Building a Strong Village to Promote Black Children’s Excellence: Early Childhood Education and the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans

April 30, 2014

The African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child,” recognizes the importance of supports for parents in raising healthy well-educated children who will succeed in school and life. The two most pressing education and health problems facing Blacks are the achievement gap and the “weathering effect.” Evidence for the achievement gap comes from several national data sources, such as the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) and the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS). Evidence for the weathering effect comes from reports highlighting the negative impact of chronic stress on children’s development, including the brain. African American children are more likely than others be exposed to the stresses of poverty including the violence that often afflicts communities with high concentrations of poverty, while having less access to high quality health care and education.   Because the Obama Administration understands the important role that education (and health) plays in children’s future success, the Administration has developed the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans.[1]

The White House’s Initiative espouses a P-16 approach to promoting education success for Blacks. The executive order that was established in July 2012 is comprehensive, spanning a vast array of education challenges faced by Blacks such as increasing their access to college on to the recruitment and retention of Black teachers. The Executive Director for the Initiative is David Johns, a former teacher who holds a Master’s degree from the Teachers’ College at Columbia University and who previously served as a senior education policy advisor to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.  Johns holds a Master’s degree from Columbia University. More about the Initiative can be learned by following the Twitter hashtags #AfAmEdChat and #teachthebabies.

In this blog, we discuss those aspects of  the Initiative that particularly pertain to early childhood education, and what the initiative can mean for early childhood education–by focusing on what educational structures are needed to ensure African Americans/Blacks are on the path to success even before they enroll in the K-12 system.

Why Early Education is Key to Building Education Excellence

The National Center for Education Statistics reports Black children attend full-day preschool (also referred to as “preprimary”) programs at higher rates than other racial/ethnic minorities.

One reason for this may be due to Black mothers’ higher workforce participation rate, compared to women of other races. Another reason could be because research finds that early childhood education works for African American children. In fact, the three best known studies (Perry Preschool, Abecedarian, Chicago Parent-Child Programs) were of programs that served predominantly African American children. More recent research finds that African American children benefit from high-quality preschool programs academically and socially. Such evidence leads to two overarching policy recommendations:

  1. invest in continued efforts to support early childhood education because it has proven effective in fostering Black children’s academic and social skills; and
  2. Target additional policy efforts during K-12 to ensure that continue to reduce the achievement gap.

These policy recommendations align with the missions/functions articulated in the Initiative, and therefore, our recommendations rest upon these missions. Below we discuss the research that contributes to the rationale for those most directly related to early childhood education.

Policy Recommendation #1:  Continue Investments in Early Education

  • Mission: Build African American children’s school readiness by enhancing their access to high-quality early learning programs. Overall, when compared to middle-class White children, low-income African Americans’ enrollment in high quality programs is lower. Policy efforts like expanding preschool for all children might facilitate children’s access to high quality early learning programs, especially given that a large portion of African Americans live in households that are at or below 200% of poverty. Given that African Americans are more often enrolled in full time programs, efforts should be made to expand access to, and improve the quality of, full-day programs.

Policy Recommendation #2:  Target Additional Efforts at K-12 to Sustain Early Education Efforts

