Hiding Behind the Sofa: One Child’s Perspective of a Teacher’s Home Visit

July 30, 2014

The space behind the sofa in our den provided the perfect hiding place when Miss Miller, my kindergarten teacher, stopped by for her September home visit. I was caught off-guard by this “out-of-context” experience, trying to process competing feelings of excitement, apprehension, and bashfulness. While confident at school, I was transformed into a turtle-like schoolchild whose head popped out periodically to make sure she was aware of my presence. After all, she was on my turf.

Engaging families in the education of young children is nothing new. Education was always viewed as a partnership between parents and teachers, with teachers held in high regard by their families and parents valued for their contributions and ability to reinforce shared values and expectations. Home visits were part and parcel of the home-school connection a half-century ago in my youth, and parent-teacher conferences were sacrosanct throughout elementary years.

Hiding behind the couch, from Flickr Creative Commons user Taylor Brigode: https://www.flickr.com/photos/taylorlb/9110126712/in/photostream/

Hiding behind the couch, from Flickr Creative Commons user Taylor Brigode: https://www.flickr.com/photos/taylorlb/9110126712/in/photostream/

Yet the NIEER State of Preschool 2013 paints a somewhat different picture. The survey indicates a range of policies and practices for parental involvement across 53 state-funded pre-K programs in 40 states and the District of Columbia. Eight-five (85) percent require programs to provide some form of parent involvement activities, yet one in five programs does not require either parent conferences or home visits. Slightly more than half (51%) require programs to offer parenting support or training. Policies for 21% of programs allowed local jurisdictions to determine the type of parent involvement activities offered, reaffirming that a family’s zip code often shapes one’s early education opportunities.

Parent involvement was a cornerstone for Head Start from its inception and family engagement remains a key component. Regardless of the Head Start program model employed (center-based, home-based, combination option), parent engagement remains a program value and expectation. Head Start Policy Manual 70.2 was a mantra during my years with the program, defining the forms of parent participation including involvement in the decision-making process; engagement in the classroom as employees, volunteers, and observers; participation in and development of activities; and working with children in cooperation with Head Start staff. These elements have been expanded in current Head Start regulations (45 CFR section 1304.40), maintaining a provision for programs to offer at least two home visits annually. Other federally funded programs such as Early Head Start and Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) programs maintain active parent-provider engagement in program policy and design, and the defunct Even Start Family Literacy program was built upon a strong family-school relationship in its two-generation model. NAEYC featured home visiting in an article in Young Children last summer, and has a literature review on the topic as well.

The importance of strong parent-teacher relationships has never been questioned, yet with more parents participating in the workforce, engaging parents in meaningful ways appears to be more difficult. Home visits are no longer considered standard practice, due to scheduling challenges and safety concerns, and parent conferences conducted during regular program hours are often difficult for working parents to attend. This is particularly evident in kindergarten and the primary grades.

Though some wish to turn back the hands of time when stereotypical Ozzie and Harriet families were the perceived norm, policymakers and educators would be wise to support innovative policies and practices that adapt to the changing work-family-school context. Consideration should be given to new approaches such as workplace visits with the support of business owners, to provide paid release time for parent-teacher conferences and volunteering in one’s child’s classroom. Summer, evenings, and weekends also provide excellent times for teachers to exercise greater flexibility in connecting with parents, yet this would require a rethinking of the traditional school calendar and compensation schedules. Care must be taken to make these accommodations in a way that supports teachers and administrators, rather than creating a well-intended but burdensome add-on, and visits should not impinge on valuable time families spend together. It would be a shame for home visits to become a relic of the past.

Thinking back to Miss Miller’s home visit, by the time she was done I had fully emerged from my shell and was trying my best to thwart her escape to her next student’s home. She had toured my bedroom, surveyed my favorite toys and books, and gained a sense of my world. I’m sure she left with a better understanding of me within my environment, a stronger connection with my parents, and ideas for personalizing my formative education experience. I’m also sure my mother was relieved as Miss Miller drove away, in part knowing she had an ally when it came to coaching little Jimmy out of his shell and fostering his education.

