their disposal, and for impacting early childhood development (ECD) policy and growth in access through such research.

At NIEER we have begun a randomized study in partnership with AeioTU, a well-regarded preschool program whose mission is providing high-quality early education to children in poverty. Working with a sample of about 1,200 children in two sites, our research team will investigate child growth and development in the cognitive, socio-emotional and health areas. Over time, we will estimate children’s outcomes at primary school entry and throughout primary and secondary school, and program cost-effectiveness. We believe the results will not only update the field in terms of the impact of high-quality ECD, but also be relevant for ECD policies being implemented all over the region. Our project now counts on the collaboration of Los Andes, a leading university in Colombia and a wonderful local PI, Dr. Raquel Bernal, as well as the Jacobs Foundation in Switzerland and the Inter-American Development Bank.

NIEER co-director Steve Barnett and I recently visited the AeioTU centers participating in the study, and met with our local evaluation team to assess solutions to issues that have arisen in the fieldwork. To say the Colombians are enthusiastic about the study would be an understatement. The presentation we did on the study was profiled in leading newspapers in Colombia. In addition, we are able to count on wonderful support from community leaders, local government, and the national government. In Santa Marta, one of the cities where we gave our presentation, the mayor presented Steve with the keys to the city!

Milagros Nores
Principal Investigator
Assistant Research Professor, NIEER

Investing in Children

October 11, 2010

On Wednesday, October 13, the Center on Children and Families at Brookings and the National Institute for Early Education Research will release a new collection of papers that assesses the field of early childhood education and child care. Edited by Senior Fellow Ron Haskins and W. Steven Barnett of Rutgers University, Investing in Young Children: New Directions in Federal Preschool and Early Childhood Policy focuses on Early Head Start, Head Start, and home visiting programs. The editors recommend promising reforms for all three programs, including closing ineffective Head Start centers or giving other program operators the opportunity to compete for Head Start funds. Other recommendations include offering a few states broad regulatory relief to innovate and coordinate Head Start with other state preschool educational programs and child care. To view the full report, visit nieer.org.

To address these issues, the Center on Children and Families will host a discussion featuring Haskins and Barnett. A panel of experts and program administrators will offer their views on the analysis, especially on the recommendations to reform Head Start.

Speakers and panelists, listed below, will take audience questions. To register, click here: https://www.cvent.com/EVENTS/Register/IdentityConfirmation.aspx?e=3e34ba9a-fc57-46cc-9e93-2ded83732c5e.

Welcome: Ron Haskins
Senior Fellow, Economic Studies, Brookings Institution

Overview: W. Steven Barnett
Professor and Co-Director, National Institute for Early Education (NIEER), Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Ben Allen
Director, Public Policy and Research, National Head Start Association

Harriet Dichter
National Director, First Five Years

Roberto Rodriguez
Domestic Policy Council, The White House

Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst
Senior Fellow, Governance Studies

Nicholas Zill
Educational Consultant

Play’s the thing at the Ultimate Block Party

October 6, 2010

October 3rd was a perfect autumn day in New York City. And in Central Park, hundreds of children got to stretch their imaginations as they played all day during the first Ultimate Block Party, sponsored by the organization Play for Tomorrow.

Kids participated in a myriad of play-based activities, such as making sidewalk art with chalk, building a city of green LEGO blocks, cooking up multiethnic treats in play kitchens, singing along with Sesame Street’s Gordon, and joining the world’s largest game of Simon Says.

Parents learned about the beneficial effects on the brain of raising children bilingual, were encouraged to pledge to Read for the Record on October 7, and observed the learning possible in playing and creating from high-tech robotics to acorns and egg cartons.  Throughout the day, specialists in child development or “play doctors,” dressed in lab coats with colorful painted handprints, milled through the crowd addressing any questions parents had about their children’s development.

The event raised awareness for the importance of play, which NIEER has highlighted in the past. Outside of New York, other towns and cities across the nation planned their own block parties.

– Jen Fitzgerald, Public Information Officer, NIEER

For Whom Does the Bell Toll?

October 4, 2010

It’s Time We Heed The Words of John Donne

The latest Census Bureau data (collected in 2009 and early this year) show the gap between rich and poor in the U.S. is the widest on record. Last year, the top 20 percent of households—those earning more than $100,000 a year—received 49.4 percent of all household income. The bottom 20 percent—those earning less than $20,000—received 3.4 percent. The ratio of earnings between the top and bottom is about double what it was when the Census Bureau began tracking in 1967. Median household income fell 2.9 percent nationwide, from $51,726 to $50,221. It rose in only one state — North Dakota. Now 43.6 million Americans are living in poverty, the most in the 51 years the Census estimates have been published.

Alarming as they are, these numbers are but the latest installment in a decades-long trend in which expanding income inequality was driven more by growth in income for those at the top than declines for those in the middle or at the bottom. That has clearly changed as middle- and lower- income families have lost ground.

This transformation in the well-being of most Americans has already produced negative consequences not least of which are reductions in marriage and birth rates and the mobility of families. There is another consequence in the making: A reduction in economic mobility for those whose future incomes will be vital to the nation’s prosperity: our youngest children.

Confronting this threat now with high-priority investments in high-quality early education for children from both low- and middle-income families as part of broader education reform would go a long way toward securing their futures. Yet early childhood education is not a substantive part of most conversations about education reform or broader policy responses to the long-term economic decline of the middle class and rising tide of poverty.  Instead there is a focus on a variety of ill-considered policy changes that are unlikely to improve education or the economy.

Some economists have called on the federal government to step in with a major program of aid to the states that is more permanent than the stimulus (which is beginning to run out.) I worry that governors and state legislatures will not make good use of such aid.  Instead, I favor more competitive federal grants for education reform, including grants for early education for states that are willing to innovate and set high standards. States would have to match these grants, though not necessarily dollar for dollar.

Whatever mechanism prevails, the point is that one is urgently needed. The time has arrived for all levels of government to work more effectively together for the common good. Encouraging news comes by way of a report from the National Conference of State Legislatures pointing out that after the enormous collapse in state revenue most states are predicting some rise in revenue next year. That’s good but it will be years before most states and the huge cohort of families who have lost ground over the past decade get back on their feet. In the meantime, we would all do well to heed the wisdom of English poet John Donne:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less,
As well as if a promontory were,
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know
For whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

Steve Barnett

Co-Director, NIEER

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