  • Mission: Decrease the disproportionate number of African American referrals to special education. While African American children make up 17 percent of public school enrollment, they account for 31 percent of students identified as having mental retardation or intellectual disabilities, 28 percent of students labeled as having an emotional disturbance, and 21% of students who have learning disabilities. There is indication that African American children, especially boys, are often referred to special education rather than provided more individualized support for their needs.
  • Mission: Enhance access to effective teachers and school leaders by supporting efforts to recruit, prepare, and retain successful African American teachers and school leaders. A recent study by Iruka and colleagues (2014) shows that the majority of African American boys do well in their transition to kindergarten, but substantial percentage of even those who how early promise suffer declines as they transition into kindergarten.  These children would benefit from individualized support and attention in the early years that would ensure they flourish rather than fall behind.  Studies indicate that one year of low-quality teaching in the early years can have a detrimental impact on children’s later achievement and success.
  • Mission: Foster positive family engagement. Programs that support family engagement should be supported and encouraged. In order to get families and community members involved in a meaningful way, educational programs need to focus on effective family engagement. Iruka, Curenton, and Eke[2] (in press) explain that schools and early education programs must go beyond asking parents to volunteer for field trips and fill out forms. In the White House TweetChat on African American children & early education, one recurring topic was the need for programs to engage in meaningful outreach to families, and empower parents to have a true voice in their child’s education.
  • Mission: Reduce racial isolation and re-segregation of K-12 schools. African American children and families, regardless of income, are likely to live in segregated enclaves, which limit access to high quality employment, schooling, health care, community resources (e.g., parks, libraries) and housing. Children have fewer opportunities for stimulating experiences and individuals, which can limit a child’s imagination and potential to “dream big.” Further, these racially segregated enclaves are likely to expose children and families to violence and other stress factors that impact the child and family well-being. The recent recession, which caused many African American families to lose their homes and, subsequently, their wealth, has led to the de facto re-segregation of elementary schools.
  • Mission: Develop partnerships with public, private, philanthropic, and nonprofit stakeholders to increase children’s readiness for school.  Research shows that part of the achievement gap is due to learning loss in the summer.”  It is paramount that children and families have access to enriching after-school and summer programs to prevent the summer “brain drain,” the decline in learning that occurs during the summer.  In addition because the private child care market serves such a large proportion of young children, policy efforts should be made to promote collaboration between the public and private sectors offering preschool services.

Stephanie Curenton, Ph.D, is Assistant Professor, Rutgers University, Bloustein School of Planning & Public Policy; Adjunct Assistant Professor, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, Institute for the Study of Child Development; and a NIEERResearch Fellow.

Iheoma U. Iruka, Ph.D. is Associate Director and Scientist at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute and Associate Research Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

_________

[1] The White House also has Education Excellence Initiatives for Hispanics, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and American Indian and Alaskan Natives because there is an achievement gap for these ethnic minorities as well.

[2] Iruka, I. U., Curenton, S. M., & Eke, W. A. (in press). Culturally-Responsive, Anti-bias Framework of Expectation, Education, Exploration, and Empowerment (CRAF-E4). San Diego, CA: Elsevier.


Formative Assessment:  Points to Consider for Policy Makers, Teachers, and Researchers

April 16, 2014

Formative assessment is one area in early childhood education where policy is moving at lightning speed. There’s been a lot of support for the appropriateness of this approach to assessment for young learners. Many policy makers and data users have “talked the talk,” perfecting the lingo and pushing the implementation of policies for this approach. Yet there are essential questions to consider when rolling out a plan or process for a state. In the brief released by the Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes (CEELO), I outline several considerations for policy makers in moving such initiatives. They’re briefly outlined below, along with considerations for teachers and researchers.

For Policy Makers

Policies around formative assessment in early childhood education will be most successful when the below “top 10” items are considered thoughtfully before implementing.

Overall Considerations for Policymakers Responsible for Formative Assessment Systems

  1. Does the purpose of the assessment match the intended use of the assessment? Is it appropriate for the age and background of the children who will be assessed?
  2. Does the assessment combine information from multiple sources/caregivers?
  3. Are the necessary contextual supports in place to roll out the assessment and use data effectively? (e.g., training, time, ongoing support)
  4. Does the assessment have a base or trajectory/continuum aligned to child developmental expectations, standards, and curricula?  Does it include all key domains?
  5. Does the assessment have a systematic approach and acceptable reliability and validity data?   Has it been used successfully with similar children?
  6. Are the data easily collected and interpreted to effectively inform teaching and learning?
  7. What technology is necessary to gather data?
  8. Are the data useful to teachers and other stakeholders?
  9. What are the policies for implementation and what is the roll-out plan for the assessment?
  10.  Will data be gathered and maintained within FERPA and other security guidelines? Are there processes in place to inform stakeholders about how data are being gathered and held securely to allay concerns?