–Jim Squires, NIEER/CEELO Senior Research Fellow


Betting on Public Support for Preschool

July 21, 2014

This entry is cross-posted to The National Journal’s Education Insiders blog  in response to the prompt “Early Education Polls Well With Republicans, Swing Voters” from Fawn Johnson.

 

The new polling data from the First Five Years Fund are a source of hope that major new investments in early care and education will take place in the near future. This may even have presaged by recent advances in preschool investment across the country from New York to Michigan to California. Particularly interesting from a policy perspective is that the public has come to solidly support investments in our youngest children and to recognize the value of early child care, not just preschool education. Yet, the new polling data also point to some important concerns and, in particular, policy pitfalls that must be avoided as more politicians jump on the early care and education bandwagon.

Despite strong, broadly based support for government action, the public is also committed to reducing the tax burden on families. Support for a major new federal investment drops sharply, and I suspect does not succeed with the Republican base, if funded by even a targeted tax increase. Nevertheless, unless Congress is willing to fund it by increasing the deficit, some kind of loophole closing or targeted tax increase is likely to be necessary. A sunset provision on the targeted tax increase, requiring it to end or be reapproved after 10 years, might raise support. The other alternative is to fund new investments in early care and education by cutting other programs; as a majority of voters disapprove of this strategy, any proposal funded in this manner should be viewed as a poison pill.

However, the most serious concern is that politicians seeking voter approval will favor expansion of slots over quality and sloganeering over substance. The history of state pre-K and federal child care and Head Start policy provide ample reason for concern. High quality programs that provide long hours of care and a good education are expensive. Poor quality care and preschool programs that provide only a few hours a week are cheap. Given the resistance to tax increases, it will be tempting for politicians–Democrats and Republicans, the White House and Congress–to encourage wishful thinking and spread too little money over too many children and families. The result will be an increase in spending, but no real investment. Hope will be expressed that once the expansion is achieved, added resources can be obtained for quality or that somehow efficiencies will be obtained that will allow us to produce high-quality at a much lower cost than has ever been achieved before.

This next year could prove to be a turning point in the quest for public investment in high-quality early care and education. As nation emerges from the recession, resource constraints will ease. With economic growth, there will be possibilities for new investments without commensurate increases in tax rates. Will early care and education remain a top priority? And, will quality remain part of the formula? The importance of putting quality first cannot be overemphasized because the expansion of poor quality programs only creates a larger interest group that favors a continuation of poor quality. One early tell-tale sign will be the Obama Administration’s action on preschool development grants–will they emphasize increased numbers over quality, given the relatively modest budget available? Another will be Seattle voters’ preferences regarding their ballot initiative on quality preschool for all. I would like to bet on quality, but children’s advocates will need to work harder than ever if I am going to win that bet.

– Steve Barnett, NIEER Director


State prekindergarten programs: A decade of progress

July 9, 2014

By Alison May

Alison May is a staff coordinator of the National Conference of State Legislature’s Children and Families program. This  post originally appeared on June 30th on the blog of NCSL. 

Steve Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER), highlighted some of the key findings of NIEER’s annual State Preschool Yearbook during a June 24 NCSL webinar entitled State Prekindergarten Programs: A Decade of Progress. Specifically, Barnett talked about the data and national trends for enrollment in, quality of, and spending on state-funded preschool programs.

The webinar was designed for current and alum members of the Early Learning Fellows program, which is NCSL’s premier program for legislators and legislative staff who are experienced or emerging leaders on early childhood and early learning issues.

This year marked a decade since the first Yearbook was published on data collected from the 2001-2002 school year. Barnet also highlighted notable recent studies of pre-K effects and talked about what works and doesn’t work in prekindergarten to produce larger gains in young children. “As policymakers, you might want to have some input on what we know works and some of the approaches that don’t work very well,” said Barnett. He also indicated that policymakers might want to consider designing programs with intentional teaching, individualization and small groups.

The full webinar is available on NCSL’s YouTube channel. We would direct your attention to the question-and-answer session (beginning roughly 40 minutes in) between Steve and the Early Learning Fellows, which touches on digging in to quality standards, access issues for younger children and utilizing funding sources, including federal funds.


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