As this year winds down and we gear up for the next, I’d like to take some time to reflect on this past year and its highlights as well as wish you all a very merry holiday season and happy new year. We at NIEER thank you for all of your support and engagement on early childhood education issues.
It’s been a busy year for all of us here at NIEER. In March, NIEER researchers – in conjunction with Lakeshore Learning Materials – released a new preschool assessment, the Early Learning Scale (ELS). The ELS was developed based on extensive review of the research and with input from preschool teachers who piloted the tool. Focusing on the critical domains of Math/Science, Social-Emotional/Social Studies and Language & Literacy, the ELS provides teachers with a manageable and effective tool for assessing children’s progress toward early learning standards and expectations.
In April, we unveiled a new look to our web site, nieer.org, designed to be more user friendly and with new features such as a publication order form. That month we also released the ninth edition of The State of Preschool yearbook series at a press conference featuring U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan who joined me to emphasize the importance of improving state early education policies, as can be seen in the picture below. While nationwide total enrollment continued to increase, not all of the news was good, especially when we looked at 10-year trends showing that pre-K education was declining in terms of funding and quality standards. This bleak picture was picked up by the national – as well as state and local – news media, helping to open up a dialogue about publicly funded pre-K across the country. We are now hard at work collecting and cleaning data for the next edition of this important report, even as a lack of future funding puts this project at risk of discontinuation as highlighted by Lisa Guernsey in her article for The Huffington Post.
Also in April, NIEER’s Associate Director of Research Milagros Nores visited Colombia for the launch of that country’s public-private initiative Primero es lo Primero (First Things First). As we’ve noted in the past, we are continuing to study the effectiveness of Colombian preschools in addition to other long-term studies we are conducting in the states of Arkansas and New Jersey.
I traveled extensively throughout the past year, speaking about the importance of intensity and quality in early childhood programs if the economic benefits of investing in early childhood education are to be realized. Here at home, interest remains high from New York, New York and Washington, D.C. to San Antonio, Texas, where voters approved a modest tax to invest in early education, and points further west. Abroad, interest in increasing investments in the young children often surpasses that at home, taking me from Oslo, Norway and Guatemala City, Guatemala to Seoul, South Korea and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The picture below shows me meeting with Guatemalan Minister of Education Cynthia Del Águila de Sáenz de Tejada and others interested in early education in Guatemala City; other pictures from that trip can be found on NIEER’s Facebook page.
In keeping with Rutgers University’s theme of “Jersey Roots, Global Reach,” NIEER also made efforts to work within our own local community, with NIEER Assistant Research Professor Alissa Lange receiving and implementing a grant to conduct a series of math-themed story times for preschoolers at the public library.
This year also saw progress on other fronts as NIEER successfully competed for several new grants, most notably winning a U.S. Department of Education grant to establish the Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes (CEELO) along with our partners at the Education Development Center, Inc., and the Council of Chief State School Officers. We are delighted to welcome to the NIEER team Dr. Lori Connors-Tadros, Senior Project Director for CEELO at NIEER. CEELO will provide technical assistance and other supports for state education agencies to improve outcomes for early childhood education programs. Other recent grantors include The Schumann Fund for New Jersey, the Turrell Fund, The Nicholson Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, and the National Science Foundation.
The NIEER offices will be closed from December 24 until January 2. When we return, we’ll be looking forward to another year of advancing research to improve educational outcomes for young children. And we’ll be looking forward to hearing from all of you – whether you give us a call, speak with us face-to-face at conferences, or visit us virtually on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, or on our blog.
Again, all of us at NIEER wish all of our readers a happy holiday season.
– Steve Barnett, Director, NIEER