I encourage all stakeholders in assessment (policy makers, administrators, parents/caregivers, etc.) to exercise patience with teachers learning the science of this process and perfecting the art of implementing such an approach. Although many effective teachers across the decades have been doing this instinctively, as we make the approach more systematic, explicit, and transparent, teachers may have a steep learning curve. However, with the considerations above as a part of the decision-making process, teachers will find it easier to be successful.  This policy report provides a guide and framework to early childhood policymakers considering  formative assessment. The report defines formative assessment and outlines its process and  application in the context of early childhood. The substance of this document is the issues for  consideration in the implementation of the formative assessment process. This guide provides a  practical roadmap for decision-makers by offering several key questions to consider in the process of  selecting, supporting, and using data to inform and improve instruction.This policy report provides a guide and framework to early childhood policymakers considering formative assessment. This guide provides a practical roadmap for decision-makers by offering several key questions to consider in the process of selecting, supporting, and using data to inform and improve instruction.

For Teachers

The intent of formative assessment is to implement the process of using data (observation or other) to inform individualized instruction. The link between this type of embedded assessment and instruction should be seamless. Teachers work with great effort at this on several different levels. Effective early childhood teachers:

  • use immediate feedback from children in the moment and adjust the interaction based on this feedback.
  • collect evidence over time to evaluate the child’s growth and to plan long-term learning goals. These goals are reviewed periodically and adjusted based on new evidence.
  • look at aggregate data across their classrooms.  They examine the data for trends and self-reflect on their teaching practices based on what the data are showing.

For Researchers

We must move forward by setting a strong research agenda on the effects of formative assessment in early childhood classrooms–and not allow policy to outpace research.  We need further research around using formative assessment processes to collect, analyze, and use the data to improve teaching and learning in the early childhood classroom. This must first include randomized trials of formative assessment, to examine the impact on classroom quality and child outcomes. The field needs a clear understanding of how teachers are trained and supported in collecting and using the data, and just what supports are needed for success. This should be coupled with a qualitative understanding of how teachers are using data in their classrooms. Finally, an understanding of who is using the data, in what capacity–and how it fits within the larger assessment system–should be components of any examination of formative assessment.

Shannon Riley-Ayers, Assistant Research Professor, NIEER and CEELO


Children and Poverty: the Role of Preschool

April 3, 2014

This guest post was written by NIEER Senior Research Fellow Cynthia Lamy. Dr. Lamy is a developmental and educational psychologist whose research and writing focuses primarily on children at risk of school failure, due to the many influences of poverty. She is currently working for the Robin Hood Foundation.

High quality preschool generates measurable, long-term impacts on children.  Many of us have known this for a long time, and have heard it or have said it ourselves many times. This is vital, valuable information for policymakers and for families. And for early childhood professionals, on days when boisterous 3-year olds are testing their teacher’s patience, and stressed parents are showing up late for pick-up, and policy advocates are explaining the graph to Congress one more time, it means that our career choice to focus on young children and their families, and our daily struggle to produce our best work, is truly worth every effort. kids in line

But in recent opportunities to speak about children and poverty to groups of people who could be loosely defined as potential child advocates–not researchers or policymakers, but knowledgeable or interested professional laypeople–when I asked how many people in the audience knew of preschool’s long-term effects or had heard of the longitudinal studies of preschool effects on children’s later adult outcomes, I was shocked to find the number of raised hands in the single digits.

Perry, Abecedarian, Chicago–they had never heard of any of them. An audience of educated, interested people was once again astonished to learn about the long-term impacts, as I told them about the longitudinal studies, including New Jersey’s Abbott district findings.

Once again I found myself describing, in lay terms, the wonder of it all. It may seem astonishing, I say, but high quality preschool is a powerful weapon against poverty. Rigorous research has found that children lucky enough to attend a wonderful preschool program–with warm and knowledgeable teachers who are specially certified to teach young children as they play or are busy with activities, incorporating new vocabulary into dramatic play, heading off behavior problems with a timely tete-a-tete about sharing, scaffolding math skills during snack time–these children go on to be retained in grade or placed in Special Education at nearly half the rate of their less fortunate peers; to graduate high school at much higher rates; to engage in less crime; and to earn more money as adults, becoming contributors to society and depending less on the national safety net.

Having made the conceptual journey from early childhood education to adult outcomes, the remarkable idea that high quality preschool is actually poverty-fighting is a short leap.

The benefits of high quality preschool exceed the costs of the programs, which is great for the children, their families, taxpayers, and for everyone, but this means much more than benefits to individuals, or even to school districts, or criminal justice systems.  This positive social return on investment also signals to us the possibility of an effective and efficient fight against poverty on a societal scale.

How different would American poverty be if every child had equal access to high quality educational experiences from as early as possible in their development, before the impact of poverty diminishes their potential? What if every child received warm, playful, informed, individualized early education no matter who their parents are or where they live? Excellent preschool, carefully implemented to maintain high quality, on a scale wide enough to provide access to everyone in need, is an essential policy lever to protect the developmental potential of vulnerable children. That broad protection will lessen the chronic, inter-generational nature of American poverty. It sounds like a grand statement, but it’s just the natural consequence of strong early support for human development.

There are a few mechanisms by which preschool can powerfully contribute to the fight against poverty, as reported by Barnett and others, Heckman and others, and here. One mechanism is the effect, direct or indirectly through the family, on children’s educational success.  It is obvious that children must succeed in school to grow up and out of poverty. The direct path of the effect of preschool is through a positive impact on some combination of children’s cognition, skills, and expectations for themselves. The indirect path is through improved parenting and increased parental awareness, engagement in, and support of their children’s educational experiences and school success, due to the preschool. These are the goals of every good early childhood program.

Another mechanism is an impact on increased parental earnings. With their children happy and safe in good early childhood programs, parents work more hours.

Then there is the potential for improving the quality of public educational systems, especially in high-poverty school districts, as best practices in preschool ‘trickle up’ to elementary schools.  This is not easy to accomplish, but pre-K-3rd grade models are an example of this effort, as are transition programs that bring preschool and early elementary staff members together to share their best practices. Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS), with their cross-auspice implementation and focus on information sharing, program standards, and quality supports, may also help spread the best of early childhood widely, including to early elementary schools, alerting parents to the importance of high quality programs all along the continuum of their children’s development.

Taking the concept out one more contextual level: when schools improve, neighborhoods can begin to turn around in a virtuous cycle, further attracting education-oriented families. Without school improvement, there is little chance of that.

But there is another way that excellent early childhood programs can contribute to the fight against poverty, adding a timely and direct push against poverty just when many families are motivated to make a change–when their kids are very young. It is a tradition within the early childhood field that goes back all the way to the original objective of Head Start, to support the whole child and to respect the family. It arises from the capacity of early childhood professionals to perceive and understand the influence of problems in the family system on children’s development, and to be sensitive and supportive family partners. Early childhood programs are perfectly positioned to more effectively link families to the supportive opportunities they need, tailored specifically for them and their set of challenges.

Poverty is a complicated tangle of problems. Not all, but many, families in poverty need serious help. Parents need jobs that pay a living wage, or the adult education and training to move toward better employment. Families need stable, affordable, healthy homes. Often, families fighting poverty need a good pro bono lawyer. Everyone needs timely, affordable access to doctors and dentists. Families may be eligible for programs such as SNAP or WIC, but may be unaware. Family members with addictions or mental health issues; people living in fear of violence; older youth who need a safe, supportive haven after school; family members struggling with incarceration or reintegration into society–all need access to the assistance that would help them solve their problems, and help their young children grow to be healthier, happier, and more successful in school. Early childhood programs are in a unique position to tune in to families’ needs and to partner with families as they strive to do better for their children on a daily basis.

This is not a call to expand services. Asking early childhood program staff to extend their job description to the direct support of families at risk is asking too much, stretching resources thin, and creating distraction from the main educational mission. We have learned this lesson. Moreover, the support of families in need often requires specific knowledge and deep, often clinical, expertise, not typically housed in early childhood programs. Early childhood professionals should do for children and families what they do best. This is not a call for early childhood programs to take on even more responsibility, in addition to all that they already do.

But, this is a call for early childhood professionals to more explicitly recognize, understand, and value their natural position in the fight against poverty. It is a call to develop stronger working relationships between early childhood programs and other helping organizations. It is a call for early childhood professionals to be even smarter about the risks the families of their young students face, knowing where to send them for the support they need. And when there is little or no local capacity for the needed services, this is a call for early childhood professionals to be a voice for the expansion of those services–high quality services only, of course. If there is one thing we appreciate in the field of early childhood, it is the value of best practices.

It turns out that other programs, when they are of high quality, also produce measurable and cost-effective improvements for families, doing their part to push back against poverty. And across many poverty-related fields there is a growing recognition of the value of strong collaboration to create a true safety net–or, really, an opportunity net–for vulnerable families.  Early childhood programs, in fact all schools, should be part of that, taking a stronger stance in support of the families they serve.   No one program can solve all the complex problems of poverty. But, on a policy level, early childhood programs could take up what is actually a very natural, and potentially a particularly cost-effective, role, becoming powerful and persuasive proponents of young families in need, catalyzing and encouraging the development of best practice supports for families in their communities, and solving many more problems that are detrimental to children’s development, while children are still young.

We know that high quality preschool is a critical component in a set of policies and programs that have measurable impacts and that protect the development of children from the destructive effects of poverty. Preschool could be even more than that. It could fight poverty in real time.

 

References

Barnett, W. S., Young, J., & Schweinhart, L. (1998).  How preschool education influences long-term cognitive development and school success.  In W. S. Barnett & S. S. Boocock (Eds.), Early care and education for children in poverty: Promises, programs, and long-term results.  Albany, NY:  State University of New York Press.

Barnett, W.S., Jung, K., Youn, M. & Frede, E.C. (2013).  The Abbott preschool program longitudinal effects study: 5th grade follow-up.  New Brunswick, NJ: NIEER.

Bayer, P., Ferreira, F. & McMillan, R. (2007).  A unified framework for measuring preferences for schools and neighborhoods.  The Journal of Political Economy, 115(4), 588-638.,

Camilli, G., Vargas, S., Ryan, S., & Barnett, W. S. (2008).Meta-Analysis of the effects of early education interventions on cognitive and social development. Teachers College Record, 112 (3). Retrieved March 31, 2014, from  http://spot.colorado.edu/~camillig/Papers/38_15440.pdf

Cellini, S., Ferreira, F. & Rothstein, J. (2008).  The value of school facilities: Evidence from the dynamic regression-discontinuity design.  Working paper # 14516.  Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research.

Forry, N. & Hofferth, S. (2011).  Maintaining work: The influence of child care subsidies on child care-related work disruptions.  Journal of Family Issues, 32(3), 346-368.

Heckman, J., Malofeeva, E., Pinto, R. & Savelyev, P. (2010).  Understanding the mechanisms through which an influential early childhood program boosted adult outcomes.  Presentation at the Measuring Education Outcomes: Moving from Enrollment to Learning Conference at the Center for Universal Education at Brookings, June 2, 2010, Brookings Institution, Washington, DC.

Lamy, C. E. (2012).  Poverty is a Knot and Preschool is an Untangler. In R. C. Pianta, W. S. Barnett, L. M Justice and S. M. Sheridan (Eds.) Handbook of Early Childhood Education.  NY: Guilford Press.

Matthews, M. (2006).  Child care assistance helps families work: A review of the effect of subsidy receipt on employment.  Washington, DC: CLASP.


%d bloggers like this: